Developed as a parallel research project of Fundamentals—the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale curated by Rem Koolhaas—the book offers insights on Venetian facades, stairs, corridors, floors, ramps, ceilings, doors, hearths, windows, balconies and walls. It is composed by individual examples without apparent connection, apart from the narrative dictated by the original biennale 12 items.
Despite its small size (16.5 × 12 cm), it guides us in a trip through almost 700 pages, with hundreds of diagrams, collages, drawings and original photos, alternating with historical documentation of the most varied type.
The metamorphic nature of Venice, a city in which most buildings underwent throughout the centuries substantial volumetric and formal transformations informed by political and cultural shifts, is revealed in Elements of Venice through the analysis of single architectural elements. “Product not [only] of the mind but of societal organization” the elements are isolated from their picture-perfect context and from the postcard view of Venice that is impressed in our retinas, introducing the reader—through a combination of collages, drawings, photographs, paintings, film stills and quotes—to a radically new way of seeing Venice. Like a camera obscura photograph cuts through the often irrelevant embellishments of architecture to reveal the underlying skeleton of a building (i.e. its elements), this guide will allow the reader to better understand the fundamental transformations that have shaped Venice during the past ten centuries. This city, which for many is—architecturally speaking—permanently frozen in time, has in fact often been at the forefront of challenging the architectural conventions, both during the days of the Republic (until 1797), in which gothic and renaissance styles were seen as carriers of political and ideological meanings, and in the past two centuries when, despite the introduction of the dooming motto “Com’era, dov’era” (“As it was, where it was”), Venice underwent an unprecedented urban transformation.
The structure of the book begins with “The Metamorphosis of Venice – A Historical Parenthesis” that uses San Marco – the Piazza (“Square” in this book) and the Basilica – to show transformation of elements – a metamorphosis from the Lagoon into the precinct and structures that are present today.
“Dissecting the Building Elements of Venice” reveals the City through its architectonic features, studied by performing a post-mortem dissection to make the key elements readily observable, and to gain an understanding of their relationship to context over time, in the manner of Rem Koolhaas’s studies of elements and typology over the decades, not by utilizing a chronologically “evolutionary” route.
The twelve elements explored through “micronarratives” – ranging from one to many within the study of an element – are: façade, stair, corridor, floor, ramp, roof, ceiling, door, fireplace, window, balcony, wall.
A Maps section follows the text, locating the specific discussions by color code to helpfully identify the element involved and by page number for the specific site. The scale of the maps, however, makes the page numbers minuscule, so keep a magnifier handy if you desire to route find with the book as a guide.
Photos of the book via edgargonzález.com