Venice's imposing historic customs house at Punta della Dogana has been transformed into a hi-tech museum for contemporary art
A dream-team of engineers, builders and architects have transformed Venice's imposing historic customs house at Punta della Dogana into a hi-tech museum for contemporary art in just 18 months. The special relationship that French luxury goods magnate François Pinault has forged with the city of Venice over the past few years is partly to thank for this efficient turn-around, but also Pinault's billions (20 million euro of which he readily invested in the project). It also helps that he owns one of the biggest art collections of contemporary art in the world - about 2,500 pieces at last count and growing steadily.
Filling the triangular eastern tip of the up-market Dorsoduro neighbourhood, and overlooking the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco and the Giudecca Canal, the 17th century building has a privileged location. Pritzker-prize winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando was asked to keep the original structure and façade intact. He removed all traces of previous restorations and a series of long rectangular rooms with exposed and rough-hewn brick walls and vast original wooden ceiling beams emerged. He then used his trademark minimalist brushed concrete to great effect on many of the floors, on the steps and in cleverly located glossy partition walls (that look like marble).
The most intrusive (but well-conceived) element is a reinforced concrete box-like space created at the centre of the building filled with daylight. It can be overlooked from the many glass and concrete walkways on the first floor, which are reminiscent of the bridges that adorn every corner of the lagoon city. Ando has not shied away from natural light, and many of the rooms feature high semi-circular steel windows offering beautifully clear, framed views of the Grand Canal and the Giudecca island. Underneath them rectangular windows are covered in decorative hand-crafted latticed steel frames that hark back to Carlo Scarpa and leave dappled shapes on the floors. The result is a modern, luxurious and contemplative cathedral to art. It is quite masterly.
Appeared on wallpaper.com in June 2009