*Scarpa, Carlo


Carlo Scarpa

Carlo Scarpa

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Carlo Scarpa

At the time of his death in 1978 at the age of 72, Carlo Scarpa was at the height of his fame and influence. His buildings and projects were being studied by architects and students throughout the world, and his decorative style had become a model for architects wishing to revive craft and luscious materials in the contemporary manner. Yet Carlo Scarpa remains an enigmatic character in the history of modern architecture and design. His work does not submit easily to explanation and analysis, despite attempts by numerous architects and historians, nor is it particularly photogenic.

Carlo Scarpa was born in Venice on June 2, 1906, the son of an elementary school teacher. When he was 2 years old the family moved to Vicenza where Carlo Scarpa attended the Technical High School. In 1919, after the death of his mother, the Carlo Scarpa family returned to Venice, where Carlo attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. After receiving his diploma in 1926, Carlo Scarpa began teaching architectural drawing at the Academy. Carlo Scarpa never completed a full-scale architectural eduction and was never recognized as an architect (he was once accused, but was exonerated, of practicing architecture without a license).
During the late 1920s and 1930s Carlo Scarpa became acquainted with a number of influential intellectual figures in Italy and abroad. Massimo Bontempelli, Carlo Carra, and Arturi Martini became his friends. It was during this time that Carlo Scarpa also began a relationship with the Venini Glass Works in Venice, for whom Carlo Scarpa created many designs. He painted avidly during this period in a novecento style reminiscent of Mario Sironi and Carra. Also during the late 1920s, Carlo Scarpa began his career as an interior designer and industrial designer.
His first important comission was the 1935 restoration and renovation of the School of Economics at the University of Venice, in the Ca Foscari. This project was a portret of the future, with elegant glass, metal, and wood details subtly integrated into the architecture of medieval Venice.
Various commissions for renovations followed along with many installations of exhibitions in galleries and museums. In the 1930s, Carlo Scarpa’s reputation remained local; he enjoyed none of the national recognition of many of the Milanese and Roman architects such as Albini, Libera, Pagano, and Terragni.
It was after World War II that Carlo Scarpa’s reputation grew to international proportions. His works after the war began to show the increasing influence of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as that of Josef Hoffmann, whom Carlo Scarpa had met in the middle 1930s. In 1951 the awtding of an honorary degree to Wright by the Univer-sity of Venice enabled Carlo Scarpa to meet the American architect whom Carlo Scarpa idolized. (It is said that Carlo Scarpa prostrated himself before Wright on their first meeting). Carlo Scarpa was influential in gaining Wright the (ill-fated) commission for the Masieri Foundation building, which was to have been built along the Grand Canal in Venice.
The first important commission of this period was the renovation of the Accademia Museum in Venice, located in an old convent. This project was the first of Carlo Scarpa’s museum renovations to exhibit a “minimalist” style within historic buildings, a style that allows the existing context to pass beneath and behind the new work without being disturbed. The extraordinary care in the execution of handrails, floor patterns, benches, door pulls, and the like set Carlo Scarpa’s work apart from others of his generation. It was not the invention of spatial themes with which Carlo Scarpa was involved, but rather the manipulation of materials in relation to the human body. His work greatly influenced that of other Italian interior designers, most notably Franco Albini.
Carlo Scarpa remained a teacher at the University of Venice throughout the early postwar period, but began to recieve commissions that would become his masterpieces. The most important are the Canova Plaster Cast Gallery in Possagno (Treviso) (1955-1957); the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona (1956 onward) perhaps his most significant masterpiece; the Olivetti showroom in Piazza S. Marco, Venice (1957-1958); the Querini-Stampalia Foundation in Venice (1961-1963); the Brion Tomb in San Vito d’Altivole (Treviso) (1969); and the Banca Popolare di Verona in Verona, begun by Carlo Scarpa in 1973 and finished after his death by Arrigo Rudi. In the Querini – Stampalia Scarpa began by redesigning the traditional Venetian footbridge. Here the bridge is a kind of leaf-spring of steel supports holding a lacquered wooden handrail. The interior of the ground floor of the renovation contains channels that control and divert the water (the so-called aqua alta) that periodically floods Venetian house. A carefully considered and elegant play of rough concrete and more precious materials raises the concrete to the level of a more aulic material.
It is in the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona that Carlo Scarpa’s delicate handling of ancient buildings comes to its highest achievement. Here floor patterns and materials interact to form a tactile play of pliant versus hard surfaces The new is held apart from the old by revealjoints and spatial slots that function as miniature conceptual “moats,” and each work of art is lovingly held up to view by a stand or a bracket that is almost human in its anthropomorphic configuration.
Carlo Scarpa resisted the postmodern and neorationalist influences of the 1970s, preferring to elaborate a decorative system derived from the materials of modern architecture used in a craft tradition. Carlo Scarpa was in constant touch with his artisans, and his drawings were revised almost daily to reflect a preindustrial attention to old methods of construction. Like many Renaissance architects, Carlo Scarpa rarely got to build an entire building. The exception of this is the Brion Tomb complex in the cemetery at San Vito d’Altivole (Treviso), considered by some to be his most fecund and important work. It is a complex and difficult work, filled with symbolic gestures and a myriad of interlocking forms. The major elements are an arched bridge that shades the tombs of the Brion spouses, a family tomb, and a chapel. Carlo Scarpa’s emblematic step motif and interlocking circular windows are the dominant leitmotifs of the details in this project, along with a typical use of concrete with more precious materials.
The Brion cemetery was the culmination of Carlo Scarpa’s career, and Carlo Scarpa is appropriately buried there. Carlo Scarpa fell to his death accidentally in Japan in 1978.
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Carlo Scarpa - villa Ottolenghi

Carlo Scarpa - villa Ottolenghi

Major works:
Ausstellungsgelände der Biennale, Venice
Palazzo Chiaramonte, Palermo
Palazzo Ca’Foscari, Venice, 1935 – 1956
Restaurierung der Academia, Venice, 1945
Umgestaltung des Museo Correr, Venice, 1953, 1957-1960
Palazzo Abbatellis, Palermo, 1953 – 1954
Venezuela-Pavillion, Biennale, Venice, Italy, 1954 – 1956
Gipsoteca Canoviana, Possagno; 1955 – 1957
Veritti House, Udine, Italy, 1955 – 1961
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 1955
Museo Castelvecchio, Verona, Italy, 1956 – 1964
Fusina campground, Venice, 1957
Showroom of Olivetti, Venice, Italy, 1957 – 1958
Scatturin House, Venice, 1960
MöbelgeschäftGavina (heute MöbelgeschäftSimon), Bologna, 1961 – 1963
Querini Stampalia Library, Venice, Italy, 1961 – 1963
Balboni House, Venice, 1964
Eingang der Architekturfakultät der Universität Venedig, Venice, 1966 – 1985
Brion-Vega Cemetery, at San Vito d’Altivole, Italy, 1970 – 1972
Banca Popolare di Verona, at Verona, Italy, 1973
Ottolenghi House, Bardolino, 1974 – 1979
Borgo House, Vicenza, 1975
Neuer Eingang der Fakultät für Philosophie, Venice, 1976 – 1979
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Bibliography – general references:
1. “Carlo Scarpa,” Architecture and Urbanism, extra ed. (Oct. 1985).
2. M. A. Crippa, Carlo Scarpa, Theory, Design, Projects, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1986.
3. F. Dal Co and G. Mazzariol, Carlo Scarpa, the Complete Works, Electa/Rizzoli, New York, 1984.
4. V. Gregotti and coworkers, “Carlo Scarpa, Frammenti, 1926-1978,” Rassegna (July 1981).

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