Eyewitness: New university replaces shabby Venetian warehouses

January 5, 2001

Venice is to build a university campus along the Giudecca Canal - a stunning example of modern architecture in a gloomy and neglected part of the city.

To make way for the buildings, 1950s warehouses will be demolished and several 19th-century warehouses and customs buildings will be radically restructured. Demolition work has already begun, construction is scheduled to start this year and the project should be completed by the end of 2003.

The campus will be home to the Instituto Universitario di Architettura, an independent university with 10,000 students. It will also cater for students from Venice's other university, Ca' Foscari. The idea is to breathe life into an area that is commercially obsolete and ignored by visitors and residents, and to create an example of modern architecture that blends comfortably into its Venetian setting.

"The project answers the needs of the institute, but also of the city of Venice," said rector Marino Folin. "There will be an auditorium, a restaurant and an international bookshop specialising in architecture and art history, all open to the public. It will become part of the living texture of Venice. This project expresses and respects the spirit of Venice. Amazingly, there has been unanimous and enthusiastic support - not even the environmentalists have objected."

"It is a sign of change," said Venice's mayor Paolo Costa, a former rector of Ca' Foscari.

Elsewhere in the lagoon, the abandoned island of San Giacomo in Paludo, north of Murano, is to be taken over by the Green Cross International Foundation, presided over by Mikhail Gorbachev. Over the centuries, the island has been a hospice for pilgrims, a monastery, a leper colony and a military arms deposit. Today it is overgrown and infested with snakes.

Green Cross plans to restore the existing buildings, and launch a programme of archeological research on the island, particularly into the remains of the medieval monastery. It will construct laboratories and housing for archaeologists, scientists and students.

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