Reactions to the cancellation of Pierre Cardin’s Light Palace for Venice
French fashion designer Pierre Cardin had designed a Light Palace for Venice, which is close to where he was born. The Light Palace, or Palais Lumière, was planned to be constructed on the edge of the Marghera industrial areas bordering Venice’s lagoon.
But on 28 June 2013, Cardin’s nephew, Rodrigo Basilicati, who is the CEO of Concept Creatif Pierre Cardin which is the company that was managing the project, told the ANSA newsagency it has been called off: “The decision was inevitable after over two years since presenting the initiative we could not get formal approval on a deal with all public bodies involved”. This is a link to the ANSA report: Pierre Cardin’s Venice skyscraper plans called off
Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, responded by stating this a “devastating message for investors” in the Venice daily newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia: Palais Lumière, Pierre Cardin ritira il progetto: «Non lo farò a Marghera»
Indeed, it was estimated that building the Palace would create 2,500-3,000 jobs and another 2,000-2,500 when it became operational. This impressive Palace would have included hotel rooms, apartments, offices, shops, bars, restaurants, fitness facilities, cinemas, a conference centre and pools and gardens. It would have also provided facilities for a university of design and fashion. A new tram stop at the Palace was also under discussion. The complex was estimated to cost between €1.4-€2.4 billion ($3 billion) with approximately €1.4 billion ($1.75 billion) coming from Cardin’s own funds. Details of the Palace can be viewed using the project’s website here:
Giorgio Orsoni, Venice Mayor, blamed the central government in Rome for holding up authorisation, plus local environmentalists and opponents of innovation: “The impact of some Roman environments, conservationism and the vision against innovation had their weight” in the decision to call off the Light Palace project, as outlined in this article on 28 June 2013 in the newspaper Corriere del Veneto here: Marghera, Palais Lumiere non si fa più Il nipote dello stilista: manca l’accordo. Then Orsoni revelaed that Venice City Council had lost €43 by not selling the land for the Palace to Cardin and that this money had already been included in Venice’s budgets. Orsoni added on 30 June 2013 that he would be asking the National Heritage Ministry to pay damages to Venice City Council for jeopardising the project: Palais Lumière, il sindaco Orsoni: «Ora chiederò i danni al ministero»
Some critics of the Light Palace have claimed since it was cancelled that it was bluff and Cardin had not invested in the project. Yet on the Facebook site ‘SIamopalaislumiere’, Emanuele Dal Carlo has written a robust defence of the project, pointing out Cardin had already invested millions of Euros in it (in Italian): Sul Palais Lumière
Most interviews given to Antenna Tre Nordest News by locals responding to the cancellation of the Palace expressed disappointment with this decision (in Italian):
The Light Palace proposal has provoked heated debate and controversy. It has been a long story of bureaucratic delays and opposition from environmental groups and international organizations, including UNESCO. The Palace was facing investigations about its environmental impact that seemed likely to delay its final approval until the end of the summer 2013, according to an article on 19 March 2013 in the newspaper Corriere del Veneto here:
Palais, effetto vincolo su tutta la città E i tempi della torre si allungano
Nevertheless, the same article quoted Rodrigo Basilicati as indicating that the financial package for the Palace was on course.
Previously, the project was thrown into doubt on 4 December 2012 after it emerged that permission for its construction might be needed from the government’s Heritage Department and Ugo Soragni, who is the Superintendent for the region of Venice (Veneto). This is because the site for the Palace would have been close to protected canals. An article in Il Fatto Quotidiano on 5 December 2012 suggested that this stumbling block might stop the project: Torre_articolo_Montanari
However, Venice Mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, indicated that he would challenge the necessity of this permission and the local Superintendent in the Venetian newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia on 5 December 2012 here: Torre_vincoli_Gazzettino. According to this article, Orsoni would consult a local teacher of administrative law for advice. Orsoni stateed that local legal restraints only apply for hydraulic reasons and not for landscaping issues. Moreover, Orsoni asserted that if such legal restraints were applied, half of the nearby city Mestre and Marghera’s industrial areas would be paralysed.
As is often the case in Italy, there were complex legal issues at stake. The Galasso Law of 1985 states that each region can decide where it is possible to build 300 metres from the sea or 150 metres from rivers or streams. Yet the Galasso Law has always excluded the Marghera industrial areas and Mestre. Soragni refers to the first article of 142 of a national heritage decree in 2004 that forces all regions to accept these limits if the region has passed a landscape plan. But the Veneto Region has not yet approved such a plan, suggesting that the Veneto is not currently subject to these limitations.
In the same week as these legal doubts surfaced, a letter of petition against the Light Palace was organised by the environmental organisation Italia Nostra and signed by some Italian intellectuals. The letter claimed the Light Palace would be out of place with Venice’s history and environment. This letter was sent to the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, in an appeal to him to halt the project: Cardin_appello_Napolitano
Earlier, the Light Palace received the backing of many local government bodies. It received the approval of Venice City Council on 24 July 2012, with 28 votes for and 3 against it. In addition, Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, endorsed the project as “a great opportunity for development, publicity and culture”, as reported on 24 July in the Venetian newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia here: Il Palais Lumière è sempre più realtà: il consiglio comunale dà l'ok al progetto.
Concerns were initially voiced about the height of the Palace (255 metres or 800 feet), especially given its proximity to Venice airport. Therefore, the Italian Civil Aviation Association, ENAC, conducted a safety study. ENAC gave its approval to the project on 9 November 2012 for the Palace to be constructed to a height of 255 metres. This was reported in the newspaper Corriere del Veneto here:
L'Enac dà il via libera al Palais Lumière di Cardin
Venice’s Mayor Orsoni had already spoken positively about the Light Palace as “an important challenge”, although insisting that it is carefully examined before receiving final approval. This was stated in the following press release by Venice City Council on 7 June 2012:
Palais Lumier: la Giunta di Venezia dà l'avvio alla procedura
Meanwhile, councillors representing the Municipality of Marghera had voted unanimously in favour of Cardin’s Light Palace, as reported on 4 July 2012 in the Venetian newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia:
Zaia did point out that some bureaucratic obstacles to giving definitive approval for the Light Palace remained, although the endorsement of ENAC removed the principal obstacle, as reported in the newspaper La Nuova Venezia on 9 November 2012 here:
Cardin sul sì di Enac: «Bellissima notizia, sono molto felice»
The project team members had hoped to receive the necessary approval so that they could move to the stage of the Light Palace becoming an “executive project” by March 2013, but this was delayed. The team expected most work on the Palace to be completed in 2015. The environmental impact investigations announced in March 2013 made this date optimistic.
Some environmentalists have raised objections to the Light Palace, many of which can be viewed here:
Italia Nostra Venice website
These objections include that it is too high (255 metres or 800 feet), three times the height of Venice’s St Mark’s Bell Tower, and would have therefore been an eyesore. Even though the Light Palace would have been visible from Venice, its location would have been on the mainland and well away from the city. It would have been situated 10 kilometres (6 miles) away from Venice’s St Mark’s Square. The Venice President of environmental association Italia Nostra, Lidia Fersuoch, claimed in La Nuova Venezia on 25 July 2012 that constructing the Light Palace would result in Venice losing the patrimony of UNESCO:
Italia Nostra suggested that the visibility of the Light Palace could have led to the cancellation of Venice as a site protected by UNESCO and its World Heritage List. Comparisons have been made with similar threats regarding the 400-metre Gazprom tower near St. Petersburg, Russia, planned for 2016:
L'allarme di Italia Nostra: «Con la torre di Cardin saremo fuori dai patrimoni Unesco»
The Marghera industrial area where the Light Palace would have been placed is outside of Venice’s historical centre, which is the UNESCO protected site. This did not prevent Cristiano Gasparetto, a member of the Council of Directors for Venice’s Italia Nostra branch, appealing to Francesco Bandarin, who is the Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO, to intervene against the Light Palace. Although based in Paris, Bandarin is Venetian. Bandarin sent a letter to Italy’s Culture Ministry asking for more details about the project and has said that Venice could be dropped from UNESCO’s World Heritage List, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal published on 23 November 2012: Cardin Fashions a Legacy in Venice That Doesn’t Float With the Locals
Ultimately, whether Venice’s Light Palace would have been regarded as an eyesore is a highly subjective question.
I was in favour of the Light Palace as a symbol of Venice embracing modern development and as part of the transformation of Venice’s mainland and Marghera, which is explained in my book Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality (2012). Indeed, the green light for the Palace by ENAC came along with approving a new runway for Venice airport and additional development of the mainland area close to the airport, including the construction of a football stadium, casino and planting a new wood.
My views on this project were included in an interview with me in the article below written by Elisabetta Povoledo and published in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune on 6/7 December 2012:
The original can be accessed from this link:
The cancellation of this project eliminates an opportunity for Venice and its economy to grow in tough economic times. It suggests that the forces of environmental precaution and bureaucratic lethargy still prevail in the city. Some bureaucrats and environmentalists will be celebrating. But those of us who want to develop the city and region so that the local people can live better lives will continue to fight for modernizing, rather than restricting Venice.