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Venice Lessons

Suspended in the struggle between sea and soil, Venice is an ambiguous land where human traces cannot survive without cyclical preservation efforts and continual compromise. Its story has often been told through vedute and capricci, paintings that conceptually blur the limits of reality represented and imagined. And its architecture has historically been subject to processes of self-conscious scrutiny in the historical construction of an imago urbis that has repeatedly resisted modernization by looking more to the past than to the future. Venice is a subject prone to mystification. The recent trajectory of tourism-oriented heritage preservation in Venice does not content itself with systematically displacing the city’s local livelihood. Because it depends on its historic brand to remain attractive, it needs to artificially re-enact the traditions it constantly displaces, thereby producing a simulated heritage. Adding to this paradoxical state of revivalism is a very concrete state of emergency: slow-motion drowning. So despite all attempts to preserve Venice for post-mortem contemplation, the city’s destruction remains stubbornly imminent, likely anticipating realities to come in the global age of the Anthropocene. Venetian nostalgia has become uncanny. Venice Lessons: Industrial Nostalgia presents the research and the design proposals of the studio course offered in the 2015–16 academic year. Its three-part structure reflects the academic method employed in the studio. Part one, “Territory”, presents an interdisciplinary investigation of the Venetian Lagoon and culminates in a territorial reading, a “Territorial Constitution”. Part two, entitled “Field”, documents a field trip and workshop that took place in December 2015. And part three, “Architecture”, illustrates twelve architectural designs produced as critical syntheses of the analysis and commentary generated in response to the studio course’s core themes. These designs explore the thin line between cultural experience and simulated performance that becomes apparent when place is replaced by event, and memory, by entertainment. They investigate architecture’s relationship to time and context in a collective project of urban renewal that goes beyond the consumerism of historical heritage that characterizes the current model of the city-museum.

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