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‘Scarpa, more than any other Italian architect, has brought back decoration into architecture’

Carlo Scarpa Brion Tomb

In 1973 the Heinz Gallery continued their policy of showing the work of 20th-century designers with an exhibition of Carlo Scarpa’s architecture

First published in the AR in December 1973

So far we have only had Eileen Gray, but the Festival of Britain, Maxwell Fry, Wells Coates, Denys Lasdun, James Stirling and others are promised. The Scarpa exhibition (8 January – 29 March 1974) will enable English architects to become better acquainted with the work of an architect whose influence has been considerable, but who has too readily been dismissed by some as an anachronism because of his love for architecture as an art.

Born in Venice in 1906, Scarpa studied there at the Academy of Fine Arts and has lived and worked in and around the city all his life. He is a Venetian to the core, cultivates the local dialect in his speech and reveals in his work that feeling for materials and textures which, as Adrian Stokes has so brilliantly observed (Venice, an aspect of art), is a marked characteristic of Venetian building. To this sensitivity must be added a strong urge to create memorable forms and spaces in which the various elements are often combined to produce patterns reminiscent of Mondrian, whose exhibition in Rome Scarpa so sympathetically designed (1956). If people today are disillusioned with new buildings because they fail to provide the breakdown in scale through the use of ornamental features which can become objects of popular affection, then Scarpa’s work merits careful study, for he more than any other Italian architect has brought back decoration into architecture.

Brion s memorial and tomb Carlo Scarpa

Brion’s memorial and tomb Carlo Scarpa

Brion’s memorial and tomb at S Vito near Asolo by Carlo Scarpa: the stepping stones leading to the chapel entrance across what will be a pool of shallow water over elaborately facetted concrete surfaces

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa family vault

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa family vault

Like an enormous gargoyle the enclosing wall, V-shaped in section, discharges its water over the pool with the meditation platform

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa chapel

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa chapel

Part of the cloister which connects the entrance with the meditation platform. The round openings and the fragile horizontal beads on the concrete wall both recall similar details in Louis Kahn’s work which Scarpa admires

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa tomb

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa tomb

The arches over Brion’s tomb with the family vault behind

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa plan enclosing wall

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa plan enclosing wall

Plan of Brion’s memorial and tomb: 1. entrance, 2. cloister, 3. Brion’s tomb, 4. family vault, 5. chapel, 6. pool, 7. meditation platform, 8. enclosing wall, 9. pool, 10. existing village cemetary

As a man dedicated to the craft of building, Scarpa understandably admires the great figures of the last craft age, the Art Nouveau and the Viennese secession, especially Mackintosh and Olbrich. After the last war he rediscovered, through Bruno Zevi’s first two numbers of Metron, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Its influence at the time was profound, affecting even his way of drawing, though he did not actually see any of the buildings until 1967 when his appointment as designer of the Italian pavilion for Expo at Montreal took him across the Atlantic. In the late ’40s Scarpa, who was teaching at the Faculty of Architecture in Venice and whose work was included, willy-nilly, within Zevi’s broad definition of organic architecture, suddenly found himself at the centre of events.

The new principal, Giuseppe Samona, determined to create the best school in Italy, summoned a wealth of talent which included Zevi, Albini, Belgiojoso, Piccinato, Gardella and, later, De Carlo. (It was, no doubt, the experience of this motley crowd which prompted Scarpa’s ironic comment at a conference on architectural education, that for the perfect school one would need Wright for design, Le Corbusier for town-planning, Aalto for interior design, Mies for construction and materials and, of course, Samona for principal.)

‘For the perfect school, one would need Wright for design, Le Corbusier for town-planning, Aalto for interior design, Mies for construction’

In 1951, Wright visited Italy - first Florence where an exhibition of his work had been assembled, then Venice where he received an honorary degree and met Scarpa and his colleagues. The following year three of Scarpa’s former students, Bruno Morassutti, Gino Valle and Angelo Masieri, visited Wright in America to persuade him to design a hostel for architectural students on the Grand Canal. But Masieri was killed in a car accident and it was left to Scarpa, who had collaborated with Masieri on several projects, to obtain from Wright the design for what became the Masieri Memorial fiasco.

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa

End view of the family vault

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa tomb 1

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa tomb 1

The end detail of the arches over Brion’s tomb

Brion s memorial Carlo Scarpa meditation platform

Brion’s memorial Carlo Scarpa meditation platform

The cloister which leads from the entrance to the meditation platform. The sunken foreground will be filled with water

Although Scarpa had designed a number of exhibitions and been involved in a good many projects, his first major job coincides, as it happens, with the end of the Wright saga. This was the new display of the Museo Abatellis in Palermo (1953-54) and it was followed by a whole series of museum renovations which included the Museo Correr and the Accademia in Venice, the Castelvecchio in Verona and, with Michelucci and Gardella, the Uffizzi in Florence. At Possagno he had the challenging task of extending a monumental Neo-Classical structure – the Canova Museum, formerly the sculptor’s studio. London has seen two of his exhibitions, the Florentine Frescoes and the paintings of Giorgio Morandi, both designed in collaboration with Stefan Buzas and Alan Irvine whose own work reveals strong sympathies (influence is too strong a word when one recalls that Buzas was educated in Vienna).

Besides the Castelvecchio at Verona, Scarpa’s best museum conversion, two other works are illustrated: the Querini Stampalia, a modest palace on the Campo S Maria Formosa in Venice, and the famous industrialist G. Brion’s memorial and tomb at S Vito near Asolo, Scarpa’s most recent work. Like the Castelvecchio, the Querini Stampalia (the ground floor and garden conversion of a library and institute) shows Scarpa’s way of wedding new work to old, but on a smaller scale, lacking the dramatic qualities of the museum, yet richer in detail. In English eyes the memorial, in its wholehearted celebration of death, will seem strange and irrelevant. It is a series of built forms wrapped around two sides of the village cemetery which includes the main tomb (standing at 45 degrees and occupying the centre of the composition), a family vault, a chapel, a cloister and a platform for meditation over a pool of water. The enclosing wall is low enough to allow views of the village church and for the maize of the surrounding fields to show its flower when fully grown. Irrelevant or not, the memorial reveals Scarpa in his most luxuriant mood, masterly in his handling of forms and lovingly attentive to texture and detail.

Castelvecchio Carlo Scarpa colonnade

Castelvecchio Carlo Scarpa colonnade

Scarpa’s restoration and museum arrangement of the Castelvecchhio at Verona, 1964. The colonnade and sunk-patio outside the main lecture hall

Castelvecchio Verona Carlo Scarpa restoration 1964

Castelvecchio Verona Carlo Scarpa restoration 1964

For a long time a barracks, the castle first became a museum in 1926, but suffered from bomb damage in 1945

Castelvecchio Verona Carlo Scarpa statue gallery

Castelvecchio Verona Carlo Scarpa statue gallery

The sculpture galleries on the ground floor

Castelvecchio Carlo Scarpa entrance

Castelvecchio Carlo Scarpa entrance

The entrance hall where the floor has been raised above flood level. On the far left the old floor level has been kept and the water is allowed to penetrate

Castelvecchio Carlo Scarpa Verona equestrian statue

Castelvecchio Carlo Scarpa Verona equestrian statue

The 14th century equestrian statue of Cangrande I della Scala, removed from the Scala tombs in S Maria Antica and set by Scarpa dramatically at an angle and high up on the first floor

Castelvecchio Verona Carlo Scarpa bridge

Castelvecchio Verona Carlo Scarpa bridge

The new bridge designed by Scarpa which provides direct access to the Stampalia from the Campo