Koolhaas Controversy: OMA to Turn Venice Palazzo into a Department Store and Venue for the 2014 Biennale

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The Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice is currently a post office. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice is currently a post office. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

After much controversy, Rem Koolhaas’ firm OMA has been granted permission to transform a historic Venice palazzo that is currently a post office into a department store and venue for the 2014 Venice Biennale. Fashion retailer Benetton bought the site, the Fondaco die Tedeschi, five years ago for more than $68 million.

Aerial view of the palazzo, outlined in white, in its current condition. (Courtesy OMA)

Aerial view of the palazzo, outlined in white, in its current condition. (Courtesy OMA)

OMA, which is currently keeping busy in Miami, modified its original plans for the redesign to to appease opponents to the project. The updated scheme attempts to interfere with the original architecture as minimally as possible. An escalator planned for the central atrium is no longer included and the need to demolish a section of the roof has been sidestepped. In the new design, the rooftop terrace is propped above the building. Project architect Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli asserted that the department store would not be a typical one since art events, film festivals, and architectural biennales will be given space in the palazzo along with local arts and crafts venues. In the manner of a typical department store, however, the space will also be shared by international retail outlets.

Opposition movements are not yet satisfied with OMA’s modifications. Heritage group Italia Nostra complained in court last year that “serious damage to the building’s physical integrity and historical identity” would be unavoidable if the plan was allowed to proceed. Salvatore Settis, an art historian, accused Benetton of purchasing planning approval. The retailer allegedly promised to give over $7 million dollars to the city.

Koolhaas, who is directing the 2014 Venice Biennale, chose “Fundamentals” as its title. It will focus on historic architecture as opposed to contemporary, which has been the primary subject of previous biennales. Koolhaas aims to expose the erasure of national architectural identities by global architecture during the last 200 years, which, he says, has created a monotonous built environment.

The previous design featured a rooftop deck that would have required demolishing a portion of the palazzo's historic tile roof. The updated design features a deck propped above the historic roof. (Courtesy OMA)

The previous design featured a rooftop deck that would have required demolishing a portion of the palazzo’s historic tile roof. The updated design features a deck propped above the historic roof. (Courtesy OMA)

The previous design also included an escalator in the central atrium, which drew the ire of opposition groups. The current, approved design has done away with the escalator. (Courtesy OMA)

The previous design also included an escalator in the central atrium, which drew the ire of opposition groups. The current, approved design has done away with the escalator. (Courtesy OMA)

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