W.A.VE 2011 – Venice Laguna City

Auftraggeber: Università IUAV di Venezia

Venice Laguna City – Research into urbanism
“City – together with language – is the biggest cultural invention on of mankind.”
Lewis Mumford, the culture of cities, USA 1996

We do love cities, especially cities like Venice. Cities in which one can get lost to find things one did not expect, cities for people, full of culture, full of life and beauty; cities with a great neighborhood, cities with shops and bars on every corner, cities with good food and good wine. This is Venice La Serenissima, the slow city for pedestrians only! Everything inside the city is located within walking distance, everything outside is almost impossible to reach. This is – of course – the Venetian’s price for living in such a city.

Knowing that most studios organized at the W.A.VE conference in Venice have a strong focus on architecture, we decided to dedicate our entire workshop to regional planning, choosing a site seemingly far too big to be able to deal with and probably also far too ambitious for such a short workshop; the size of the area with almost 1.200km2 made it impossible for students to worry too much about the small things, i.e. small details and relations. For the students to be able to get a grip of the topic, we introduced them to methods we use in our daily business when working on urban projects, i.e. methods such as SWOT analysis, future labs, and scenario games. We introduced our students to techniques by means of which they can operate large scale projects as well as coordinate and manage larger teams.

In order to be able to deal with such a large region, we asked our students to visit specific places which had randomly been chosen on a large map. They were given a format to describe and analyze the dynamics and logics of those places in order to eventually create our mutual “Taschenwelt”, a conceptual atlas introduced to our practice by Raoul Bunschoten at the Berlage Institut in Rotterdam. Equipped with this toolbox, they developed several future scenarios for the site, considering risks and threats they had previously identified during additional desk research.

These are some of the biggest challenges our team identified for the future “Laguna of Venice”:

depopulation of the historic center (currently 60.000 people live in the historic center, 1/3 of the population of 1950)
rise of the sea level by 0.8 to 2 meters by 2100 (see studies by National Geographic on Sea level rise)
lack of affordable residential space (more and more apartments in Venice are being transformed into hotels and B&Bs)
lack of large-scale infrastructure, such as sporting grounds, swimming pools, shopping malls
14,000.000 tourist/year
By combining these challenges with our knowledge on social, economic and ecological changes within Europe (e.g. ageing of the population, urbanization, individualization, de-agrarization and deindustrialization), our student developed visions of their “Venice by the year 2050”.

It was interesting to learn that within Europe, Italy is the country with the biggest income gap between the richest and poorest 20% of the population; that not a single Italian city features in the world’s Eco cities top 100; that within Europe, Italy is one of the countries with the lowest account of urbanization; that the population of most small Italian cities is continuously decreasing; that Italians are the world’s number three when it comes to spending time in front of the TV; and that this therefore has a large influence on the ways in which public spaces are used and designed.

Our starting point was to draw upon studies on urban density and sustainability, such as the studies by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy (Sustainability and cities, Island Press 1999) who state that urban regions with a higher density are generally more sustainable regions, or an article by Paul Romer on charter cities and their economic values. We ask our students to treat the Laguna of Venice as a completely urbanized area. What they came up with was very interesting for us and definitely something which calls for discussion.

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with an astonishing cultural heritage which needs to be protected. Most students decided not to change the existing urban fabric of the historical center, but to create additions and extensions to the city. Techniques such as mimicking and camouflaging where used to add volumes and surfaces next to, on top of and underneath the city by interfering as little as possible in the image of the city. Students developed artificial fog, mirroring facades to render their projects invisible, to make them disappear in the context of Venice.

Another group of students based their shaping of their vision of “the future Venice” on the ecological threats the city is facing; they developed a dike-like city centered around the “pesce”, the main historical island of Venice, to save the island from flooding and, at the same time, to generate living space for those millions of people in the region which would eventually lose their homes once the sea level rises.

Other groups decided to further develop the concept of the Venetian “tragetto”, i.e. proposing various types of “bridges” which would in turn change the patterns of connectivity within Venice.

One group of students proposed banking on the advantages of a big event, such as the Olympic Games, in order to introduce new sporting facilities around the main island, new paths for bikers and pedestrians which would serve as connecting routes between these different types of infrastructure, a metro line connecting Meste and the airport, Porto Maghera, Venice and Lido, and a golf course in Piazzale Roma.

By introducing ecological changes, such as water purification, the relocation of the port outside the Laguna, and using alternative energy sources, Venice Laguna was turned into a natural resort, a region with beautiful beaches, a hub for research and development dedicated to finding new sources of energy production.

Another group treated the urbanized between Milano and Venice as “holy grounds”. They developed a concept of a linear city which indeed would be inhabited by millions of people, but which would not allow urbanization for the surrounding natural spaces and by those means allowing for a more sustainable future for that region. They would be able to achieve this by reducing travel time to a minimum and making all places equally close to the various hotspots. This seems like a particularly interesting concept for future studies, knowing that Europe lacks big cities – only 10 European cities range within the world’s largest cities (http://www.worldatlas.com/city pops.htm).

Generally, our team was very happy with the quality and the amount of material our students were able to produce in such a short amount of time, always hoping that there would be some spare time at the end of the workshops to be able to study the results in more detail. Indeed, more collaboration and communication between the different groups would probably be beneficial, not only for the students but especially for all tutors and professors involved.

This project, though an academic research project, shows that unconventional, holistic approaches can lead to new solutions and opportunities of solving some of the big challenges for the future of Venice, possibly also Italy or even Europe.

Some scenario images.
Network of Islands, big offscore infrastructure
Extensions to the „pesce“, additional connections.
New beaches, big „Ring Island“, offshore port.
New island development in the Laguna, offshore beaches.
Airport extension in the Laguna, Mestre City, Ponte della Libertà housing, Murano City.