The “Fondaco dei Tedeschi” was the former trade seat of the Germanic merchants operating in Venice. The building was rebuilt several times since its construction in the 13th century, but those changes stopped when it started being used as a main post office in the post-WWI period.
In 2008, the company Benetton acquired the building from the city of Venice and commissioned Rem Koolhaas to plan the conversion into a shopping center. However, the first plan by the architects’ OMA studio was not approved, as it did not comply with mandatory regulations and guidelines concerning the monument’s protection. The project had to be revised in principle.
History in different layers…
In the finally approved version, the escalators that crossed the courtyard of Fondaco dei Tedeschi – one of the most controversial aspects in the first plan – were moved inside the building and the large roof terrace was also rescaled. On the inside, the completed building shows the various layers that characterized the building over the course of history, which results in the new interventions, in form and material, contrasting with the previously existing structure.
However, Koolhaas did not want to limit his planning to the outside walls, the escalators and other vertical connections – he also conceived the complete interior design.
… and new life in different materials
The new tenant of the building is the Asian company DFS, one of the world’s largest operators in duty-free stores, and it commissioned the English architect Jamie Fobert for the interior decor. In contrast to Rem Koolhaas, Fobert did not observe the theoretical principle of clearly differentiating between the original set and the new interventions, so there was no limit to the choice of materials and shapes for the room’s design.
- It is difficult to remember all the different materials used: copper, brass, steel and aluminum, as well as various types and colors of marble, several wood veneers and solid wooden elements, not to mention textiles, plaster paints and glass and candlesticks of all kinds. Same variety of shapes too: the interior elements are round, angular, curved, stepped, staggered or freely deconstructed.
All of it for luxury items
Those who won´t be distracted by the many goods in Fondaco dei Tedeschi’s new luxury department store – such as smart watches, bags, spectacles, dresses, shoes – will climb up to the last floor of the building and be rewarded! From the roof terrace you can enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the magnificent harmony provided by Venice’s old buildings, such as the city’s church towers, the domes of San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and the row of palaces on the Grand Canal – all of them noticeable from an unusual perspective.
A thought to consider, when appreciating that panoramic view: many of those buildings were seen as splendid and too exaggerated when first constructed!
Text by: Clemens F. Kusch, for Movenice, member of Guiding Architects in Venice.