In Piazza San Marco, under the portico of the Procuratie Vecchie, is the Olivetti showroom, a masterpiece of modern architecture by Carlo Scarpa, one the most important 20th-century Italian architects. Visiting the Olivetti showroom in Piazza San Marco is a nice way to see the delights of modern Venice amid the ancient splendor of the piazzas monuments.
When Adriano Olivetti, an industrialist with a great artistic sensibility, decided to open an exhibition space in Venice, he commissioned Scarpa to rebuild and furnish a shop that would open in November 1958. Scarpa transformed the difficult to manage space – it was narrow, long, low and dim – into one of light and dynamism. He widened the existing windows and framed them in brass, and installed a basin of black Belgian marble filled with water on which the bronze sculpture “Nude in the sun” by Alberto Viani was placed to increase the brightness of the interior. The floor, reminiscent of Paul Klee’s watercolors, is made up of glass tiles of different colors whose irregular arrangement creates an effect that reminds one of the movement of the water surface.
Another problem that Scarpa had to address in his design approach was the frequent flooding due to high water. Scarpa considered water a vital force and incorporated it in his works. He raised the floor but allowed water to flow into the space. It is present in the basin, it can flow in the channels along the walls and is found beyond the back room, where a door opens onto the canal through which goods used to be loaded. With the realization of the showroom, the opening lost its function, nevertheless Scarpa designed a teak and rosewood gate with a motif that would become one of his distinctive features.
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Although the store is only four meters high, Scarpa devised a second floor made up of two teak platforms. One of the platforms leads to the windows overlooking Piazza San Marco and are screened with two sliding panels inside an oval which are a clear tribute to Japan. The access to the upper level is a unique staircase, monumental and oversized, since “for a king, one has to build a royal palace,” as Scarpa stated. The staircase, too, is of a sought-after material, Aurisina marble, quarried on the Karst.
After Olivetti closed down, the store was rented and for over ten years Scarpa’s work was buried under trivial goods. Finally, Assicurazioni Generali, the insurance company that owns the building, decided to restore the space together with FAI, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Italy’s cultural assets. The Olivetti showroom reopened in 2011 as a museum (with an entrance ticket price of €8 or €5 for residents and students). On the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month, a guided visit is scheduled at 12.30 pm, which can be booked through their Facebook page. Although it’s in Italian, the guides are happy to provide an explanation in English.
Post author Giacomo is a Prontopia Local who enjoys sharing his knowledge of Venice’s hidden treasures and assisting visitors get where they need to go easily. Download the Prontopia app today for a stress-free and fun experience getting around, whether that is to the museums that are off the beaten path on time, from the train station to your lodging, or to a special restaurant reservation or tour meeting point. We hope to welcome you in Venice the local way soon!