The Italian architect and designer Carlo Scarpa (b- Venice, Italy 1906, d- 1978 Sendai, Japan) was the son of a school teacher. Scarpa first attended technical high school, and then went on to study at the Royal Accademia di Belle Arti Venezia, and by 26 he had obtained a diploma in Architectural Design. Controversy among other architects did arise due to Scarpa’s incomplete architectural education. However, his experience was unquestionable. After leaving education, Scarpa went straight to work in the Venetian studio of architect Guido Cirilli, also apprenticing with the architect Francesco Rinaldo.
Carlo was heavily influenced by his native Venetian culture and the materials and landscapes of city. Later in his career he combined his lifelong love for Venice with an infatuation for Japanese culture, and modernism. His mixed medium of works including, furniture and glass reflect his passion and interest in history, regionalism and craftsmanship; his architecture reflects a deep awareness of the steep marks of history and masterful attention to details to combine ancient craft skill within a totally modern aesthetic.
Scarpa’s collaboration with Venini glass was an essential part of his career. It was with Venini he became known for his slick modern taste, transforming the brand from their infamous ornate chandeliers to embracing a contemporary style, including streamlined shapes and more saturated colours. Carlo began work with Venini in 1932 while he was still at the academy, becoming the artistic director until 1947. It was during Scarpa’s time working with the Murano glassblowers at Venini, that he deepened his understanding of the role that traditional crafts play, even in contemporary architecture and design.
While collaborating with Venini, Scarpa designed numerous glass objects and lamps, that are still sought after by collectors and museums. Glass was his primary material whole working at Venini, however Scarpa also created other furnishing designs such as the 618 chair for Meritalia in 1964, the Delfi terrazzo table, in collaboration with Marcel Breuer, manufactured by Sim in 1969, the Samo marble table manufactured by Simon as well in 1970 and the Kentucky chair for Bernini in 1977.
In terms of his architectural work, Scarpa’s legacy is his interventions in pre-existing public building and Palazzos, he constructed only a small number of original works. His architectural and design trajectory was remarkably different from the Italian rationalism and international style that dominated the second half of the 20th century. His appreciation and experience of an artisan approach defined his work and separated him from his peers in Italy and Europe.
Between 1935 and 1937, Scarpa successfully worked on his first transformational architectural work. The intervention was at the Ca’Foscari in Venice, home of the homonymous university. He then worked on the project for a second time during the 1950s, and in fact the intervention turned out to be one of the most innovative restoration projects of the period and won him national and international recognition.
From 1940 till his death in 1978, Scarpa taught drawing and interior decoration at the Istituto Universitario di Archittura di Venezia. It is true that most of his constructed work is in the Veneto, however he did also design landscapes, gardens and buildings across Italy, as well as in Canada, the USA, Saudi Arabia, France and Switzerland.
Other important works but Carlo Scarpa are: The reinforcement and intervention at the Palazzo Attabelis in Palermo in 1953, the Olivetti Showroom in Venice in 1958, The intervention at the 1356 fortress Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona in the 1950s and 60s, where he excavated sections of the medieval structure exposing its foundation, inserted glass panels in the raw rocky walls, placed the 14th century equestrian statue of Cangrande della Scala on a concrete platform, and designed a new approachable museography where sculptures and paintings were made more accessible to the viewer. Another work of beauty and innovation was the museum garden of Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice in the early 1960s. Scarpa designed a water basin of varying levels, made of copper and alabaster, allowing the flow of water from the city to participate into an ever-mutating inner atmosphere.
During the later years of his life, Carlo Scarpa showed a particular interest in Japan and its culture, specifically, Japanese design sensitivity and the use of every-day materials such as reclaimed timber and rusted metal. He visited Japan twice in his life, firstly in 1969 and secondly in 1978. It was on this second trip he had a tragic accident and fell down a flight of stairs, taking away his life from the world.
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