When you think of 'contemporary architecture', a city like Venice probably doesn't spontaneously come to mind. That's understandable. Because there, the rules are very strict. And yet with the new Venetian courthouse, C+S Architects succeeded in combining the soul of the past with timeless architecture. Thanks to this project, the firm won the 2017 BigMat National Award. We went to the 'city of bridges' and spoke to Maria Alessandra Segantini, director of C+S Architects.
Venice is known all over the world for its typical 16th- and 17th-century style. For the new courthouse, however, you resolutely opted for contemporary architecture. Why?
In the past, Venice was very often averse to modern architecture. With this project we wanted to assume our responsibility. We therefore took up the challenge of allowing contemporary architecture to create a dialogue with the historical city. Because the two needn't be mutually exclusive. On the contrary.
What makes this design unique?
The building is located at the end of a row of 19th-century Venetian factory buildings, 'tezas', opposite Piazzale Roma. With this courthouse we created a contemporary 'teza' that allows for the different spaces of the industrial buildings and the smaller urban texture to blend together.
We stretched the compact shape both in height and length so that we could fit the building into the remaining space. The building is clad in oxidised copper which used to distinguish the Venetians' institutional buildings from the other buildings. With this choice of material, we are handing over contemporary architecture to 'time' because we do not know exactly when the building will effectively take on the green copper colour. This copper is a nod to the architectural skyline that is typical of historical Venice.
Venice is one of the most important European art cities. Does art influence your work?
Good art tells stories of a specific time, but its meaning is timeless. We believe that you can achieve that with architecture as well.
Through the Art and Architecture Biennale, Venice challenges artists and architects from all over the world to integrate their craftsmanship into the Arsenale, the Giardini and the whole surrounding area.
We have already taken up this challenge twice with C+S Architects. In 2003 we created The Cord, a tunnel to enter the exhibition. In 2016 we designed Aequilibrium, a red knot that we wrapped around a column in the historical Arsenale.
This design earned you the 2017 BigMat National Award. Why did you accept this challenge?
At C+S Architects, we are incredibly fascinated by projects that allow us to return abandoned industrial sites or historical sites to the public. These sites are part of people's identity. They are an important part of the life story of the inhabitants and visitors of that neighbourhood.
The challenge in this project was also to create an open, urban meeting place. All too often we see projects that are just very closed and therefore inaccessible. That is why we chose to develop a contemporary building with a 'hybrid function'.
We partially demolished the walls of the old tobacco factory and created a completely open ground floor, a contemporary 'piazza', with a seven-floor entrance hall and lots of natural light. As such, we created a public space and a connection between the old industrial buildings, the modern architecture and the parking spaces at Piazzella Roma.
You also drew the designs for the Panquin site in Tervuren, a project for which you partnered with ION. Are there any parallels with the Venice project?
Certainly. As I said, we have always had a special interest in the combination of old and new. The beautiful historical site, including the military Hoefijzercomplex and the Orangery, is being restored and given a new interpretation. There will also be 3 new wings with about 100 residential units that will integrate into their immediate surroundings, both from a spatial and an architectural perspective.
Our design consists of a series of 'micro-urban' squares, all reserved for pedestrians. As such, we have created a protected environment where people can enjoy the newly designed park and the public spaces. The latter, in turn, connect the various parts of the project: residential units, a five-star hotel, restaurants and cafés.
You joined forces with ION for this project. What makes C+S Architects and ION different?
We believe that we should always work in function of the community and the identity of a location. In this case, in Tervuren, we create a dialogue with the spectacular surroundings of the park, the historical background and the needs and wishes of the local residents.
For the Panquin site, we found only one partner who shared our objectives. Through this project, together with ION, we are striving for a sustainable redevelopment with respect for the history and identity of Tervuren.
Maria Alessandra Segantini
Maria Alessandra Segantini is co-founder and director of C+S Architects. The firm has offices in Treviso and London. Maria Alessandra is also a guest professor at MIT in the United States and she exhibits her work all over the world. She is a full-time professor at the School of Art and Architecture of Hasselt University.
The architectural firm C+S Architects with offices in Treviso and London was founded in Venice in 1994 by Carlo Cappai and Maria Alessandra Segantini. Their portfolio includes internationally renowned 'high-end' designs, from urban design to architecture and interior design, for both the private and public sectors. C+S Architects always opts for an innovative and sustainable approach and thus succeeds in embedding its strong concepts in the historical identity of the sites. The firm's projects are exhibited across the globe.
More than 20 international architectural firms took part in the competition to redevelop the 37,000-m² Panquin site. The team put together by A33 Architecten, including ION, C + S Architects and Studiegroep Omgeving, created the winning design. As such, we are giving Tervuren a new face with respect for historical heritage.