Domes of Concrete and Pixels

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Joy, me, and Ann on top of the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square

After travelling to the “Venice of the North” (Amsterdam), I thought it only appropriate to go to the real version as well.  From my sociology class with Professor Smith, I was prepared for the “Disney-fication” of the city.  In class, we had read an excerpt from University of Sussex Geography Professor Russell King’s book, Italy, in which he discusses how Venice is a city struggling to survive.  Not only does the city have to deal with the physical deterioration of sinking infrastructure, rising sea levels, and water and air pollution, but also the demographic decay of population loss.  Private organizations from around the world have donated money to restore Venice, but the multitude of political parties in Venice’s town council has prevented any effective measures.  Recently, real progress has been made and technical solutions for Venice have now almost all been solved; however, there still remains the problem of a declining population.  King asserts that Venice is in danger of becoming a type of “Disneyland,” a place where tourists come for a couple days to admire.  Furthermore, although tourism helps Venice’s economy, it is not enough to account for high rent and house prices.  During my weekend stay, I could see how prominent this phenomenon was.  The only people walking around the city during the day are tourists, and at night, when most other cities have some sort of nightlife to offer, Venice is completely silent.  The narrow alleys, cobbled streets, and dilapidated buildings, which seemed so charming in daylight, took on an eerie ambiance as fluorescent lamps bathed them in a blue-green glow.  Despite all this though, Venice is still worth the visit.  No other city in the world is built on water.   It is an engineering masterpiece.

Joy and I at Italy’s Pavilion for the Biennale

After my friends and I had finished the typical tourist sites (Doge’s Palace, the Basilica, Campanile, Bridge of Sighs, etc.), we went to the Biennale Architettura, which is the most important architectural exhibition in the world and takes place every two years.  English architect David Chipperfield curated this year’s Biennale and chose the theme of “Common Ground,” inviting countries and architects to share ideas that transcend their “individual positions of difference” into a shared goal of goodness.  Out of the all the shows presented by countries, my favorite was Russia (sorry USA and Italy).  The exhibit showcases the Strolkovo Innovation Center, a new development that aims to concentrate intellectual capital around five clusters.  Upon entering, you are given a tablet, and walk around the pavilion scanning QR codes to learn about Strolkovo.  There is no sense of the actual project within the exhibit.  No physical models, drawings, or renderings.  Everything is digital and the only physical presence in the pavilion is one of light and space—two intangible characteristics that architects are constantly striving to manipulate.  My visit to the Biennale was heightened by the fact that my companions, like me, are design fanatics.

Me scanning a QR code at the Russian Pavilion.

The next morning, my friend, Ann, had to catch her noon flight back to Barcelona…except the tide was so high, there was about a foot of water flooding the streets!  She was forced to wear black trash bags as boots as she walked to the waterbus stop.  As unfortunate as the circumstances were, I had a good laugh.

Ann prepares to take on the flood!

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