After a long wait OMA’s one of the most important project is coming to its end – 16th century Fondaco dei Tedeschi transformed into a modern department store and public area.
OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture) was founded in 1975 by Dutch and Greek architects, Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis. The company has a leading position in the international architecture arena and its projects are located in various parts of the world. It should be noted that OMA has worked on the buildings of historical meaning in the past (Fondazione Prada in Milan, the Garage Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow and so on), therefore company was ready for the obstacles working on Fondaco dei Tedeschi as on a historical monument entailed.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi was built in 1228 and is located on Grand Canal, near the Rialto Bridge. The building changed its function many times over the years; it was a trading center for German merchants in the beginning, later a customs house under Napoleon, and in the twentieth century, a post office under Mussolini. Over time Fondaco dei Tedeschi underwent numerous radical structural changes; in 1505-1508 building was reconstructed due to the fire.
The building has a square shape and is 9000 square meters in size. Architecture is typical to Italian Renaissance style, has three levels which faces large central courtyard; in the courtyard there’s a medieval well. At the lower floor, five large rounded arcades enclose a portico (this place was used to store goods unloaded from the Grand Canal). The second floor has a long row of double and single mullioned windows which, at the upper floors, are paired by smaller quadrangular windows. The top of the façade has merlons.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi has received the status of cultural monument in 1987, which automatically banned any changes in building’s structure. Despite these restrictions, after talking with government, OMA managed and developed a work plan acceptable to everyone.
The project entails finite number of interventions and vertical distribution devices, among other little details, central pavilion above courtyard was renovated with steel and glass floor, creating space for hosting events. Escalators were installed with wood-paneled sides and bright red steps, additional entrances to the building were created from Campo San Bartolomeo and the Rialto and, of course, wooden terrace on the rooftop, which offers a perfect view over the city. Architects don’t touch rooms’ layout and try to maintain building’s historical face. Glimpses of terracotta-colored partitions with geometric cutouts can be spied behind the internal colonnades. Other interior spaces are clad with golden metal and mirrors. Furthermore, some aspects of the original building have been restored. For example, the walls of the gallerias once again host frescoes that reappear in contemporary form.
Benetton family in 2009 commissioned OMA to transform Fondaco dei Tedeschi into a trade and entertainment center. Company introduced building’s design to public in 2009 and began negotiating with country officials to begin the renovations, which was granted in 2013. As said before, in 2016 reconstructions have been finished and Hong-Kong based firm DFS is now working to prepare it for rental.
OMA’s aim is that above mentioned building isn’t a source of nostalgia in viewers, to demystify its image. It can be said that this reconstruction is building’s first step into a modern history.
Author: Meri Khamkhadze