Elements of Venice



Venice, as an annual place of Carnival, Venice Film Festival and many others, has a strong tradition of festivity, which influences architecture and urban design of the city. During the festive periods the city is flooded with crowds on the street, even balconies are full of audience.

Venice used to be a stage for public life and the ceremonies were open to all social classes, in which roles everything, or almost everything was allowed. The city was conceived after a fondness of the art of display and today’s Venice hasn’t lost any of its theatre. However, the audience has changed. As Thomas Mann said, this city is half fairy tale and half tourist trap. The question, how to find the balance between inhabited city and touristic ‘Disneyland’, was a starting point for the design.

‘Scuola piccola’ is a contemporary rescaled interpretation of the Venetian historic example of Scuola Grande in an architectural exception within the fabric of Venice. A civic home for local rituals and festivities, maintained by the inhabitants of Venice stands at the one of the smallest campos in scale, Campo San Samuele, located along the Canal Grande, Venice’s main canal, integrating the vaporetto boat stop into a new building. The new addition steps down to the water, making it part of the building and enabling it to function as the theatrical backdrop for the vaporetti and regatta boats that pass by every minute of the day. The ground floor and the terrace are places where Venetians and tourists meet each other.

Campo forms its own specific urban interior, enclosed by the surrounding buildings like walls to an outdoor room, creating a deeply theatrical architectural arrangement: a stage for urban life. In Venice, we consider the festivity also as a day-to-day life. The campo, translated as ‘field’, has always been the heart of Venetian neighbourhoods. Initially unpaved, with a strong sense of Venetian identity clustered around a grassy space. Standing on the line, between the land and water, occupies the least space as it is possible. The grass grows up through the stone.

The new addition recognises the classical urban and architectural design thought. The mass of the Scuola Piccola, squeezed in between two large palazzi; Grazzi and Malipiero, continues the proportions of the Gran Canal buildings – the sumptuous facades mastered in the manner of a theatrical curtain. Thus, outward show and appearance were at the core of Venetian society, and a close relation with the ‘masque’ existed there. And according to the OED, ‘facade’ or ‘façade’ is a word used since the 1650s, borrowed from the French form façade and the Italian facciata, which in its turn come from the Latin form faccia or ‘face’. From the 1560s onwards, ‘to face’ acquires the meaning of ‘to cover with something in front’, which recalls the disguising nature of a mask. The new, narrow volume, curtain, mask stands in between – Campo San Samuele is
a stage presenting the land and the main spectacle takes place on the water.

La grande illusion

Venice is a city of rooms and corridors. The interiors organised horizontally continue ‘in between’ relation. Huge thin windows open the view for the water and regular, singular windows on the other side remain in touch with a view of day-to-day festivity. The doors entering rooms are aligned with the doors of the connecting rooms, along a single axis, providing a vista through the entire suite of building. The simple axis adds invisible layers to the building.

It is a city of Istrian stone, steel and wood, the city still standing because of the millions of tree trunks that have been piled into the marshes. Pre-cast concrete ground floor protects the building from high raised water level and wooden structure makes it future sustainable.

It is a city of illusion. On the façade of Palladio’s Redentore II a central triangular pediment overlies a larger, lower one. Illusionistic facade of Scuola Grande di San Marco confuses people what is a real part of the of the fifteenth century building’s front and the paintings play tricks with linear perspective. The new addition wants to be visible in a different way from every point of the Canal Grande. Last floor, with a terrace open for public uses diagonal line to act with changing perception.

Venice offers a various historical periods and elements on a relatively small area with buildings that have a lifespan of hundreds of years. An architectural language in the context reflects a familiarity between the artifacts without imitation. Considering carefully the surrounding shapes, the design tries to achieve experience and memory of the place.


Who influences you graphically?

The list is long and constantly growing. What I find inspiring are classic art examples. I grew up watching with old master (Vilhelm Hammershøi, Rembrandt., Vermeer) and I re-appreciated it for spatial quality, light and shadow, perspectives and composition.

And Of course, I look for some contemporary examples. I like the way how Junya Ishigami mixes physical model photos and drawings, I am inspired by Jiwoon Pak’s colour palette.

I’m interested in the kind of images that communicate a specific atmosphere as smoothly as a short novel would.

What defines the language through which you approach, choose to reveal a specific project?

I try to reintroduce some imaginary, by replacing the raw image by suggestion.

The city is the accumulation of elements. I tried to observe carefully existing environment to underline the most important roles in the context. The Sun and the Moon, the water reflections shape each other. There is an aspect of fantasy, theatrical. It lets room for allusion that, together with the viewer experience and memories, could take him to the place, which was the same graphic goal I adopted in the project language.

The representation is just a simple power. The applied colours, lights, materials define the perception; it’s a kind of warm melancholy.

I used some paper boats and white, simple, hand-painted lines  for creating a fragile world, as I perceive Venice.

What prompted the project Elements of Venice? What tools of research did you use throughout the project?

I have studied deeply for the design process the elements of Venice; bridges, water doors, facades, festivity symbols and their genealogy. What I found interesting is how consistent they are. I realized Venetian used to play tricks with their art, architecture and it’s perception; I wanted to do the same with my building, which stands along the Canal Grande and it’s visible in different way from every point of the water. I analyzed typical venetian symbols like mask or curtain, what let me add some (in)visible layers to the building.

In the same time I wondered how to buid the new quality of the Campo and vaporetto station, with the addition.. How to avoid past replication without loosing the context. Carlo Scarpa, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright – their approaches to the design in Venice together with carefull observation helped me materialized some starting ideas.

What is your take on the contemporary limbo of Venice as ‘touristic trap’ and ‘fairyland’?

For me Venice is a city with strong character, which cannot be reduced to the postcard image.

Yes, the city is expensive, overcrowded with tourists and more should be done to protect its residents and those all over the world that love it. Mass tourism and associated forces are suffocating Venice – development of long term vision is blocked by the short-sighted interests of the grab and run economy. Rising water levels are consuming the fabric of the city, day after day. But if we can understand what Venice offers us, we will respect her fragility and cherish her beauty, which is even more visible a few minutes away from Canal Grande; Ghetto Nuovo, La Giudecca, Campos… and many others.

What defined the use of the model as primary medium upon which to construct the views?

Model is a tool for creating space in a precise, realistic way. Working with model, especially at the place with strong context, where each centimeter or shape plays important role – it lets design objectively, honestly and find the surprising allusion. When the geometry, size, proportion are unchangeable, there is still leaves some room for imagination. Handcrafting with a bit of manipulation always generate an interesting outcom, telling the story of the light, materiality and perception.


Dominika Strzałka  is currently in her Master at Cracow University of Technology, and has formerly studied at TU Delft in the Netherlands (master exchange) and ETSAM Madrid (Alberto Campo Baeza classes, bachelor exchange).

Fascinated with history of art and architecture, as well projects that involve cross-collaborative fields of professions across design, arts and architecture, she has participated in exhibitions, and entry competitions across Poland and Spain. Always to work with details and craftsmanship.