Reassembling Venice – A Science and Cultural Center for the Sinking Lagoon


The design proposal deals with the ongoing sinking process of Venice. Assuming that one cannot rescue the city, the question arises on how a building could contribute against the loss of cultural and architectonic artefacts found within the urban fabric. The design refers to the research project “the Venice time machine” from Frédéric Kaplan and serves as a future site for this.

A building is developed, one that changes in relation to the sinking of Venice, from a science centre to a cultural centre.



What prompted the project? What informed designing a building in response to the issue of Venice sinking?

The idea came to my mind while looking at the “images of change” on the NASA website. Suddenly I realised the enormous impact of global warming in terms of rise in the level of the sea. Subsequently, I started researching the areas & cities which would be most affected by this phenomenon and obviously Venice with St Marcus square only 60cm above sea level is an immediate target.

I looked into the actions currently enforced to prevent the flooding of the Italian city and discovered the MOSE project, one of the biggest and most ambitious schemes intended to protect Venice. With mobile gates installed at the lagoon inlets, the MOSE barrier is designed to withstand tides up to 3 meters. With an estimated rise of 60cm in global sea levels by 2050 this project set to fail. Moreover, according to the CVN consortium, higher barriers are not of much help as the water would flood the lagoon from the north and south.

This prompted the question, is it acceptable for a city like Venice to disappear?

Since the city nowadays mainly operates as a setting for tourists rather than as an active economic metropolis, one might accept the cities sinking future, but should not consent to the disappearance and loss of all of its architectural and cultural value.  If the whole city can’t be rescued, there needs to be a way to rescue its architectural and cultural goods.

What lead you back to the project by Kaplan and what extent did this inform your own work?

One of the main questions throughout the design process was how to enable the experience of Venice to new generations in absence of the city itself. During my research I came across the work by Frédéric Kaplan “The Venice time machine project”, within the contemporary context I realised how the latter could play such an important role in the future that it should be used more than ‘just’ as a tool for art historians. As a result, I chose to site this intervention within the city itself.

How important were the drawings as means through which to explore the project?

The drawings showcase the ideas behind the project.

The axonometric drawings are essential tools which reveal how the program and the volume of the building changes in relation to time, whilst the key-images function more diagrammatically exposing the atmosphere and the actions occurring inside and outside of the building.

Within its first incarnation as a science centre, the building is a machine – CCTV cameras monitor the entrance, giant tubes constantly spit out smoke, computers are continuously processing data and outside ships are bringing in more and more artefacts of the city. In contrast the second phase shows a more joyful atmosphere. Gondolas slowly approach the piazza, light flows softly through the tubes, people visit the observation tower whilst the theatre invites you to see a play.

What defined the section as main medium through which you explore the development of the program over time?

With such a complex building only the section allows a deeper insight into the project, its elements and their changing over time. Where the axonometry only allows one to look at the building as a whole, the section provides information on how this is constructed and how the different parts develop over time.

What role does the model play?

The simple readability of an architectural model makes it one of the most important instruments to engage with an audience beyond the clique of architects.

Within the project the models represent the two different phases. They are not exactly built according to the plans, but rather exist as abstract representations which underline the main aspects of the design. In some parts the facade is partially built to allow for the reading of the ‘behind’ whilst wall thicknesses are disregarded and bookshelf’s are purposefully enlarged.

What defined the two scales at which this is explored?

This project refers to the subsidence of Venice and reacts to its disappearance. The two scales try to demonstrate two major points, first the effects of the change in its surroundings, and second the effects of the change of its program.

The large scale shows the position of the building in the Venetian arsenal. You also get aware of the dimension of the design. In the overall axonometry you can understand how you can only access the building by boat through the arsenals main inlet. With the change of the surrounding, you suddenly have different possibilities of arrival.

Where the large scale shows the response of the building to the drowning city of Venice, the smaller scale demonstrates the changes within the building itself.

How do the renders explore the space? What informed both the exterior and interior perspectives?

Since the project more is a utopia, the medium needed to show a glimpse of the possibilities of the building in the future.

The first pictures reveal the building through apocalyptic lens accentuating the dramatic issues of rising sea levels.

Whilst the first two visualizations showcasing the first phase are darker, the second two pictures are rather overexposed to enable for a utopian atmosphere. The exterior as well as the interior feature reflective materials such as water, glass and terrazzo. The incoming light hitting the reflecting tubes of the VR library makes it hard to decide what is real and what is fake – allowing on to lose himself within this utopia.