The Steering Committiee’s Capricio | Venice, Italy | Unit 21 | 2020

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Capriccio: ‘a dreamlike interpretation of the subject of a work that comes from a free imagination’ – Filippo Baldinucci

01: Project Overview
Venice and its Lagoon were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. A recent UNESCO mission report to the site found that the steering committee, made up of 21 organisational bodies, lacked ‘a shared vision for Venice among the many different stakeholders’, and ‘no commonly developed and accepted mechanisms’ for decision making. Tidal barriers in construction since 2005 have been held back due to corruption scandals.
The Steering Committee’s Capriccio is a proposal for a new headquarters and debating chamber for the UNESCO Steering Committee of Venice. It is thought that a highly visible proposal will become a new landmark for the city, increasing transparency of and participation in debates regarding the city’s operation and preservation.

02: ‘Capriccio’ as a driving force for design decisions and technical investigations.
Four key ‘Capriccio’ views have been set out as the heart of the project, defining what needs to occur in the framework of the building as a whole. The capriccio serve dual purpose throughout the project:

A – As a tool.
The constructed views and their effect on the observer provide a means through which to address the building as a whole. Each Capriccio view provokes and directs design considerations.

B – As an outcome.
The design process, exploring the ‘wild goat-like’ intentions of these Capriccio moments, existed in close dialogue with technical investigations. This feedback loop informed the building’s design with technical realities, whilst every move’s consequence in a capriccio is considered. Ultimately, this synthesis hoped to provide four exquisitely bespoke Capriccio views. Keys to the meaning of the building as a whole, the views will be technically detailed and informative whilst providing ‘wild-goat moment’ compositions bursting with an intricate materiality reflecting the Venetian Vernacular.

Capriccio 01: The Debate Chamber
Lit by streaks of sunlight during the afternoon, the Debate Chamber acts as a space for the 21 bodies of the UNESCO Steering Committee to come together in discussion of the problems facing Venice and its Lagoon. Views of important parts of the scheme, such as the tidal gauge inhabiting the bridge, are punched through the folded envelope of the chamber. Acoustics and levels of daylight and sunlight are to be carefully controlled to ensure the perfect atmosphere for debate within the chamber. Fragmented Venetian Red horizon lines form components of the chamber’s structure. From the aligned Capriccio Viewpoint of the Speaker’s Position, these aggregate and can be read as solid. The Capriccio aims to present a material sensibility evoking the ‘Venetian Vernacular’ on multiple scales; colossal roof structures are given equal attention to the inlays on the delegate’s desks.

Capriccio 02: The Boat Approach
In the second Capriccio, the building is seen to act as a gateway to the Grand Canal for boats approaching it’s mouth. Viewers emerge from under the adjacent bridge and are confronted with the reinhabited ‘Bridge to Nowhere’; mirrored surfaces clad the entire underside of the existing bridge whilst built elements spring up, stretching across to the adjacent bridge and down to the water’s surface. One of these is a tidal gauge, collecting water to service the building and reflection pools, whilst reminding observers of the imminent dangers to Venice. A permeable facade consisting of movable elements presents a material composition, and provides a visual corridor cut through to the Debate Chamber.

Capriccio 03: The Bridge Entrance
Members of the public, whether tourist or Venetian, are enticed to engage with the bridge through it’s altered trajectory and the fragmented building form that feeds off it. Viewing corridors can be traced from this viewpoint throughout the whole scheme; the horizon line, the viewing platform, even into the debate chamber. The Tower rises above in the distance, acting as a landmark for those approaching the building, whilst rainwater collection pools reflect sunlight in the early hours and encourage a mist to form over the bridge landscape.

Capriccio 04: The Seminar Room
Available for hire among SC members and the public alike, several Seminar Rooms occupy the existing concrete ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ and provide a quiet place to meet whilst overlooking Venice and the Lagoon. Apertures in the building fabric are designed to exactly frame and give meaning to points of interest outside,  whilst similar vernacular textures are evoked on a smaller scale through the veneers present in the room. The water tank of the Tidal Gauge provides diffused light to the room throughout the day, whilst the Red Line enters to become a shelf unit.