Carlo Scarpa - A legacy in Italian Architecture

Carlo Scarpa - A legacy in Italian Architecture

In the heart of Venice, the Piazza San Marco, is overlooked by famous monuments in Venetian history; the Basilica, San Marco Campanile and Torre dell' Orologio. This square is also home to a hidden gem, the Olivetti Showroom. Designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1957, the showroom is an exceptional example of 20th Century Italian architecture.

History of Carlo Scarpa

Born in Venice in 1906, Carlo Scarpa is one of the most ambiguous architects of the 20th Century, best known for his attention to detail and reflection of Venetian culture within his work along with his interest in history, regionalism and invention. Scarpa attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied architecture and directed the Venini Glassworks showcase until 1947. It was here where he discovered an appreciation for craft and often worked late into the night with the Venini glass blowers.

History of the Olivetti Showroom

In the late 1950’s, Adriano Olivetti, an Italian entrepreneur, man of culture and renowned leader in industrial design, commissioned Carlo Scarpa to create a showcase displaying his typewriters and calculators, manufactured in the town of Ivrea, Italy. Olivetti closed the store in 1997 and a year later a souvenir shop was opened in its place until April 2011, when the FAI (Italian Environmental Foundation) reopened its doors as a public showroom for Olivetti products, and the beauty of Scarpa’s work could be admired once again.

The Staircase

Each part of the showroom reflects Scarpa’s magnificent architecture from his use of space, ‘floating tectonic’ like stairs and coloured mosaic floor tiles. Olivetti wanted to create an intriguing space to sell his products. Scarpa’s idea was to reflect the elegance of the typewriters and calculators design, while creating an intangible showroom that was modern and minimalistic, not reflecting the exterior historic surroundings of Venice. The space was narrow but relatively tall however, wasn’t tall enough for a second floor. Scarpa’s genius solution was to create 2 low balconies either side of a central staircase, that wouldn’t interfere with the idea of the room he had envisioned. Upon entering the showroom, you are faced with the effortlessly perfected, all most floating like concrete platforms, that form a staircase.

This staircase was to be considered the sole sculptural object within the room, underpinning the language of tectonics. Perfectly balancing beauty and physics, the stairs were created using cantilever slabs of marble, supported by brass rods, creating a pathway to the second floor balconies, still allowing views to be seen throughout the room. Scarpa was heavily influenced by Venetian culture and the analogies of water, he wanted the public to be encouraged to visit the showroom and touch the smooth texture of the marble, where the grains reflected the Venetian waterways that flow through the city. Almost as if you was waving your hand through the canals of Venice.

The staircase extended into plinths, where Olivetti’s products were displayed, blurring the boundary between the sculpture and the staircase, bringing attention to the typewriters and calculators that were on display.


Our Scarpa inspired tiles in our Leather Lane Showroom

Design of the Showroom

Olivetti’s company had a strong positive reputation for attention to design, and this passion for quality and design was reflected within his products. When Scarpa was commissioned, a mutual agreement was made between the pair for the space to showcase Olivetti products as well as Scarpa’s design and architectural talent.

The space was a long dark ‘alley’ type room, which Scarpa transformed into an open box of light and texture. Scarpa’s clever design brought natural light into the space through windows and interior transparencies. Wooden grids were added to second floor windows to control light intake, and artificial light is used where necessary. The lighting has not been over-designed, natural light has been utilised and there are no harsh spotlights coming from every direction, highlighting the merchandise, the products are left to showcase themselves. The exterior and interior walls were blended together to transform the showroom into a light yet comfortable space for visitors.

Japanese architecture was often an influence within Scarpa’s work. Stratification, layering, offsets and hidden walls and entrances can all be found within the Olivetti showroom, these effortless details often define Scarpa’s style. Throughout the showroom there is a use of hand finished materials; concrete, stone along with hand cut glass tiled floors. The smooth stone walls and hand cut glass tile floors reflect light throughout the narrow space and open up the showroom further.

The space contains many natural shapes, rather than manufactured, perfectly juxtaposed to the products the room displays. There are many subtle but intentional irregularities throughout the design, pieces joined with a zig-zag and straight lines that pause then continue. Synchronicity is not featured throughout the space, for example the stair slabs are offset and do not line up. The colour palette is calm but not monotone, mostly natural cream and earth tones, no stark white or dark black. Materials such as brass and wood bring more natural texture and colour to the space along with the coloured floors tiles throughout the building. The mosaic floors are different coloured in each room, the main entrance has red tiles, the side entrance blue, the rear yellow and the central space white. This design has inspired us to make custom Terrazzo marble in a Scarpa-esque style, bringing Venice into your homes.