Wednesday, April 2, 2014

To Restore or Not to Restore

I recently railed against the trend toward recreating historic buildings -- Berlin's Schloss and Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace in London.

And then I want to Venice and on the first day, rode to the top of the Campanile di San Marco.  (Note, "rode" -- the Campanile has an elevator, unlike Giotto's Bell Tower and Duomo in Florence.  We climbed both and are better for it!).

The combination of the austere Palazzo Ducale, the ballooning domes of the Basilica di San Marco, the massive, L-shaped Piazza San Marco, ending with two columns above steps into the lagoon, all held together at the intersection of palace, basilica, and square, by the Campanile di San Marco, constitutes one of the most recognizable and uplifting public spaces in the world.  There is much to say about how this almost perfect public space was created over a millennium, with the help of visionary leaders and despicable autocrats, the service of the public good and private gain.  But I wanted just now to highlight the Campanile and its history.  Built on Roman foundations in the 9th century, it has been destroyed by fire, been damaged or fallen due to earthquakes, and been dramatically remade on numerous occasions over the past millennium.  The form as we know it today comes from designs completed after the earthquake of 1511.  More recently, the tower fell down  -- remarkably killing no one -- early on July 14, 1902.  That evening, it was voted to rebuild the Campanile exactly as it was.  On April 25, 1912, the new/old building was inaugurated.

My convictions were tested as I nodded in approval about the decision to recreate what was a key feature of one of the best known cities in the world.   Could it be any different? Did they not have to rebuild the Campanile?

No.  Due to the design (of many city builders over centuries), and due to the image of the city, that spot demanded and demands a tower, to anchor the whole.  But that same spot was anchored by other towers of different designs over the centuries of Venice's empire.  A new, modern tower -- in 1912, or if and when a new one is needed in the future --  could have built, and could build, on the tradition of this one-time city of the future.

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