Scarpa and Olivetti, a love story in Venezia
20 January 2022
According to the critic Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, it is “one of the clearest masterpieces of contemporary architecture.” The Olivetti shop, designed in 1958 by Carlo Scarpa on behalf of Adriano Olivetti and inaugurated in 1959, a year before the great entrepreneur’s death , is a jewel in the heart of Venice. Elena Borghello tells us her story, manager of the shop managed since its reopening in 2011 by the FAI, Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano, and overlooking one of the most famous and photographed squares in the world. that of San Marco, a sum of years of Italian art and architecture, from the Byzantine Basilica to the Doge’s Palace, Gothic, from the Royal Palace, neoclassical, to the Renaissance of the Procuratie and the Library.
Winner of the Olivetti prize for architecture in 1956, the very Venetian Carlo Scarpa was commissioned to design a showroom through which to represent Italian know-how in one of the most important places in Italian tourism. A real “business card”, able to tell anyone who visited it the inseparable cultural and industrial principles of Ivrea’s industry. “I would like an Olivetti business card from you in the most beautiful square in the world,” he says. Scarpa, trained as a boy at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, where he entered in 1919 with the intention of becoming a painter, leaving it in 1926 with a diploma as a professor of architectural design, has already designed the Venezuelan pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale di Venice, the Gipsoteca Canoviana in Possagno, the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona and the Palazzo Abatellis Museum in Palermo. Scarpa’s need for architecture is a need, which fits perfectly with the love that Olivetti has for his work – and his workers.
“I have a great passion for the work of art. I have always taken care to know, to know, to understand […]. I can’t write, I couldn’t write a critical article, but I feel these values very strongly. And then they excite me “, expressed the architect in 1972, skilled in interpreting the ancient and the historical with the tools of the present – and, to see the results today, of a timeless future. Challenging the extremely small spaces (5 meters by 21) of a shop where Radiomarelli products were previously sold, in designing the Olivetti Scarpa shop he exploits the windows open under the arcades, designs perfect joints, mixes Venetian tradition with modern techniques, and creates a place that still today demonstrates a very current, as well as practical, balance and elegance.
The volumes recovered with wisdom and with the help of the transparency of glass and water are combined with materials of the highest quality and daring decorations, the details of which never cease to be discovered in a new light: from the black marble of Belgium to that of Aurisina, from Istrian stone to teak wood, from Venetian stuccos to colored Murano mosaics. It is difficult to decide where to look: on the glass tile floors, on the staircase, almost suspended in the void, with its asymmetrical and staggered steps, or on the golden sculpture by Alberto Viani that welcomes at the entrance, immersed in the dark pool and in its veil of water?
Assicurazioni Generali, owners of the property, after a patient philological restoration completed in 2011 – which was also attended by the Superintendency of Venice and Tobia Scarpa, who had supported their father in the design and construction phase of the Shop – have given the management of the Olivetti shop at FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano, in order to protect and manage it and make it finally accessible to the public, together with its original colors and the collection of original Olivetti machines that were exhibited at the time, primarily the famous Lettera 22.
A national non-profit foundation, FAI was born in 1975 with the aim of safeguarding the Italian heritage of art and nature, by monitoring and actively intervening in the territory: it is therefore no surprise that every year it is spent in the battle to save Venice and the climate change lagoon, which has made tides and their consequences more and more dangerous as in 2019. With high tides over 95cm high the brackish water also conquers the Olivetti store, submerges the ground floor, eats the metal of gates and doors and ruins wood and stone. Every year it can happen dozens of times and to remedy it it takes great love and patience.
A love story that visitors from all over the world can enjoy today: from architecture students to professionals flying from Japan, from Italians who have chosen proximity tourism especially with the pandemic, to foreigners who will return to populate Venice and its streets, here everyone can admire the genius of Scarpa and that of Olivetti, but also exhibitions, such as the one in 2015 dedicated to photographs of large ships taken by Gianni Berengo Gardin, or the more recent “Together, L’abitare Contemporanea of yesterday, today and tomorrow “, a reflection on living in Venice and its identity in 2021.
For information on visits, appointments and initiatives, you can follow the Instagram channel of the Olivetti Shop and the dedicated page on the FAI website. Below, however, you can listen to the interview with Elena Borghello (in Italian).