Tucked away under the arcades in the north west corner of St Mark’s Square, unnoticed by most of the millions who visit Venice each year, is a masterpiece of 20th century architecture. Carlo Scarpa was commissioned in 1957 by Adriano Olivetti to design the Olivetti Store, which opened in 1958. He wanted a showroom that reflected the quality and excellence of his company.
David Price, founder of David Price Design, speaks with Design Insider in detail about the designs of Carlo Scarpa, specifically the Olivetti Store.
The original space, long, thin and dark (21 x 5m) was completely opened up and window sizes increased to take advantage of the corner site. The changes of levels, the long mezzanine balconies, the central sculptural staircase and the mix of materials all add up to a profoundly rich architectural promenade.
Scarpa, a native of Venice, was keenly aware of the excellence of the local craft traditions which he sought to further in his own modern approach. Here he used marble from Trieste, smooth on the face but cut rough on the long edges, rosewood for shelves to show the Olivetti machines, teak for the balconies, panels of Venetian stucco and zones of different coloured glass tesserae for the floors.
Brass details head columns or separate materials, whilst the stucco panels incorporate lighting behind opaque glass. The overall effect is calm, perfect, a joy to walk through.
As you enter, the floor is a red mosaic, flanked to the left by a black Belgian marble water feature, over which floats a bronze sculpture (you will also see drain outlets in the floor as the ‘aqua alta’ is a constant menace to the showroom). This gives way to the more neutral floor colouring which then becomes yellow at the far end, a chapel-like space where timber screens can be opened to allow goods to be delivered directly from the canal behind.
The central staircase is a masterpiece in its own right; the steps, irregular in width, seeming to float in the space. The balconies are at different heights, again accentuating the experience of the space, and the details abound: the joints in the teak handrails, the little pivoting grills allowing access to the radiator valves, the shelves supported only by thin verticals of teak, the windows at the end shaped like eyes with delicate sliding timber screens, the brass connections of columns to ceilings.
Everywhere a layering of the materials, shadow gaps, nothing not considered. In a city of marvels this one, restored by the Italian National Trust (FAI) and open to the public since 2011, stands with the best.
Contact David Price Design