Fondazione Gucci | Venice, Italy | Unit 21 | 2020

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Venice is – and always has been – read through a series of images, from Canaletto and the vedute paintings synonymous with the Grand Tour, to the hyper-saturated documentation of social media feeds. These images permeate through the collective consciousness, absorbed through postcards, fridge magnets, and even artificial reproductions of the city, in Las Vegas and Hangzhou, China. Our perception of Venice is shaped by these simulacra, even before any physical encounter has occurred.

An image set, extracted from instagram location data, reveals the experience of inhabiting Venice. Superimposed onto a plan of the city, the images can be read as a network of isolated locations, or nodes. The diagram is analogous to observed patterns of occupation, the intermediate, or transient space compressed in its perceived absence. Whilst a sequence of node points may be experienced as consecutive moments distributed evenly across a timeline, the physical reality undergoes significantl distortion. False memories of the image are compounded by implied adjacencies and the resulting narrative association. 

The distortion of the city through the image is particularly apparent in film media, and the commercial Gucci Guilty – the 2016 short for the Italian fashion-house features many of the aforementioned nodal points, juxtaposed in montage. Plotting this fictitious depiction of Venice against time reveals the physical distortion of the city as it is compressed, stretched and flipped to accommodate the subject movement. When compared to the rendering of Paris in Yves Saint Laurent’s Mon Paris, the unique filmic grammar of Venice can be understood

The Russian film-maker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein describes the spatial experience of the cinematic path as diverse positions passing in front of an immobile spectator. Through this model, the film, Gucci Guilty becomes a tool by which to reveal the distorted city of the image, whilst also rewriting memories of inhabitation by providing a framework for the generation of new narrative experiences.

This new framework exists in the transient space between two image nodes, exploiting the filmic qualities of a linear street on a central route to San Marco. Calle Larga XXII is located between two Campielli, cut into the ancient urban fabric in the early 19th century as part of wider pedestrian reforms (seen here in yellow).

New buildings were erected to ‘cauterise’ the street elevation, imitating the design of neighbouring Palazzo facades. The images of Venice thus propagate through both virtual and physical realities, further distorting our perception of the city. Today, Calle Larga is almost entirely occupied by luxury fashion retailers, including the flagship store for Gucci.

The Fondazione Gucci will establish cultural facilities and a new public realm in place of the luxury retail stores along Calle Larga XXII. With public funding of the arts across Europe declining, cultural spaces are increasingly a symbol of private-sector investment. Luxury fashion companies such as Louis Vuitton and Prada have established new centres for art in major cities as a means of demonstrating their wider cultural aspirations, by placing the brand within the contemporary zeitgeist. The Fondazione Gucci will facilitate the shift towards a digital marketplace, instead promoting the cultural and aesthetic heritage of the brand though the production and display of art. The Fondazione will simultaneously function as the staging for the commercial of an imagined fragrance, Gucci Avviare (to begin), establishing the first iteration of a recursive process.

The commercial short, Gucci Guilty, can be used as a tool to reveal the prevalence of the image within Venice, whilst simultaneously rewriting memories of inhabitation through the narrative qualities inherent within film media. By establishing a framework for the generation of new narrative experiences within the transient space between image nodes, cultural autonomy is returned to the city.

The grammar of the perfume commercial Gucci Guilty becomes the basis for a linear architecture along Calle Larga XXII. The agents of cinematic production are manifested as the subjects of the film, movements and actions extracted from virtual space. The interactions between the ‘characters’ and the physical context reveal the ubiquity of the image within Venice. Simultaneously, the narrative qualities inherent within film media enable the viewer to rewrite memories of inhabitation, restoring cultural autonomy to the city. The 2 minute and 30 second film is transposed along an equivalent duration walk, divided into a 1.5 m grid. 

The Fondazione Gucci replaces the buildings to the south of Calle Larga XXII, restoring the original street elevation. The façade captures the filmic grammar of Gucci Guilty within an architectural language of Screen arrays. The street is extended beneath the façade into a new inhabitable Surface, where public facilities including a library and cafe are located. From these ground floor pavilions, gallery spaces can be accessed above, enclosed within a lightweight fabric suspended from tensioned cables. The Fondazione emphasises permeability and transparency, eschewing the intimidating elitism of the luxury store. As the observer moves through the space, the film offers alternative interpretations, encouraging the development of new narrative memories.

The Fondazione Screen encodes the 2 minute, 30 second film Gucci Guilty within its scalloped facade. The camera grammar of the commercial short is transposed onto the linear Calle Larga XXII route; walking a straight-line path at 1.5m/s reveals the language of the film as recorded by the director within the screen ‘displays’. The movements of the camera and subject in cartesian space are extracted using photogrammetry techniques, with an architectural form then defined using an algorithmic interpretation of Eisenstein’s Immobile Spectator analysis. Each scene of Gucci Guilty is translated using a similar process, adjusted to highlight specific qualities of the original film.

Where the Fondazione screen records an exact reproduction of the film Gucci Guilty, the Surface embodies a self-directed understanding of the source material. By reverse-engineering the algorithm that defines the Screen arrays, camera geometry can be derived from an architectural form. Deviating from the longitudinal axis of the street allows the viewer to ‘re-shoot’ Gucci Guilty by altering their positional relationship with the screen and corresponding camera location in film space. The landscape Surface stimulates these interactions through reconstructions of alternative film geometry, housing secondary programmatic functions within.

Extracted using photogrammetry, a three-dimensional mesh of the original scene is textured using projected mapping techniques from specific locations along the deviated path. Occluded areas are extrapolated from visible surfaces, encoding the filmic grammar within the physical mesh. Viewing the model outside of these camera parameters renders a distorted reality, unrecognisable from the original image.

The mesh objects are utilised as accessible elevated platforms, enclosed within a fabric envelope to form Gallery spaces. The Fondazione sequence concludes with the gallery, the original Gucci Guilty commercial having been transcribed, re-filmed and finally distorted through inhabitation. The galleries draw on couture references to create an adaptable fabric envelope, manipulated depending on exhibition requirements or during the recording of a new film.

Installations are specifically created for display within the selected gallery spaces by resident artists. Modular fabric panels can be adapted for the projection of film media or acoustic performance whilst a cable tensioning system facilitates the manipulation of the envelope geometry.

The Fondazione is experienced in sequence, as the observer travels through Venice towards San Marco along Calle Larga XXII. The entrance emerges from the densely knit fabric of the city, a translucent curtain obscuring elevated forms behind.

Moving past the entrance, the street widens and the Fondazione screen façade comes into view. The direction of the observers gaze determines the accuracy of their experience. Oblique views looking along Calle Larga towards San Moisé resemble a collage of historical and existing façades. As the observer moves through the street, directing the eyes along the screen array will reveal obscured forms within. Standing perpendicular to the façade will shift perception from the transposed film to the extracted fragments behind and a self-directed understanding of Gucci Guilty.

Each screen frame is mounted onto adjustable supports, allowing the façade arrays to adapt to new films and exhibitions. A linkage mechanism was modified to enable the dynamic rotation of the system, whilst maintaining the vertical orientation of the screen frames

The reflective glass frames mirror the historical north elevation, visually restoring the street to its previous condition from certain angles. Targets etched into the glass allow the screens to be calibrated for use.

The surface records the filmic shifts within its distorted landscape, with the material treatment running up to and through the pavilion interiors to read as a continuous unbroken space. The varied surface textures map the intersecting forces of the Fondazione and its context in different grades of Terrazzo, embedded with masonry extracted from the demolished buildings.

Retained boundary walls are propped by an integrated bracket system. Cable spans connect the props to the screen framework, with the gallery fabric suspended off intermediate wires. Hydraulic jacks maintain pressure on the partially demolished facade

A waterproof membrane, decorated with the Gucci monogram, forms the outer-layer of the new elevation.

As the observer moves beyond the screen arrays, objects behind come into focus. The filmic fragments, clad on the underside with reflective insulation, deviate from the precision and rhythm of the exterior façade.

Spectral forms dance across the glowing exterior of the gallery envelope, indicating surreal experiences within.

The observer moves through the surface, passing underneath a gallery space supported by a grid of columns. Reflections in the adjacent glazed pavilions distort the boundaries of the interior. Light and sound emanate from a translucent form embedded within the soffit.

Entering the glazed pavilion and ascending a mesh staircase reveals the interior objects obscured by the semi-opaque membrane skin. The observer arrives at an inhabitable surface, extracted from the film. An undulating stone landscape is embedded with inflated cushions, imprints of the original Gucci Guilty subjects, whilst above, layered fabrics of varying opacities descend from the ceiling.

Upon closer inspection, the cast stone landscape is revealed to be constructed of smaller panels, separated by brass movement joints. The solid platform flows seamlessly into the translucent fabric envelope, the surface relief evoking the craft of a delicately patterned garment.

The gallery envelope is designed to regulate the environmental conditions of the space whilst accommodating the unique requirements of the temporary exhibition. The unified surface is partitioned to target specific functions such as lighting, acoustics or ventilation.

The filmic grid is allowed to run through the gallery spaces, dividing the envelope along the 1.5m timeline. Modular panels can be attached to flexible ribs, which house services and carry the structural load to the cable spans above. Panels are selected depending on the requirements of the exhibited art. Semi-opaque aerogel blankets are bonded with a clear ETFE membrane to create an insulated composite with diffuse light transmittance. Spherical ETFE pillows are then placed within the ceiling to highlight specific display areas throughout the gallery.

Sculptural ventilation hoods evoke the sensual imagery of the original film. A cable-operated opening regulates the extraction rate whilst heating coils embedded within the envelope warm incoming air.

Various envelope materials were tested to compare transmission rates and diffuse lighting effects. Deployable elements can be attached to the flexible rail system, such as an opaque curtain for the display of projected media – the selective absence of light exaggerates the geometry of the space.

Venice is intrinsically linked with the water that surrounds it and increasingly frequent Acqua Alta floods. The landscape surface accommodates this flooding through temporary pools, constantly shifting patterns of occupation. In the event of the Fondazione’s withdrawal, the pavilion and gallery structures are designed to be fully demountable, revealing a permanent etching of the filmic timeline within the Venetian fabric. 

If the goal of the Fondazione is to create the staging for a new film, then the methods of production should draw on cinematic structures for inspiration. The function of the architect is analogous to that of the director, responsible for visualising the screenplay (film transposition algorithm) whilst coordinating the technical crew. Other roles, such as cinematographer and producer can also be assigned within this framework.

The Fondazione screen arrays and landscape are generated from input camera geometry and site constraints, using a parametric model developed specifically for the project. In reality, this model can be applied to any film or location, and can incorporate custom geometrical forms to alter the architectural aesthetic. The framework, then, is a tool for the visualisation of filmic grammar within physical space, applied here to Kurosawa’s Rashomon within an unidentified site. 

Perhaps more significant is the potential to translate existing architecture into cartesian camera geometry for the filming of an unknown scene. Whilst this process has only currently been applied to the Fondazione to re-film extracted mesh artefacts of the commercial, Gucci Guilty, in theory any building with a codifiable facade might be analysed. How might a film derived from Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 compare to the equivalent product of the Duomo di Milano? Can these camera paths be then applied to the existing architecture to gain a deeper understanding of the intentions of the architect ‘director’?