The process of architectural and functional renewal of the Venice Arsenale
The vicissitudes of the Arsenale of Venice, in the first part of the Twentieth Century, tell us the epilogue of the growth process of the Arsenal, with the recent enlargements of the Basin of Principe di Piemonte and of Casermette, which brought about the size of the assembly to the current version, of about 48 hectares, followed by a decline, first slowly, then faster and faster after the second world war. In the course of those years most of the shipbuilding and military functions were lost. It was created a crack in two of the Arsenale, which never until then had lost its unitary character. The northern part was ceded, in two times, to private shipbuilding, while the south remained to the Navy, halved so the size of its garrison.
By the middle of the century the search for new functions for the Arsenal became an indispensable requirement for being able to think to the preservation and recovery of complex. The functional conversion of architectures, as well as the broader issue of re-use of the whole settlement, were not unprecedented arguments for the Arsenale, but the half of the twentieth century they were no longer works for the adaptation to the evolution of the shipbuilding industry, as was the case from the beginning of the Fourteenth Century until the second decade of the Twentieth Century, but to take note of the fact that they were searched for and constructed horizons of all new for the future.
The period between 1960 and the beginning of the years '80 was dense of initiatives and activities of study and research, which committed administrators and cultural environments in an attempt to delineate possible paths for a recovery of the complex. This was expressed by the variant of the PRG for the ancient city of 1962, the detailed plan for the area of east Castle, the vast program design that saw engaged the IUAV University of Venice, the publication of volumes on the history of the Arsenal of Ennio Concina and Giorgio Bellavitis. Practically nothing instead took place at the operational level, both in the Arsenal south, where the Navy could not cope with commitments of maintenance of an area that became too wide for their resources, both in the Arsenal North, where in fact the shipbuilding used almost exclusively in the area of basins, completely ignored the buildings of the Novissima. The outcome was the abandonment of a considerable part of the complex: substantially all the Novissima, part of the area of Galeazze and almost all of the south-east area, by Corderie at the island of Virgins.
The path for the improvement of the South Arsenale
The years '80 marked a turning point for the fate of the complex, with concrete initiatives and a series of interventions that laid the foundations for the start of a significant process of recovery. There was a sort of parallel path of the Superintendence and for the Biennale of Venice, with roles and distinct activities, in the recovery of a large part of the South Arsenale.
In 1980 the Biennale opened to the public the Corderie, on the occasion of the first exhibition of Architecture, edited by Paolo Portoghesi. The Strada Novissima, installation that commitment a part of the building, did discover to the world the extraordinary space of the Corderia and spelled out the potential of the Arsenal for the cultural activities. The Soprintendenza, in the years immediately following, started a vast program of studies, surveys and investigations aimed at recovery of the complex.
In 1983, a massive program of special funding allowd the Soprintendenza of start the restoration of the Corderia. In four years was completed the renovation of 8,000 square meters of coverage. Always in 1983, the Soprintendenza supervised the restoration of the Porta Magna and the portals of the Artillery and the Sale d'Armi.
In subsequent years the work proceeded within the Corderie. A flooring in trachyte and wood, of new frames, the restoration of the doors, and of all the internal structures, metal and wooden, completed what may be defined a program of general restoration of the building. The work of the Soprintendenza allowed at the Biennale in use in a stable manner the building for the exhibitions of visual arts and architecture.
Since then, the Soprintendenza destiny, practically every year, a share of the resources of the ordinary Ministry for Cultural Heritage at the Arsenale. The restorations are concentrated on the roofs, which always represent the element of greater criticality for the conservation of the buildings. In subsequent years the interventions were gradually spread to the whole of the south-east of the Arsenal and went on until 2010, involving, besides the Corderie, the Artillery, the Gagiandre, the tese north and south of the Island is, in part, the tese of the coal at Vergini and the Sale d’Armi, for about 25,000 square meters of roofing. With funding from the British committee the Venice in Peril Fund was also carried out a mass in safety of the large hydraulic crane Armstrong & Mitchell.
The restorations of the Soprintendenza contributed to support the programs of the Biennale, that in 1999 he obtained a concession from the State Property Defense 50,000 sqm in the area south-east and progressively extended its activities to restored cultural spaces. The Biennale, from that date, taken an active role in preserving operations and functional recovery of the architectures.
In fact the work of the Biennial integrated the restorations of the Superintendence, not only with works and equipment plant, aimed at the productions, as happened in the first period, but also with a considerable series of restoration work on the buildings, such as, for example: the telemetry Tower, the Tese del carbone at the Virgins, the Small Theater, the buildings 49 and 50, the Sale d'Armi, where last year has been inaugurated the Pavillion of Argentina. Among the works realized by the Biennale the new bridge of thoughts should be mentioned, which will allow you to access to the garden of Virgins; an intervention of fundamental importance for the accessibility to the Arsenale.
Operation emblematic of the synergy that has been established between the Superintendency and the Biennale, was the location within the Arsenal of the Italian Pavilion, in one of the Tese of the coal at the Vergini. The initiative, brought to fruition with financing, design and direction of the joint work of the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage and of the Biennale, in fact represents a passage of great importance, since it strengthens the stability of the presence in Arsenale of the Biennale.
Other initiatives and interventions have contributed to a reversal of the trend on the fate of South Arsenale, always starting from the 80s of the last century. Among these are reported the work carried out by the Magistrato alle Acque and the initiatives of the Navy. In 1986, after the suppression of the hospital of the Navy at the convent of Sant'Anna di Castello, health activities were transferred to the inside part of the Arsenale, in a building at the Celestia. The renovation works were conducted by Magistrato alle Acque.
It was the first of a series of interventions that saw engaged the Ministry of Public Works, with the goal of recovering the architectures and refunctionalize the military part of the complex. The works affected Tesoni 12, 13 and 14 of the Old Arsenal, which became military operational structures, Marceglia barracks, canteen, transferred by the foundries in the workshop of the Fabbri in Stradal Campagna, and the building of the Squadratori. In recent times the restoration of the battlements of the towers of the water gate and prospectuses in field of the Arsenal and along the Rio della Madonna has been carried out.
In parallel we can also report some important initiatives undertaken by the Navy, as well as some interventions of restoration conducted by the Genius of the Defense. First of all, the transfer of the Institute of Sea war from the seat of Livorno to the Arsenal of Venice, which took place in 1999. The school was then renamed the Institute for seafarers military studies.
The operation, as also suggested by the change in the name of the school, caused a change of role of the Arsenale, which from garrison of defense, became cultural pole in the Navy. The transfer was followed by a challenging project for the accommodation of the Squadratori as headquarters of the school, which was not funded. In the context of the new course from the cultural imprint of the Navy, was set up a table of comparative institutional, which is called the "Committee of Understanding for the Project Arsenal", inside of which was developed a project for the reorganization and expansion, of the Naval Historical Museum.
Also this project, which saw committed, to the side of the Navy, the State Property, the Municipality of Venice, the Ministry of Cultural Assets, the Magistrato alle Acque and other subjects, led to nothing. Among the interventions by the Genio, we remember the restorations carried out in the workshops of Remeri, in the Library, in the buildings of the Command and numerous maintenance operations.
The new face of the North Arsenale
The extension of the license granted to the private shipbuilding industry in the area of the Novissima, which occurred in 1957, did not benefit to the state of preservation of buildings, because productive activities remained concentrated in drydock, leaving some of the Tese substantially unused.
At the beginning of the years '90, when there was no sight of glimmer of hope for recovery initiatives and the physical deterioration of the buildings, now proceeded with unstoppable acceleration, came a strong signal for a possible recovery of the area. It was the birth of Thetis, an engineering companies and marine technologies, established in 1993.
The company, obtained in granting the buildings of the Lamierini and Modelli (laminations and models) and Tesa 106, entrusted the recovery project to the architects Igino Cappai and Pietro Mainardis, who completed their work in 1996. The intervention, of considerable prominence, represented one element of extraordinary innovations in the panorama of the Arsenal showing a passable road for the recovery of the complex. The design chosen was that of a intervention of preservation of the existing buildings and the inclusion within them of new architectural elements, which would have made possible the re-use for new features.
The signal made by Thetis had no immediate follow, while, at the end of the years '90, the deterioration of the Arsenal north seemed very serious. Almost all of the buildings had the need for deep and demanding restoration; some of them showed situations of substantial collapse and were unusable.
The year 2000 represented a turning point for the recovery of the Arsenale north. After a series of studies reliefs and surveys, begun after the end of the years '90, in fact, the Magistrato alle Acque di Venezia started an enormous program of interventions on all the buildings of the Arsenal north, which was completed in about ten years that led to the complete rehabilitation of the built-up areas.
Another decisive aspect for the recovery of the Arsenale north, but more generally for the whole complex, was the role played by the urban planning. The overall operation, which was a true organic project, took off with the participation of the municipal administration for the P.R.U.S.S.T announcement of competition by the Ministry of Public Works, 1998.
From that initial project, with subsequent processing was drafted and approved in 2001 a "Director Document", which represented the loom on which would have been set up and oriented programming choices on a lower scale. The next step was that of the definition of two detailed plans, one for the north and the other is for the south area. One of the North Arsenal was approved in 2003, while that for the South Arsenal did not complete the authorization process.
With the planning were defined guidelines for the recovery of the Arsenale, indicating the destinations for the areas, the degrees of the transformability of the buildings, the guidelines for requalification. Four priority destinations to great knitting were identified and defined: research Pole and pole of the production, located in the North Arsenale, pole of the Marina and pole of the culture, located in the South Arsenale. While the southern area the indications were essentially a photograph of the state of fact of the State Property Defense, in part in use to the Navy and in part by grant at the Biennale, for the north it was an address for a process have yet to be built.
In 2003, after the approval of the Detailed Plan of the North Arsenal, the conditions for starting the path of regeneration of the area started taking body.
To encourage the recovery process, always in 2003, the Company Arsenale of Venice was founded, a P.L.C. (Public limited Company) for 51% of the State Property and for 49% of the Municipality of Venice, with the task of programming, activate and manage projects aimed at the exploitation of the Arsenal.
In the same year, it was initialled an agreement between the Municipality, the Magistrato alle Acque and the C.N.R., to define the program for implementing the plan forecasts and to start the operations for the transfer of the seat of the C.N.R. ISMAR from Palazzo Papadopoli to the Arsenale.
In 2006 were launched by the Company Arsenal four contests. In the same year the area of the dry docks, medium and large, and six of the tese Novissima were granted by the State Property to Consorzio Venezia Nuova for the embodiment of the line for the maintenance of mobile sluice gates of the mouths of harbour and the control center and management of the system MOSE.
The two operations led to a decisive turning point for the fate of the North Arsenale. The projects of the Company Arsenal have concerned the tower of Porta Nuova, with the destination of study center and multi-purpose structure, the Tesa 105 for input functions in Arsenale from the north, the headquarters of Company Arsenale and incubator of firms, the Tesa 113, for those of canteen and restaurant, while the fourth project related to the construction of a new bridge opened for south-north connection of the Arsenale. The grant to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova start a design phase and intervention in the area of the dry docks area and in the six Tese, by n. 107 to n. 112.
In 2009, the Soprintendenza issued a new device for protection for the Arsenale, replacing the previous of the 1986. The new measure, which included specific indications for each manufactured and the uncovered areas, was designed to protect the conservation and encourage the process of exploitation of the compendium: in fact it complemented perfectly with the detailed plan from which it adopted the same names of areas and buildings.
At the end of the first decade of this century, while the Magistrato alle Acque brought to completion the restoration of the buildings, with interventions performed both in direct administration that by means of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, after a first period of inertia, almost all interventions in the program were acted, in quick succession, and some of them were completed. In May of 2010 the new seat of the C.N.R. Ismar has been inaugurated in the Tese 103 and 104; in April 2011 the works of the tower of Porta Nuova have been completed; in the April 2012 the works of the Tesa 105 were concluded.
Also the University Ca' Foscari in the course of 2011 has joined the process of recovery of the Arsenal, with a concession from the State Property Office of the tese of Nappe and those of San Cristoforo.
Currently many yards are open in the Arsenal north. In fact at full speed the works proceed in the area of the dry docks and the Novissima aimed at maintenance and management of the MOSE system, with all interventions, some of which are already completed, canteen buildings, Offices C.A.V., H.B.B. and other advanced-stage, in the building of the Generators and in the tese of Novissima.
Jobs for enlargement and the completion of the seat of the C.N.R. ISMAR is continuing on tese 101 and 102. The start of work on the revolving bridge of Porta nuova is also imminent.
The South and North Arsenale to research of a route of reunification
From a general analysis of the situation you can make a few considerations. The data that emerges above the other is that over the past twenty-five years, with a strong acceleration in the last decade, the general situation has radically changed. It is also clear that the events of the Arsenale south and the north have had paths and outcomes significantly different.
For the South Arsenal, where the recovery process is begun long before, the question of the future is not yet clearly delineated. In this part of the complex, in fact, while the institute for Maritime military Studies, with its activities, highlights the contemporary vision of the military role in Arsenal, in continuity with the past, and while the Biennale of Venice, from year to year, increments the cultural initiatives, interventions and the international visibility, a vast area of the complex is in a situation of underutilisation and decay.
For the North Arsenale the recovery path is totally outlined, in accordance with the guidelines of the plan, while still appears critical the issue of accessibility.
The city is in relation with the North Arsenale only through the long footbridge that originates from the Celestia and through the landing of the basins. Insufficient and unbalanced links with respect both to the citizens flows and to those of the mainland city, that already show all the shortcomings and the risks to be a powerful obstacle to development in act.
The central node, which now involves administrators is that of the research of a reunification of the North and South Arsenale. This process is necessary because the great scope of activities and initiatives in progress, both in the south and the northern part, shall not have obstacles.
The need of Arsenale for recovering its unity is invoked in more occasions, but hardly it will be really carried out. Testimony to this is the arrest of the authorization process for the detailed plan of the South Arsenale, which has its reasons not so much in the resistances of some subjects, but rather in the indeterminacy and lack of convergence of the choices and guidelines to undertake for this urban area.
The question on this last point, which is waiting for an urgent response, is the need to identify which authority holds the title of the choices on the whole area, whether it be a single subject or a body representing the different present realities.
text by Claudio Menichelli