Born in the city in 1906, the son of a teacher, Antonio Scarpa, and a dressmaker, Emma Novello, Scarpa spent his childhood in nearby Vicenza and returned to Venice as a teenager. He studied architectural drawing there, before opening his own studio and teaching at local architecture and design schools. Scarpa lived in Venice for the rest of his life until his death in 1978, and completed most of his architectural projects in the city and the surrounding Veneto region. Many of them can be seen in a retrospective of his work and that of his son, Tobia, opening Sept. 14 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the French city of Bordeaux.As an architect, Scarpa executed important commissions for Venetian institutions, including the law courts and Museo Correr on Piazza San Marco, as well as restoring a 16th-century palazzo and its gardens for another museum, the Fondazione Querini-Stampalia. Yet he also completed more modest assignments. Many of them have disappeared, like the Sfriso silverware shop on Campo San Tomà, where his work was damaged by flooding in the early 1960s, leaving only an elegant sign on the stonework outside.Other projects have survived. In the Giardini di Castello, which houses the national pavilions during the Venice Biennales, Scarpa designed the ticket kiosks, the Venezuelan Pavilion and, my favorite, the tiny sculpture garden beside the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. Scarpa conceived the garden with a slender concrete canopy curling above it as a tranquil place where visitors could rest during an exhibition of Tiepolo paintings held in the summer of 1951, and it has fulfilled that function adroitly ever since. Another gem, a 1958 showroom for the Italian electronics group Olivetti on Piazza San Marco, was ruined by changes to the interior. Happily, Olivetti decided to reinstate Scarpa’s original scheme and the showroom reopened last year with its stone and marble beautifully restored.Scarpa cut an idiosyncratic figure in mid-20th century Italian design and architecture, and not only because he rarely worked outside Veneto. Deeply subtle and sensual, particularly in its delicate treatment of materials, light and history, his work was often dismissed as stuffy and elitist by his peers, many of whom were steeped in the rationalism of the Modern Movement and in the agitprop politics of Radical Design. But those same qualities are now prized by contemporary architects, including David Chipperfield, the director of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, and make Scarpa’s buildings seem unusually nuanced and original.Underlying everything he did was a love of craftsmanship, rooted in his early experience in the Venetian glassworks. Scarpa arrived there in 1926, shortly after opening his studio, designing first for Cappellin, then one of the most innovative of the Murano factories. When it closed in 1932, he was employed by Venini, where he worked in close collaboration with its founder, the Milanese lawyer Paolo Venini.Glassmaking is an intensely challenging process, technically and physically. It takes many years for Murano’s master glass blowers to hone their skills and to assimilate the knowledge passed on from one artisan to another over the centuries. Even so, the outcome of their work is uncertain, and the process can be dangerous. Paolo Venini is believed to have died from his exposure to the toxic substances then used in glassmaking. Fascinated by the master blowers’ artistry, Scarpa studied them closely and often worked late into the night to develop new shapes and effects in experiments with particularly accomplished artisans, like Ferdinando Toso, known as “Fei.”Scarpa applied his diligently acquired knowledge of the glassmaking process and its heritage to create a remarkable variety of new styles of glassware, ranging from heavy sommersi, to refined lattimi, some of which will be in the Venice exhibition. The most ingenious of his designs are technically so complex that they are unlikely ever to be reproduced.
Venice Rediscovers Its Glass Treasures – NYTimes.com