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The celebrated designer and architect Philippe Starck designs a 3D image to celebrate the rich heritage of Venice and raise further awareness for a city facing the direct consequences of climate change.

During the warmer months, the streets of Venice are alive with tourists hoping for a look inside the Basilica di San Marco or to travel the city’s waterways on a Gondola. The traditional rowboat, now an icon of Venice, has evolved over the last 1,000 years to carry locals and visitors between the city’s 119 small islands. This year, the critically acclaimed designer and industrial architect Philippe Starck presents the 3D image “Dream of Winter Gondola”: a model gondola placing technological innovation and finesse at the centre of ecological commitment. The projectsupported by the region of Veneto and the Italian government, persuades the viewer to understand Italy’s rich history and acknowledge the increasingly precarious state in which Venice finds itself.  

A Brief History 

Venice – “the city of water” – came into existence in 421, when the Veneti, “expelled by the Ostrogoths and the Lombards” retreated to the marshlands in the mouth of the River Po (Civitats). In search of a place of refuge, the Veneti plunged long poles of wood into the seabed of the Venice Lagoon: a mass of mud submerged in saltwater. Across the heads of the poles, the Veneti laid layers of planking, finally placing stones on top to form the foundation of the city. With a powerful geographical positioning and influential navy, the city rose to significance throughout the Middle Ages through its ability to control trade between Europe and the Middle East (History Crunch). However, by the 15th century, Venice’s power as a maritime republic had suffered a decline, as Portugal replaced Venice as Europe’s principal trading body. But by the 18th century, Venice had positioned itself as a polestar for art and literature, boasting many buildings of architectural merit. Tourism is now the main source of income for Venice, with estimations that 14 million visitors travel to the city every year.  

 

A City Submerged in Water 

Tragically, the “city of water”, once known for its immense wealth and maritime power, has been subject to severe flooding over the centuries. A city bordered by islands with narrow channels open to the northern section of the Adriatic Sea, the rising water levels have become an unprecedented threat to the Venetians. But why has this city been the subject of severe flooding over hundreds of years? One cause begins in northern Africa: as hot air moves north from the Sahara Desert it pushes up into the Mediterranean Sea, where it mixes with the cooler ocean air. As these winds make their way up to the Adriatic Sea, the warmer winds combine with cooler winds from Eastern Europe. Working against the high tides, the winds prevent the water from leaving narrow channels, thus instigating flooding.  

But the issues don’t end there. The sea level surrounding Venice is estimated to be 20cm higher than it was a century ago, a problem associated with climate change. Built of mud and marsh, the city is estimated to be sinking by 1mm every year, due in part to the – now-forbidden – the practice of the pumping of water underneath the lagoon. In addition to this, the construction of ports along the mainland have replaced coastal landscapes, which traditionally were able to absorb a portion of the rising levels of water. Despite the planned construction of barriers in the narrow channels, the moving structures don’t prevent the flooding of key areas such as Saint Marco plaza. Unfortunately, the Venetian body of Marine scientists only expects the situation to worsen. (ABC

Philippe Starck

The gondola, the ancient rowboat which has evolved over the last 1,000 years, has become an icon of Venice. This year, VeniSIA – the corporate accelerator devoted to the development of business ideas and technology solutions to face climate changes and other environmental challenges – invited the renowned architect and designer Philippe Starck to design a 3D image of a gondola. In harmony with the narrative surrounding climate change, the architect is not motivated only by beauty, but also by the impact his design has on those viewing his work and creates under the fundamental belief that design should not be for the architect’s “own glory”, but instead “for all”. Presented at the Ca’ Foscari University and supported by the region of Veneto and the Italian government, the project hopes to both inspire thousands of students and raise further awareness around the city’s issues with flooding. The winter gondola includes a hull and oar laminated in seaweed resin, a sofa crafted from apple leather, and an eco-rowlock made of compressed bamboo. 
 

“I have a lot of admiration and respect for the gondola, one of the most complex boats in the world as its design is completely asymmetric but nevertheless its weight is perfectly balanced and can go straight even in the hardest conditions. It’s magic, it’s pure magic. That’s why it’s a great honour for me to dream about a gondola and especially, a winter gondola with a small room in the centre. That’s why what I show you today don’t try to be realistic, it’s just a dream.  

The technical specs of the gondola I have thought about are interesting: durable hi-tech materials and technology (seaweed bio resins, compressed bamboo, gyroscopic stabilizer powered by solar energy, electric assistance with a mini electric turbine powered by solar energy and hydro-generator, etc.)”  

Words of creator Philippe Starck.   
 

The ‘Dream of Winter Gondola for Venice by Philippe Starck’ sketch will be exhibited at the HUB of Strategy Innovation of Ca’ Foscari.

By Eliza Edwards