In Pictures: Modernist Architecture at the Venice Biennale

Structures by Modernist masters including Carlo Scarpa offer an alternative to the city’s medieval streets and Gothic churches

BY Frieze News Desk in Critic's Guides | 09 MAY 19


While Venice might be known for its medieval streets and intricate Gothic churches, it also has a place in the more recent history of Modernist architecture. Perhaps the most renowned of Venice’s Modernist structures are those by Venetian native Carlo Scarpa. However, Bruno Giacometti, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd-Wright have also contributed to a Modernist legacy in Venice.  

Carlo Scarpa, ticket office, exterior view, Venice, 1952. Courtesy and photograph: Gianantonio Battistella © CISA- A. Palladio

Scarpa’s ticket booth sits at the entrance to the Giardini park, where many national pavilions are located. Built in 1952, it was used to check tickets for several decades, but subsequently fell into disrepair. In 2004 it was restored to its former glory, but is no longer in use.

Carlo Scarpa, garden of the Central Pavilion, Venice, 1952. Courtesy and photograph: Orsenigo Chemollo

Another Scarpa structure is the garden for the Central Pavilion, which uses geometric concrete forms in a style typical of the architect. The structure was originally an addition to the Italian Pavilion, before the national pavilion moved to the Arsenale and this became the central structure.

Venezuelan Pavilion, Biennale Gardens, Venice, 1953-56. Courtesy and photograph: Orsenigo Chemollo

The angular form of the Venezuelan pavilion is the third Scarpa design in the Giardini park. Commissioned by Venezuelan architect and historian Graziano Gasparini in 1952, Scarpa completed the commission in 1956. Above a rough concrete exterior, striking slatted windows make this one of the most recognizable pavilions in the Giardini.

The exterior of the Swiss Pavilion, 2019. Courtesy: Swiss Arts Council

Brother of world-renowned sculptor Alberto Giacometti, Bruno Giacometti designed the Modernist Swiss Pavilion in 1951-52. The interior space is divided into three rooms: one for sculpture, one for graphics and a third sky-lit room designed to exhibit paintings.

A description panel and a drawing of the Masieri Memorial building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1953. Courtesy and photograph: © Inexhibit

Four further Modernist structures were designed for Venice by architects including Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. However, none of them were built, a fact memorialized by Carlo Scarpa at the 1972 Venice Biennale exhibition. Plans included Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1953 Masieri Memorial, the Venice Hospital by celebrated Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (1963-1965), American architect Louis Kahn’s 1968 Palazzo dei Congressi and a public park by Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi (1970).

Carlo Scarpa (201 7) by Robert McCarter is published by Phaidon.