Venice City Council approves Benetton’s conversion of a Venetian palace into a megastore

Venice City Council approved the conversion of an ancient Venetian palace into a shopping mall after a ‘marathon’ meeting late into the night of 11 March 2013. Of 28 councillors, 18 voted in favour, 7 against, 2 abstained and one did not vote. This was reported by the ANSA news agency here:

Venezia:ok Comune a Benetton nel Fontego

The clothing company Benetton plans to convert Venice’s ancient palace Fondaco dei Tedeschi into a megastore. Benetton bought the palace for approximately €55 million in 2008 and offered Venice City Council a contribution of €6 million if all building permits for the project are approved, as previously reported in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica on 13 February 2012 here:

Megastore con vista su Rialto

Conservation group Italia Nostra (Our Italy) launched a campaign to challenge the approval of the project. This campaign deserves support because the conversion of this palace would mean part of Venice’s ancient heritage would be lost forever. Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement has also opposed Benetton’s project.

Fondaco dei Tedeschi was built between 1505 and 1508 as a centre for German merchants who used it to trade silk, spices and other goods through Venice’s connections with the Orient. The palace used to contain frescos by Titian and Tintoretto, but they were moved to a museum after they were damaged. It was painted by Canaletto and is situated on the Grand Canal close to Rialto Bridge. The palace was converted into a customs house under Napoleonic rule of Venice before it became the Venetian post office headquarters in the 1930s. Yet it remains a key site and attraction in Venice and it can be seen in the picture below:

Benetton plans to turn the palace into a shopping centre. This will mean that an important part of Venice’s heritage will be transformed and lost forever. The original design by architect Rem Koolhaas included coloured escalators moving people to the higher floors and a roof top terrace where people could stand on top of the building, which can be seen below:

However, the escalators and terrace were cancelled to gain the approval of Venice City Council. In addition, for 10 days a year a public space will be available for Venice City Council events. These changes were explained in the following article in the Venetian newspaper La Nuova Venezia, 12 March 2013:

Fontrego_Consiglio_Comunale_Nuova

As explained in my book, Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality (UPA, 2012), Venice needs a great deal of infrastructure development but not modernisation that destroys vital parts of the city’s heritage. Alternative proposals for the use of this palace should be explored, including its conversion into a museum, art gallery or educational facility that would not require its total transformation. These alternatives could provide a new role for the palace, while preserving its historic character.

Comments
4 Responses to “Venice City Council approves Benetton’s conversion of a Venetian palace into a megastore”
  1. Pardon me … As you know I love your book, and … I do not agree with your conclusion in this case. Benetton offered a very good compromise position and I say why not permit this use … It is one of the areas with the most tourist traffic in Venice anyway … Why not a Benetton Megastore inside? It would certainly add to the tax revenues more than another underutilized building owned and run by the government. It is time to think about being a bit more creative and explore what might be possible for the Venice of the future. It is important to get the public into these buildings, and using them for real 2013 urban spaces – retail!

    • Dominic Standish says:

      I welcome your comments because every case in Venice needs careful consideration. In this case, my principal objection is that an important historical building will be transformed into a shopping centre. I am against development when it results in the loss of significant historical heritage. As explained in my original post, this building has played vital roles in the evolution of the city. I would like to see a new role for it that also provides opportunities to reflect upon its previous roles. Changing it into a museum or gallery could incorporate reflections on its past. Turning it into a megastore will not. You mention that it could become another underutilised public building, yet Venice does not have one publicly funded art gallery in a city that has a wonderful artistic history. On the other hand, Venice has plenty of shops, including a large Benetton store and many luxury brand shops. Is there really a need for more clothing stores? You are right that selling the property to Benetton for retail development will bring more revenue for the City Council in the short-term. However, this will mean the loss of this important historical site forever. The short-term problems of the city’s finances should not be traded for the loss of heritage. This also applies to selling Venetian ancient palaces for their transformation into hotels, which I also oppose. Revenue for the city can be generated in other ways, as outlined in my book. Constructing Pierre Cardin’s Light Palace and the creation of a new Marriott luxury resort on Sacca Sessola island (announced today) are positive forms of development that can bring more revenue to the city. Ultimately, do we want Venetians and visitors to the city to have more cultural or shopping opportunities? Moreover, do we want to develop the city’s identity as a cultural attraction or a great place to shop?

    • Amanda hunter says:

      I couldn’t disagree with you more Carla Picardi: if “using them for retail” is the most “creative” way we can “get the public into these buildings” then God so help us for we are well and truly done for … If that is the best Venice City Council can come up with, they have clearly lost the plot as well as their collective imagination and evidently not up to the job. Frankly, we can do better, and Venice dererves better.

  2. Amanda hunter says:

    “Moreover, do we want to develop the city’s identity as a cultural attraction or a great place to shop?” pretty much sums up the choice put before Venice City Council and sadly they have chosen the latter option, betraying the city’s cultural heritage and throwing away the opportunity to enrich the city’s future cultural development. For a city that increasingly laments the impact of tourism on its cultural identity and complains about “the wrong kind” of tourist “flooding” its shores, the council’s decision to allow Benneton to turn such an iconic building into a clothing megastore instead of developing it into a centre to attract the culturally curious, seems peverse in the extreme. Shame on the 18 who voted it through and shame on the three who lacked the courage of their convictions; they have sold part of Venice’s cultural heritage for a few pieces of silver and the city is all the more poorer for it.

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