Currently I’m looking to change jobs for a multitude of reasons. One of the lesser reasons is that I want to work on more rewarding projects. I’ve spent many months debating what this actually means and, as my preface to this digital journal (blog) hinted/out-right declares, I’m still trying to figure all that out. As part of this time of contemplation and self-discovery I’m spending time reflecting on some of the most impressive places I’ve ever been.
The list of impressive places is never ending, but this week Carlo Scarpa has been on my mind. Currently at work I’m focusing on a hotel project which is part of a greater retail complex. In the basement of this hotel is a spa which opens into a ‘spa garden’ (basically we’re putting a little garden outside the window to try and convince the spa goers that no, we surely didn’t put you in a dungeon for your $200 massage you’re about to receive … but that is what we did, sorry folks). The connection from this spa garden to the spa interior is a large glass wall that floats across a water feature about 50 feet wide that flows freely from interior to exterior. Figuring out this water feature has been a challenge, but to make it work its been all about detailing the design – which is something I get a sick pleasure from.
Carlo Scarpa not only loved his water features, but he loved his detailing too. One of my favorite examples of his work is the Olivetti Showroom which is right off St. Marks Square in Venice. The idea of retail design being twisted into a museum of items isn’t new, but the way Scarpa details the space is something I found fascinating.
Venice, although from almost all perspectives is seen as a chaotic jumble of narrow streets and canals, has detailing that in my opinion rival some of Rome’s greatest works. In many of Scarpa’s works there is almost always mosaics, geometric patterning of wood or stone and water integration – either in the form of water features or allowing the canal to flood spaces as the tide moves in or out. I usually get the sense that he was trying to create spaces of Zen in a city of chaos – just look at a map of Venice and you’ll get my point – but as a Venetian at heart he always put in some playful moments to keep you on your toes.
Personally I would suggest starting with his Olivetti Showroom before moving on to one of his other great works in the city. My – and most other folk’s – second recommendation would be to see Fondazione Querini Stampalia. The Querini family was one of the first families to found Venice and one of their last descendants donated the historical home to the city where it has since been renovated with Scarpa’s design direction into a modernized cultural museum. Here you’ll find another fascinating combination of design which all in unique ways seem to be Scarpa’s way of paying homage to his home city.
For me, I’ve been thinking about these two places because when I exited them I felt energized, playful and very specifically hopeful. My reflecting on those feelings has been inspiring to think that maybe my projects will become meaningful to me after they’re designed and finished because of how they impact the users/occupants/viewers. As young designers I think many of us have a hard time finding meaning in our work as it’s not truly ours – we’re often just implementing the design of a more senior studio member. The result is our endless hours of drafting and writing specifications make the process seem dull and repetitive and I think we often forget that those many hours do have a greater meaning. Not everyone will experience our built environments like we might have intended, but perhaps the way we detail that one flooring pattern or window frame will catch someone’s eye and make them wonder why the design is the way it is. I believe that built environments have infinite layers of possible use, so to imagine that one use is to inspire someone’s curiosity and maybe even brighten their outlook on that one moment is a successful design moment, let alone a meaningful one.
Map of Scarpa Places (ever expanding): Italy Trip & Tips