An exhibition of Carlo Scarpa’s work in glass for Venini at the Metropolitan Museum in New York is good enough reason for me to dig out some old snaps of his architecture projects, especially as it is unlikely that I will be able to get over to the US to see the show. And it’s sort of fitting for me that it’s an exhibition of his glass designs for Venini because that is how I first encountered his work. Back in 1990 for my birthday I went by rail from London to Venice, in the days when you took the boat train from Victoria station overnight and then spent a day wondering around Paris and then back into a couchette for the overnight journey to Italy. Ah, the glory days of travel. And on a recommendation from an Italian friend living in London who had studied in Venice, one of my first visits on arrival was to the Venini showroom, just around the corner from St. Mark’s Square, where Carlo Scarpa’s career began as their art director for 15 years until 1947.
Not too far away is his design for the Olivetti showroom (no pictures sorry) and also his stunning intervention at the Querini Stampalia Foundation, a sixteenth century house, art collection and library. Scarpa’s brief back in the early 1960s was to refurbish the ground floor and courtyard which were routinely subjected to flooding. His solution was to allow the water to flow more freely in and out of the space through channels and to raise the floor level. (The photos of this project are provided by our friend Michael Franke who has just been over to Venice for the Biennale.)
Back home on the train via Verona and another museum refurbishment on a much larger scale: the Castelvecchio (old castle in case your Italian is not up to scratch). This was astonishing for me to see, nearly 25 years ago, when I was used to the work of the National Trust here in the UK, where heritage buildings are so over restored that one was always slightly suspicious that the building had only just been built. His work at Castelvecchio was about revealing the layers of the history of the medieval castle and through obvious but finely detailed contemporary insertions. Although his body of work is not enormous,and he was never allowed to be labelled an architect due to his refusal to sit the exams, his influence remains pervasive, especially in the field of restoration.The recently refurbished Das Neues Museum in Berlin by British architect David Chipperfield, is clearly indebted to Scarpa’s approach. He died after a fall down a staircase on a visit to Japan at the age of 72 while still in a very active period of his working life.
The exhibition at the Met runs until March, just in case you want to see the first early small scale works of this Italian master. Actually, let’s see, how many airmiles can I rustle together?