Paddling to Architecture in Venice

The comfort of European architecture - that is, in those cities who were not bombed to hell in the War - is that its physics is often much more believable than the modern constructions of, say, Australia and North America. To take a perfect example - we can look at the pyramids and wonder how they built it, but not how it remains. Conversely, when we see, for instance, a suspension bridge, we take credit in knowing that, as a species, we can build much more with much less. Yet simultaneously our lizard brain is wondering - How does that work?
In the age of wireless web and nanotech, we are in the curious condition of being proud of our accomplishments, but confused at how we succeeded. A cause of our nostalgia for pre-industrial societies is that the designs of the buildings were ambitious, yet the mechanics of those buildings are also visually intuitive.

Venice is the exception to that rule. It is a dream city: not just because of its beauty - which any visitor can find - but because it is a city that should not exist, but does. Having said that, if the city does turn out to be sinking after all, the physics are not viable - the city will sink. Venice arose from the lagoon and it shall return there. (Having it has lasted for more than twelve hundred years - which is a good achievement for any city.)

The sight of churches, apartment buildings, parks, and restaurants rising up immediately from the water is disconcerting to say the least. Venice is a very ambitious city. Walled as it is from the waters edge, with only the narrow canal ways interrupting the line of white and red six-story buildings, it feels like a city into which you can borrow, its canals like a calm bathtub floating gently in wild seas. With steady rain, a ceiling of clouds, and its post-Renaissance decline, the city feels like it stands out of time. With rain, the shelter of umbrellas, and the protective hug of this timeless city, I imagine that the off-season would either make this the perfect retreat from the world, or be like having Disneyland all to oneself. Just as Cuba is the time capsule of the fifties, this is a city frozen in the 1500s. It is an insular city, a perfect retreat, a fun park with an authentic pedigree. It shrinks ones world - which, possibly, is why it is the ideal honeymoon destination. In an age of space travel, couples are ‘forced’ to take a human-powered gondola. There are admittedly cell phone transponders, and Internet, and electric lights, but the residents have added this infrastructure almost invisibly to the archipelago’s medieval neural net. The main thing that Venice has to offer - its biggest export - is ambience. To come here, the main pastimes must centre on eating, drinking, and sleeping. (It is not, in other words, as if the churches are that interesting.)

Venice is a city that I would compare to a couple of grandparents: old yet cute, slightly senile but still deeply in love with the other, living a distance both mentally and geographically away from their progeny, yet still frequently visited. Grandparents tremendously old, complexly partitioned in their memories and personalities, glorious, yet doomed.

Images by AshHibbert:
  • Underneath one of the few modern bridges in Venice
  • Holbeinsteg, Frankfurt am Main
  • Venice, obviously
  • More of Venice 

* = Judging from Assassin’s Creed II, the city is as lively as it was five-hundred years ago - however the liveliness derives not the professionals and merchants that the city once produced, but the tourists it now draws. Without the tourists, the city likely becomes a quiet town. It is not possible, in other words, to return to the Venice of half a millennium ago.