First constructed in 1228, one of Venice’s largest and most recognizable buildings has recently been renewed by OMA to host a department store.
OMA, completed the restoration of the 16th Century Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, commissioned by the Benetton family in 2009 to transform the 9,000 sqm building into a department store.
The renovation scheme is based on a finite number of strategic interventions and vertical distribution devices that support the new program and define a sequence of public spaces and paths. Each intervention is conceived as an excavation through the existing mass, liberating new perspectives and unveiling the real substance of the building to its visitors, as an accumulation of authenticities.
First constructed in 1228, and located at the foot of the Rialto Bridge across from the fish market, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is one of Venice’s largest and most recognizable buildings. It was used as a trading post for German merchants, a customs house under Napoleon, and a post office under Mussolini. Depicted by Canaletto and other masters, and photographed countless times as the impressive but anonymous backdrop of the Rialto bridge, the Fondaco stands as a mute witness of the Venetian mercantile era, its role diminished with the progressive depopulation of Venice.
Twice destroyed by fire and rebuilt (in its current form in 1506), manipulated in the 18th Century, and then subject to a series of radical architectural interventions in the 20th Century to accommodate the central post office under the fascist regime, the Fondaco quietly embodies Venice’s secret brutality. Almost entirely reconstructed with modern concrete technology during 1930s, the Fondaco is a historical palimpsest of modern substance, its preservation spanning five centuries of construction techniques. Regardless of the history of its adaptations (towers removed, courtyard covered with glass, windows added, structure rebuilt and so on) and the objective lack of authenticity of its structure, its legal status of ‘monument’ (granted in 1987) forbade almost any change.
The project by Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli – OMA’s partner – with Silvia Sandor, is composed of both architecture and programming and opens the courtyard piazza to pedestrians, maintaining its historical role of covered urban ‘campo’. The new rooftop is created by the renovation of the existing 19th Century pavilion, standing over a new steel and glass floor which hovers above the central courtyard, and by the addition of a large wooden terrace with spectacular views over the city. The rooftop, together with the courtyard below, will become public venues, open to the city and accessible at all times.
New entrances to the building were created from the Campo San Bartolomeo and the Rialto, while existing entrances into the courtyard, used by locals as a shortcut, have been retained. Escalators have been added to create a new public route through the building, consolidating the rooms in a way that respects the original sequences. Crucial historic elements like the corner rooms remained untouched, while some aspects of the building, lost for centuries, have been resurrected, such as the walls of the gallerias that will once again become a surface for frescoes, reappearing in contemporary form.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Venice, Italy
Program: historical building renovation
Client: Edizione S.r.l.
Partners: Rem Koolhaas, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli
Project architects: Francesco Moncada, Silvia Sandor
Concept team: Marco De Battista, Andrew Chau, Paul Feeney, Alice Grégoire, Ricardo Guedes, Andreas Kofler, Kayoko Ota, Pietro Pagliaro, Miriam Roure Parera, Carlos Pena, Ciprian Rasoiu, Agustín Pérez Torres
Design team: Giacomo Ardesio, Paul Feeney, Alice Grégoire, Ricardo Guedes, Giulio Margheri, Pietro Pagliaro, Cecilia del Pozo, Ciprian Rasoiu, Jan de Ruyver, Miguel Taborda
Construction team: Aleksandar Joksimovic, Leonardos Katsaros, Francesco Moncada, Federico Pompignoli
Preservation architect: TA Architettura S.r.l.
Structural engineering: Tecnobrevetti S.r.l.
MEP engineering: Politecnica Ingegneria e Architettura
Safety and coordination: Antonio Girello
Fire safety: Sicurtecno
Contractor: SACAIM S.p.A.
Area: 9,000 sqm