Identity and Change in the Reuse of Masieri Memorial by Carlo Scarpa in Venice


Sara di Resta and Roberta Bartolone


newsletter august 2019
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by Sara Di Resta and Roberta Bartolone
Edited by Theodore Prudon and Eduarte Duarte Ruas

The Masieri Foundation was established in memory of Angelo Masieri, a collaborator of Carlo Scarpa, who tragically died in 1952. The memorial was built at the corner of the Grand Canal and Rio Foscari, a memory-place of unrepeatable possibilities: on the site was a Venetian three-floor palace that was to be replaced by a new building design commissioned from Frank Lloyd Wright, who Masieri and Scarpa greatly admired. On the Masieri house site, Wright designed a residence and study center for architecture students to be called Masieri Memorial. Wright’s design, despite being “an elegant and uncharacteristically restrained abstraction of the of the typical Venetian palazzo”,[1] ignited an international debate between those who maintained that Venice should remain untouched by modern buildings and those who insisted that, in order to survive, it must be an evolving place. The project then led to one of the greatest controversies over whether any modern structures should be built in Venice’s historic center.[2] Frank Lloyd Wright’s design was officially rejected by the Municipality of Venice on November 18th, 1954.[3] 

Carlo Scarpa was commissioned to work on design proposals for the site between 1968 and 1969. After three consecutive proposals, the last one was finally approved in 1972.[4] In a conservative town like Venice, Scarpa chose an extreme solution by removing the interior walls and decaying floors of the original palace, leaving the historic outer walls as an untouched shell and building an entirely new interior structure.[5] Scarpa’s design helps to better bring into focus an aspect of the path taken by Italian architecture in its relationship with the remains of the past: a non-canonical connection in its approach to the values and conservation of the remains. With its many layers and contradictions, the actual building testifies a significant period of recent history: the relationship with the past can’t be managed in a single direction; the ‘other’ is not ignored or suppressed, but discovered in its diversity. At the same time, the new architecture does not establish a relationship of necessity with the old one, but only of co-existence, which stops only a few centimeters before the historic walls. 

The building, owned by the Angelo Masieri Foundation, never properly fulfilled the intended use and, since 2015, fell into disuse. The Masieri Memorial is mainly in a good state of conservation, but the most fragile building surfaces need accurate interventions to preserve finishes from physical decay mainly due to the presence of water, rising damp, and soluble salts. Nonetheless, the building needs a compatible use that will respect and enhance its features. The program of use needs to consider issues related to the improvement of the public accessibility and the comfort of the spaces according to the contemporary requirements. In 2016 a preliminary conservation and adaptive-reuse plan was prepared with the aim to achieve a careful balance between conservation and transformation.[6] The primary goal is to preserve the building and to enhance its history. At the same time, in compliance with the legacy provisions of the Foundation, the aim is to turn the building into a student house hosting visiting professors and students. 

The adaptive-reuse project intends to establish with the past a relationship of listening, rediscovered by allusion, in which the historical legacy, even with its contradictions, is not cancelled out but connected with the contemporary cultural horizon. The aim is to preserve the building and to integrate the never-realized fragments of the Carlo Scarpa’s work through the grafting of essential signs and minimal elements: their distinctiveness is expressed both by the detail scale and the choice of new materials and technologies. The design of all new elements will be preceded by a detailed design and conservation study aimed at choosing the most appropriate architectural language and materials: the intervention does not intend to philologically reproduce Carlo Scarpa’s design, but rather to reinterpret it on a contemporary basis, preserving the building’s identity through the change. The adaptive-reuse plan means to insert on the first floor the volumes of the rooms with private bathrooms from the project licensed in 1972, through the construction of new partitions. The underlying idea is that of evoking the features of the first – never realized – layout interpreting it through a formal and material-related language extant that is capable of distinguishing the additional parts from the existing ones. The intervention is reversible, as the partitions will be realized with a steel frame structure, an interior sound insulation layer, an interior and exterior coating layer with ‘esoflex’ wooden double panels and colored zinc laminates. The proposal is focused on cultural issues that deal with the conservation field as a tool able to manage both continuity and change. In a place burdened with old and modern signs, the attitude of listening was preferred to a loud architectural languages’ contamination. The Masieri Memorial embodies the city’s logics and contradictions: “Venice is a contrasting polyphony, a complementarity of times and languages, it is intolerance of any form or design that completely resolves within itself. If we do not understand its aspiration, its desire for metamorphosis, for disguise, for enrichment with new presences and images, we are betraying its genius loci”.[7] 

After more than twenty years since the last event organized into the building on the Grand Canal, on May 2019 the Palazzina Masieri reopened its doors, hosting an exhibition on the occasion of the 58th International Biennial Art Exhibition. The reopening of the ground floor as a space for cultural events, exhibitions and conferences is the first tangible result of the wider reuse program of the building, achieved thanks to a preliminary fundraising activities, economic planning of interventions and regulatory compliance of the structure to new uses.




[1] Robert McCarter, “Fondazione Masieri renovations. Venice, 1968-1978,” Carlo Scarpa, London-New York, Phaidon, 2013, 190.

[2] Robert McCarter, "Carlo Scarpa," London-New York, Phaidon, 2013, 190-199.

[3] Planning Committee of the Municipality of Venice, minutes of the 30th September 1969 session. Archival fund ‘Palazzina Masieri’, Carlo Scarpa Study Center, Treviso.

[4] The project approved by the Planning Committee of the Municipality of Venice was registered with the building permit n. 55996/77/72 issued on 5th September 1972.

[5] In the last year of his life, Carlo Scarpa commented on the fortunes of the Wright’s design: “Wright did not copy the window next door. He proposed a work for first time, without forgetting the essential feature in Venice was and is water. As I said, I had nothing but trouble from planning in Venice and the bureaucrats who interpret them. They order to imitate the style of the ancient windows, forgetting that those windows were produced in different times, by a different way of life, with “windows” made of other materials, in other styles, and with a different way of making windows. […] Buildings that imitate look like impostors, and that is just what they are. […] Of course, I have been free in design interiors,” Martin Dominguez, “Interview to Carlo Scarpa,” Francesco Dal Co, Giuseppe Mazzariol (edited by), "Carlo Scarpa. Opera completa," Milan, Electa, 1984, 297.

[6] Scientific advisory committee: Prof. Arch. Alberto Ferlenga (Dean of the Iuav University of Venice and President of the Masieri Foundation), Prof. Arch. Aldo Aymonino (Iuav University of Venice and board member of the Masieri Foundation). Design team: Arch. Roberta Bartolone, Arch. Giulio Mangano (Barman Architects).

[7] Massimo Cacciari, “Contemporary Architecture in Venice," Venice, Marsilio, 2014, 15.




Beltramini, Guido, Zannier, Italo (edited by), Carlo Scarpa. Atlante delle architetture, Venice, Marsilio, 2006, 226-229.

Dal Co Francesco, Mazzariol Giuseppe (edited by), Carlo Scarpa. Opera completa, Milan, Electa, 1984, 134. “Carlo Scarpa,” A+U Extra Edition, 10, 1985, 249.

De Eccher, Andrea, Del Zotto, Giulia, Venezia e il Veneto. L’opera di Carlo Scarpa, Clup, Milan, 1994, 19-21.

Los, Sergio, Carlo Scarpa, Koln, Taschen, 1994, 126-129.

Marcianò, Ada Francesca (edited by), Carlo Scarpa, Bologna, Zanichelli, 1984, 160.

Michelucci, Giovanni, “Le ragioni di una polemica,” Nuova città, 1415, Florence, 1954, 48-52.

Sammartini, Tudy, “Death in Venice: the Masieri Foundation,” Architectural Review, 169, London, 1983, 61-63.

Sammartini, Tudy, “The Masieri story,” Architectural Review, 174, London, 1983, 61-64.

Semi, Franca, “La storia di un progetto. Masieri Memorial a Venezia,” Gran Bazaar, 9-10, Milan, 1983, pp. 180-185.




Sara Di Resta, PhD in Conservation of Architectural Heritage, is Assistant Professor of Architectural Preservation at Iuav University of Venice. Her research activities are focused on the conservation of 20th-century heritage and on the architectural language in conservation design. Her last volume is “Forms of conservation. Purposes and practices of contemporary architecture for restoration” (2016). She is member of SIRA Italian Society of Architectural Restoration and of the Scientific Committee Science and Cultural Heritage. Gold medal at the Domus International Prize for Architectural Conservation (2017), in the same year she obtained the habilitation as Associate Professor according to the Italian National Scientific Habilitation procedure.

Roberta Bartolone received a master’s degree in architecture and a PhD in Architecture at Iuav University of Venice. She was involved in several restoration projects of historic buildings in Venice and new commercial buildings and private houses in Angola. She is teaching assistant in Architectural and Urban Design and in Architectural Restoration at Iuav University of Venice. In 2016 she founded, with Giulio Mangano, Barman architects, an architectural practice based in Venice. In the same year she was involved as project leader in the preliminary conservation design of the Masieri Memorial.