OMA : In 2009, the benetton family commissioned OMA to transform ‘fondaco dei tedeschi’ — a 16th century building on the banks of venice’s grand canal — into a department store and public space. seven years later, the restoration project is now complete and has been handed over to hong kong-based firm DFS to outfit the interior for retail use.
first constructed in 1228, and located at the foot of the rialto bridge, the historic structure is one of venice’s largest and most recognizable buildings. over the past 788 years, the site has been used as a trading post for german merchants, a customs house under napoleon, and a post office under mussolini. depicted by painter canaletto and other masters, the fondaco was twice destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in its current form in 1506. the structure was then manipulated further in in the 18th century, and then subject to a series of radical architectural interventions in the 20th century to accommodate its role as a central post office under the fascist regime. in 1987, the building was listed as a monument, forbidding any major architectural changes.
OMA’s renovation is based on a number of strategic interventions and vertical distribution devices that support the new program while defining a sequence of public spaces and circulation routes. ‘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,’ explains the design team.
the project opens the courtyard to pedestrians at ground level, maintaining its historical role of covered public space. a 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 void, and by the addition of a large wooden terrace with views across the city. the rooftop, together with the courtyard below, form new public venues, open to the city and accessible at all times.
new entrances to the building are created, while existing access points have been retained. meanwhile, escalators have been added to create a public route through the building. individual rooms are consolidated in a way that respects the original sequential layout, with historic elements like the corner rooms left untouched. furthermore, some aspects of the original building have been restored. for example, the walls of the gallerias once again host frescoesthat reappear in contemporary form.
the project, which was led by ippolito pestellini laparelli, rem koolhaas and silvia sandor, seeks to demystify the ‘sacred image of a historical building’. the contemporary department store has been designed to stage a range of activities, from shopping to cultural events, social gatherings and everyday life. rather than a nostalgic reconstruction project, the restoration continues the fondaco’s tradition of vitality and adaptation, adding another chapter to the building’s incomparable history.
Photo Courtesy : OMA