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:
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:
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:
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.