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CARLO SCARPA
 
 
 
 
  Name   Carlo Scarpa
       
  Born   June 2 , 1906
       
  Died   November 28 , 1978
       
  Nationality   Italy
       
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BIOGRAPHY
   

For much of his career a figure isolated and detached from the mainstream, Carlo Scarpa was recognized only after his death as one of the great architects of the 20th century. His work does not fit easily into standard genealogical accounts of modernist architecture. It is characterized by a virtuosity of light, color, and texture; an extraordinary refinement of detail; and complex manipulations of materials and geometry.

Scarpa obtained a diploma as a teacher of architectural drawing from the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice in 1926, when he also began teaching at the Architectural Institute of Venice University. Before beginning his career as an architect, he gained an exceptional understanding of materials working as artistic director of Venini, one of the most prominent manufacturers of Venetian glass, from 1933 to 1947. He was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, but the sumptuous visual density of his work is rooted more in the traditions of Venetian craftsmanship and Viennese ornamentation, typified by Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte. Scarpa taught at the IUAV from 1926 until his death, becoming director in 1972.

Scarpa designed numerous exhibitions in London, Paris, Rome, and Milan. For over 30 years, beginning in 1942, he consulted for the Venice Biennale. A major break through in his career was the 1948 “Paul Klee” exhibition, followed by a book pavilion in 1950. Among his greatest contributions to post-war Italian architecture was the reconstruction of several historic buildings as museums, most notably the Palazzo Abatellis (Palermo, 1953–54), the Museo di Castelvecchio (Verona, 1956–64), and Quirini-Stampalia (Venice, 1961–63), where he elevated restoration to the level of art form. The restructuring of the Museo Correr (1953–60) and the Ca’ Foscari (1954–56) in Venice received acclaim. At the same time, he undertook the layout and installation of the first six rooms of the Uffizi in Florence (1954–56, with Ignazio Gardella and Giovanni Michelucci) and planned the extension to the gypsum museum in Possagno (1955–57). Other outstanding works include the Olivetti Showroom (Venice, 1957–58), and the Gavina Showroom (Bologna, 1961–63). The Banca Popolare di Verona (1973–80), his last large work, posthumously completed, suggests the directions he might have followed had he not died prematurely. Among his domestic works, the Veritti House (Udine, 1955–61) and Ottolenghi House (Bardolino, 1974–) are most notable. It is, however, Brion-Vega Tomb and Cemetery (San Vito d’Altivole, 1970–72) that best typifies Scarpa’s enigmatic quality and his tendency to realize form as a condition of process.

Rejecting the neutral spaces of mainstream modernism, Scarpa created settings highlighting the uniqueness of objects. Container and content interact across history, manifesting a new attitude to the past and a break with modernism’s utopian teleologies. His architectural interventions create an overall artwork that embraces painting and sculpture dialogically. Historical objects and contexts are no longer simply assimilated, juxtaposed, or contrasted but rather interpreted by the architecture itself. At the Castelvecchio, for example, Scarpa hauntingly entangles the principal threads of circulation and lines of vision around the equestrian figure of the Cangrande. At other times, the engagement amplifies the displays: in the extension to the Possagno museum for Canova’s plaster casts a refined arrangement admits the changing daylight through slots and cutout cubes of sky, vivifying the chalky prototypes and walls.

Scarpa tended to approach his projects without fixed concepts. Instead, they grew out of personal interactions with clients, craftsmen, artists, and preexisting contexts. Designs were developed as processes of making, particularly in his unique mode of drawing that proceeded, like the fabric of the final buildings, in strata and palimpsests, and with meticulous attention to the smallest detail. In this sense, the works were both occasional and decorative: They were befitting celebrations or commemorations of occasions and persons—alien to both contemporary functionalist and later neorationalist approaches, but located within a respect for tradition.

Scarpa’s interest in the facade points to an acceptance of convention in architecture and a special attention to civic concerns, as in the Banca Popolare di Verona. His work is grounded in the specificities of place and region but without fixation on local identity. It is ornamental, arising from a complex poetics of differentiation and junction of nodes and seams. The sheer complexity of his compositions embraces encryption, numerology, astrology and mathematical games, the play of allusion, and a diffusion of associations by the resonance of figures and motifs at multiple scales.

Scarpa was seen by many of his contemporaries as distanced from true modern architecture. His ways of working were regarded as archaic, as a reactionary indulgence in lost practices without future, obsessed with detail, precious materials, and luxurious artifice. The Venice Order of Architects sued him for unlawfully practicing as an architect, but he successfully defended the lawsuit. His nonchalance regarding the tasks of the contemporary world, the fact that he worked for museums, foundations, and private clients rather than for public administration, provoked ideological criticism. Although he enjoyed considerable respect as a designer and specialist in restoration and the interior design of museums and exhibitions, only Mazzariol and Zevi, his earliest defenders, promoted his importance as an architect.

Since his death nonmodern perceptions have highlighted and legitimized the metaphorical potential of Scarpa’s work. Its dispersed, fragmentary nature and its perpetual capacity to defy geometric closure are acknowledged by Tafuri in his comparison with Umberto Eco’s idea of the opera aperta. His composition by breaks and scattering anticipated the disjointed work of the deconstructivists. Detail has now become a source of interest to those concerned with ornament and tectonics alike—we are perhaps closer to him today than his contemporaries were. Scarpa’s influence on subsequent architecture has been diffuse but indirect; his work is too singular to be directly emulated.

Ross JENNER

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
   

Albertini, Bianca and Alessandro Bagnoli, Scarpa: L’architettura nel dettaglio, Milan: Jaca Book, 1988; as Carlo Scarpa: Architecture in Details, translated by Donald Mills, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, and London: Architecture Design and Technology Press, 1988 Beltramini, Guido, Kurt W.Forster, and Paola Marini (editors), Carlo Scarpa: Mostre e musei, 1944–1976: Case e paesaggi, 1972–1978, Milan: Electa, 2000 Crippa, Maria Antonietta, Carlo Scarpa: Il pensiero, il disegno, i progetti, edited by Marina Loffi Randolin, Milan: Jaca Book, 1984; as Carlo Scarpa: Theory, Design, Projects, translated by Susan Chapman and Paola Pinna, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1986 Dal Co, Francesco and Giuseppe Mazzariol (editors), Carlo Scarpa: Opera completa, Milan: Electa, 1984; as Carlo Scarpa: The Complete Works, New York: Electa/Rizzoli, 1985 Detti, Edoardo, Carlo Scarpa, 1906–1978: Histoires comme experience, Marseilles: Editions Parentheses, 1986 Frascari, Marco, “A Heroic and Admirable Machine: The Theatre of the Architecture of Carlo Scarpa, Architetto Veneto,” Poetics Today 10, no. 1 (1989) Los, Sergio, Carlo Scarpa, Cologne: Taschen, 1993 Los, Sergio, Carlo Scarpa: Guida all’architettura, Venice: Arsenale Editrice, 1995; as Carlo Scarpa: An Architectural Guide, translated by Antony Shugaar, 1995 Mazzariol, Giuseppe, “Opere di Carlo Scarpa,” L’Architettura: Cronache e storia 3 (1955) Nakamura, Toshio (editor), Karuro Sukarupa-Carlo Scarpa (bilingual Japanese-English edition), Tokyo: A+U, 1985 Olsberg, R.Nicholas, et al., Carlo Scarpa, Architect: Intervening with History, New York: Monacelli Press, and Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1999 Zambonini, Giuseppe, “Process and Theme in the Work of Carlo Scarpa,” Perspecta 20 (1983)

Selected Publications

“Letter of the Venetian Rationalists,” Published in Il Lavoro Fascista, 1931, Carlo Scarpa: The Complete Works “A Thousand Cypresses,” Lecture given in Madrid, 1978 The Other City: The Architect’s Working Method As Shown by the Brion Cemetery in San Vito d’Altivole/Die andere Stadt: Die Arbeitsweise des Architekten am Beispiel der Grabanlage Brion in San Vito d’Altivole (bilingual English—German edition), Berlin: Ernst, 1989

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