I was prepared to hate it. Crass commercialism. The death of a historical building.
And instead I found a better outlook, and I don’t just mean the spectacular view of the Grand Canal and Venice’s rooftops. I adjusted my own outlook to appreciate the renovation of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
After taking the escalator or elevator up to the top floor, you pass through this glass sun room, which is currently home to an artistic light exhibit. This room also allows light into the courtyard below while protecting it and the shops from rain and weather. Guards and guides wearing white shirts and ties direct you to the viewing platform outside. What are they afraid of?
It’s a pretty spectacular view, right in the heart of the city. And it’s free and welcoming. I remember many years that I came to this building to buy stamps or mail packages–for the first twenty years I came to Venice, this was the main post office. I loved visiting the post office because the building was so grand, with its ascending floors and curved porticos and wellhead in the center courtyard. Too grand for just a post office, really. I always felt like I was sneaking into a place I didn’t quite belong, furtively peeking around as I stood in line, trying to remember the awkward Italian word for stamps. Yet I was appalled when I heard that the building was bought by Benetton and would be turned into either a hotel or shops. Venice needs more shops? Preposterous. But look at it–who wouldn’t want to have a coffee and a pastry here and ogle some lovely shoes?
The goods being sold are high-end, personally not my cup of tea, but certainly high quality and a nice variety. My Venetian friends said that the development company made a point of hiring local Venetians for the restoration work as well as for the shop clerks. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas preserved much of the original Renaissance style and flair. And here was the best part: certain shop space is set aside for handmade Venetian crafts, such as jewelry, paper, leather goods, and other homegrown artisan work.
So I was all set to rail against the new Fondaco, but instead it sort of won me over. My two friends who showed it to me said they went through the same curious transition, so at least I know I’m not alone.