Known as Italy’s Lost Modernist Master, Carlo Scarpa (June 2, 1906 – November 28, 1978) was one of the most enigmatic architects of the 20th century. Born in Venice, Scarpa spent most of his early childhood in Vicenza, before his family moved back to Venice in 1919. He studied architecture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, and from 1932 until 1947 he was director of the Venini Glassworks. It was there that he first displayed his appreciation for craft and marble.
Taking inspiration from the architecture of past times, from personalities like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mondrian, Albers, Rothko and Josef Hoffmann, as well as Japan’s culture and its natural approach to architecture and design, Scarpa loved combining natural elements and crafts with architectural patterns of the past detailed with contemporary touches. Therefore, Scarpa's architecture managed to respect the old and historic and simultaneously introduce new and modern design details, while natural elements were seen as materials of composition. In this respect, his work was deeply sensitive to the changes of time, all taking shape in a careful selection and combination of materials.
One of his favorite materials to work with was marble, which was crafted in a classic but also modern way, mixing the eras together and creating something new and so very interesting!
Scarpa liked its oeuvres to be simple, playful and meaningful – something that we can definitely observe in the Olivetti Showroom staircase. Olivetti Showroom was designed so as to display the Olivetti typewriters. However, through this simplicity, Scarpa managed to open up the space, make it breath, and through the use of marble and concrete, make something unique, where the central point of his creation was the marble staircase. The staircase can be considered solely as a sculptural object within the space and it was created using cantilevered slabs of marble which are reminiscent of a “neoplastic deconstruction of Michelangelo’s stairway in the Laurentian Library”. Its use as a centerpiece within the showroom becomes an informal gesture, inviting the public to touch, feel and caress its smooth structure.
Another way that Scarpa liked to present his creations was with the form of a labyrinth leading to a clean space of resolution – like a white piece of marble. We could notice that in the garden of the Querini - Stampalia Foundation, where the use of water in the gardens is coupled with labyrinthine forms and rare stone materials. The slender watercourse wends its way through the garden and spills over a block of white marble chased with a geometrical pattern. This combination of water and stone seems to revive one of the most important symbolical associations in Buddhist gardens, where these elements are linked in evoking the mystery of life, an inspiration that the architect had from his travels in Japan.
Finally, we could say that Scarpa had found a way to present marble in its finest and purest form, totally clean, without any blabbering decorations, paying tribute to its structure, meaning and natural beauty. Creating elegant, elemental pieces, where every single intricate detail had been meticulously considered, leaded to inspiring pieces of work which can offer assistance to any architectural design. And as Robert McCarter, author of a 2013 Scarpa monograph says ‘‘He believed in the elegance of incompletion. He wasn’t afraid of his work being added to in the future. He understood that everything was essentially dynamic.’’
(images linked to sources, sources: archdaily.com, nytimes.com, issuu.com, architectuul.com)