Book Review / Dream of Venice Architecture

Dream of Venice Architecture is the second book in a series from Bella Figura Publications dedicated to the mystery and beauty of contemporary Venice. It is a follow up to Dream of Venice, a 2014 edition including photographs by Charles Christopher and a foreword by Frances Mayes that I reviewed here. This new edition includes musings by world-renowned architects who have built in Venice such as Tadao Ando, Annabelle Selldorf, Mario Botta, and Michele De Lucchi as well as Scarpa experts, contributors to the 2016 Architecture Biennale, and architectural writers and historians. The 96-page hardcover includes photographs by Riccardo De Cal and an introduction by architect and author Richard J. Goy. We asked editor JoAnn Locktov a few questions about the current book, and what she has planned next.


Why did you want to do a second volume in the series? What did you want to capture in this edition?

JoAnn Locktov: With the publication of the first book, Dream of Venice, it was always my intention to publish a series of books on contemporary Venice. Architecture is a vital, integral part of Venice, the reason most often cited for the city’s captivating beauty.  So, it seemed the natural theme for the second book. I wanted to understand how Venice had inspired contemporary architects; how her primarily ancient structures were still relevant to 21st century urban design.

In the introduction to the book architect and author Richard J. Goy compares the city to a cipolla or onion. If you had to describe the city in a few words what would it be?

JL: For me it would be an urban oasis.

Was there a reason you chose not to identify the profession/titles of the contributors until the end?

JL: Yes, for reasons both metaphorical and practical. Had we added a bio to each page, we would have lost the serenity of white space that our designer Sandy Popovich carefully cultivates. That’s the practical reason. The metaphor is that I want the book to feel like a passagieta, a wander through the calli of Venice. The book needs to have the capacity to surprise, both in images and text. Keeping the bios at the end allows you to read the text without a preconceived notion of the writer’s accomplishments. And if you already know what they are, a bio accompanying each page is superfluous.

Why no page numbers? 

JL: There is no Table of Contents and so page numbers are unnecessary. We also did not want to dictate a numerical order to the book, the pages can be perused in any order you wish. Sandy’s design objective is to create a book as clean and elegant as possible without extraneous detail.

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What new facts about the city did you learn during the process of making this book? I was interested to learn in architect Frank Harmon’s piece that Venetian buildings never have cornices or overhangs to maximize reflections from the water.

JL: I learned about the distinctly “feminine“ ogee gothic arches. I learned about the Nicelli Airport on the Lido. I learned that there are 15 types of algae in the Lagoon. I learned that the civic urgency of Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623) is alive and well in a Venetian architect working today.

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When I’m in Italy I always pass by private spaces that I desperately wish I could explore. Do you have such a space in Venice?

JL: I feel as if all of Venice is open to exploration. There is no logic; the entire city is a web of labyrinthine paths. So I can duck into a sotoportego, or turn into a campo that I’ve never seen and feel compelled to explore.

As a writer I have to ask what is your favorite piece of literature about the city?

JL: May I have two? It would have to be a tie between Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

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You have a piece in there by a writer who has never been to Venice. Why did you choose to do that?

JL: I asked Guy Horton to contribute because I had read several pieces he had written about Venice. I had no idea he had never been. I was enchanted with his essay because Venice infiltrates the psyche in a mythical way, even for people that have never been and may never go. I want the books to work for people who have been and people who have never been, and so I was delighted when I received Guy’s essay and found out that he actually has never been. It was perfect.

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In one of my favorite passages, designer Constantin Boym describes the beauty and decay of Venetian doors. Do you have a favorite feature of Venetian architecture?

JL: I love that Venice is a hand-crafted city. That multitudes of artisans and ingenious builders throughout a millennium of history created one of the most beautiful places on earth, by hand. I love that in the blend of diverse styles, you can witness the origins of the city’s economic, cultural, and political strength. I love the patina, the grace that comes from stones well lived.

In the book Jonathan Glancey talks about an alternative way of entering the city – via Giovanni Nicelli airport on the northern tip of the Lido. What is your favorite way of entering Venice? Sea, wings, or tracks? 

To arrive by train is always wonderful but I admit I prefer by sea via the airport. Venice now has the Alilaguna boat service directly from the Marco Polo airport so no one has to be subjected to the prosaic bus ride to Piazzale Roma. The cruise ships are an anathema and need to be banned from the Lagoon. Pity the person who admits to me they have entered or departed the city by sea monster.

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How did you connect with photographer Riccardo De Cal? What was his approach to shooting images to accompany each piece of prose?

We were introduced by the Italian architect Guido Pietropoli, who is a mutual friend. Riccardo sought a “convergence” between each writer’s point of view and his own perception of Venice. He has said it felt like listening to a melody coming from the calli and trying to find the origin of the sound. He feels that his approach was far more instinctual than intellectual.

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Contributor J. Michael Welton mentions using a GPS to find the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Do you think that with the advent of GPS, a little something about Venice has been lost to new visitors?

JL: In Mike’s defense, he had just arrived in Venice for the first time. He needed to get to an event at the Guggenheim Collection, so I can understand his reliance on GPS in this instance. However yes, I think that the unwillingness of visitors to become lost circumvents one of the most beguiling charms the city can offer.

Do you think people will allow themselves to get lost in a world where they don’t have to?

JL: They may not have a choice! I’m not sure that GPS is foolproof in Venice. Even with the technology, you may find yourself at a dead end. It takes a certain amount of faith to let go of the security of knowing. Venice is a good place to practice.

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Are there plans for a third book?

JL: The third book will be Dream of Venice in Black & White. It is in homage to the preeminent Italian photographer Gianni Berengo Gardin. As the title suggests, it will only have black and white photography. The format will change, rather than one photographer, there will be many. So, there will be a submission process for photographers. However, the book will begin with only one essay. I am hoping to work with a Venetian writer I greatly admire. Vedremo…. (we shall see).



All images courtesy Bella Figure Publications. A portion of the proceeds from each book will be donated to Foundation Querini Stampalia to support their architectural programming in Venice. You can order your copy here.


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