Louis Kahn and Venezia
for the Palazzo dei Congressi
and the Biennale building
On 12 October the exhibition Louis Kahn and Venezia will inaugurate the programme of the new USI Theatre of Architecture in Mendrisio designed by Mario Botta. Curated by Elisabetta Barizza in collaboration with Gabriele Neri, the exhibition is promoted by the Foundation of the Theatre of Architecture of Mendrisio and the Academy of Architecture of the Università della Svizzera italiana.
Louis Kahn and Venezia for the first time showcases the close ties between the American architect, one of the twentieth-century Masters, and the city of Venice. Kahn’s relationship with the Italian city date from his first stay in 1928 and continued over the decades with further visits. It was strengthened by his participation in the Biennale, his friendship with Carlo Scarpa, the various lectures he gave and above all his project, which remained on the drawing board, for a Palazzo dei Congressi. These events, together with the themes related to them, are explored in the exhibition through models, drawings, photographs, video installations, letters and other documents, many unpublished, from numerous international archives and private collections. They include the Architectural Archives-University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, the Sue Ann Kahn Collection in New York, and others.
Outstanding exhibits will include the original drawings for the Palazzo dei Congressi, the result of Kahn’s intense work of analysis and design between 1968 and 1972. Now brought together for the first time, they convey the intensity of Kahn’s architectural thinking, his graphic reinterpretations of Venetian architecture, backed by recordings of his teaching and public lectures in Venice. There are also original drawings by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, likewise the authors of projects, never built, for the city in the lagoon. The research underpinning the exhibition seeks to reflect on the current and complex relationship that exists between past, present and future in such an outstanding place as Venice, a “pure miracle”, as Louis Kahn described it, in the history of humanity.
The choice of the theme of this first major exhibition also resonates with the architectural qualities of the Theatre of Architecture, establishing close ties between the work of Louis Kahn, Venice and architecture in Ticino. In its geometric strength and essential spatiality, the new building on the campus of the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture reveals Kahn’s influence on the work of Mario Botta, who collaborated with the American Master on his project for Venice in the late 1960s, when he was still a youthful undergraduate.
Louis Kahn's project for Venice (1968-72)
The project for the new Palazzo dei Congressi in Venice, together with plans for a research centre for artistic creation, grew out of the encounter between Giuseppe Mazzariol and Louis Kahn in Philadelphia in April 1968. Designed for the Giardini Napoleonici in Venice, Kahn’s spatial analysis encompassed the area of the Lagoon facing the project site and the principal architectural landmarks with which the new buildings were intended to interact: the island of San Giorgio, Piazza San Marco, the Punta della Dogana with the church of the Salute, Palladio’s churches on the Giudecca and the project by Le Corbusier for the city hospital, also never built.
Kahn presented his project in Venice in 1969, inaugurating the exhibition laid out in the rooms of the Doge’s Palace (30 January-15 February 1969). Following the exhibition, Kahn continued to develop the building for the new Palazzo dei Congressi together with the engineer August Komendant, but in 1972 the plan to build in the Giardini was finally rejected, and a new location assigned in the area of the Arsenale. The architect adapted the project to the new site, but soon it became clear that there was no political support for its construction, consigning it to the limbo of Venice’s lost opportunities.
Sections of the exhibition
The exhibition will be laid out on the three floors of the Theatre of Architecture. It is divided into thematic sections that analyse the projects developed between 1968 and 1972, backed by extensive documentation, and will explore cultural events, relations and influences: Kahn and Venice; Return to Europe; Giuseppe Mazzariol and the Idea of Venice; Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier in Venice; The Lesson of Louis Kahn; Louis Kahn and Carlo Scarpa; Louis Kahn’s Project for Venice
12 October 2018-20 January 2019
Exhibition curated by
in collaboration with
- Architectural Archives - Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
- Architectural Archives - August Komendant Collection, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
- Archivio Graziano Arici, Venezia, Italia
- Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche - Carlo Pescatori, Bergamo, Italia
- Archivio Fotografico Guido Pietropoli, Rovigo, Italia
- Archivio Giuseppe Mazzariol - Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia, Italia
- Archivio Progetti, Università Iuav di Venezia, Venezia, Italia
- Archivio Università Internazionale dell’Arte - UIA, Venezia, Italia
- Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York, USA
- Canadian Centre for Architecture - CCA, Montreal, Canada
- Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio - CISA, Vicenza, Italia
- Collection of Alexandra Tyng, Narberth, USA
- Collezione Luciano Gemin, Treviso, Italia
- Collezione Martina Mazzariol, Roma, Italia
- Collezione privata, Mendrisio, Svizzera
- Collezione Renzo Salvadori, Venezia, Italia
- Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris, France
- Sue Ann Kahn Collection, New York, USA