In 1996, several months after the fire which destroyed the Fenice, and following numerous public debates on how to restore the theatre, after which the reconstruction intervention was announced through a competition-contract under the slogan “where it was, how it was”, Aldo Rossi was in doubt as to whether he should participate. In fact, he had immediately received various offers from different pools, in virtue of both his broad experience in the theatrical field and familiarity with the context, having worked and taught in Venice. However, Rossi was slightly reticent about tackling this specific case owing to the limitations of the architectural intervention and his having to compete with that supposed “conservative mentality” typical of Venetians.
Contrarily to this, from an in-depth study of the competition details, analysis material and post-fire surveys corroborated by typological and historical references of the theater, it emerged that despite the conservative criteria, it would be possible to reconstruct the theater “where it was” but it would certainly no longer be “how it was” owing to that unreproduceable patina of time vanished with the fire.
The complexity of a building that takes shape with the weft of the city, and the challenge to find an ambit of possible design linked to the interpretative skills which the architect should have, in that personal, reserved relationship with architecture through comparison with the model in an endeavour to give sense to the constructive act, had become infectious to Rossi and all of us too.
The competition announcement, as is often the case, contained some ambiguous aspects, but specifically clarified the five constituent parts of the project, pinpointing for each one restrictions and freedom. This project criteria, together with the complex co-ordination of technical, architectural and restoration factors, are the most effective means of interpreting the proposed project and reflect other architectural themes.

1. Apollonian Halls:
Seriously damaged in the fire, what was required was a conservative intervention of the remaining parts and a philological reconstruction of what was destroyed. In restoring the décor, its stratification and modification was taken into account so as to permit a visual reading of the building’s history, maintaining also what had survived the fire. The large attic, originally used as a store, was transformed into an exhibition hall, open to the public and accessible via a new outside emergency staircase.

2. Theatre Hall:
totally destroyed by the fire, it required a philological reconstruction, taking into account “where it was, how it was” (maintaining all heights of the boxes and decoration). Reconstruction was based on reliefs, cartoons and ornaments monitored and examined by the Superintendence and documented by original drawings and photographic surveys. Thanks to consolidation of the understage foundations, extra rehearsal rooms for the musicians were obtained which, adapting themselves typologically to the cavea walls, provide access to the orchestra pit without interfering with the hall.

3. Scenery tower:
Also devastated by the fire and restrictive in terms of architectural intervention. Consolidating the foundations was primarily considered owing to the position of the scenery rigging. The latter, completely renewed and improved from a point of view of technological characteristics, collaborates with the wall structure and was designed in the context of the North Wing to permit maximum use of the stage and adjacent rooms ideal as backstage space.

4. North Wing:
the corresponding nucleus positioned against the actual theatre volume, also heavily damaged by the fire, but where a greater freedom of design is permitted. Ever since the days of Selva and subsequent modifications and extensions to the theatre at the hands of Meduna, Cadorin and lastly Miozzi, this part of the building has always interacted with the stage area, which has gradually occupied the former site of the Lavezzera courtyard. In the project, the theatre’s ancillary spaces (changing, dressing and rehearsal rooms) were completely redesigned, rationalising and adjusting the emergency staircases, lifts, etc. to the regulations in force.

5. South Wing:
also damaged in the fire and with the same characteristics of the competition announcement as the North Wing, this portion of the theatre complex contains, along with the repositioned and organised administrative offices, the most powerful element in the reconstruction: the Sala Nuova now called Sala Rossi. This room, requested for choral and orchestral rehearsals, was designed by Rossi to be on the same level as the theatre hall and therefore with the possibility of linking the musicians to the orchestra pit and ancillary rooms of the stage, located beneath. At the same time, the Sala Nuova can be used independently with access from the ‘calle’ facing Rio de la Fenice. The Sala Nuova is the element on which Rossi has marked the evolution of the Theatre, finding that degree of design possible even in a decidedly conservative intervention, clarifying the Theatre’s typology and reconstructing it through the image of the city to which it belongs. In this sense of belonging, we should therefore investigate the purpose of the Palladian fragment of the Basilica of Vicenza, made of wood on a 1:3 scale, which characterises this hall “…because it reproduces that interior of the world of Veneto, almost an endeavour to recompose in the building a Venetian world somewhere between history and invention”1. This is also the reason why the copy of the model goes way beyond the formal act, the survey. It is charged with new meaning without ambiguity, and we believe that this is the most tangible key to interpreting the reconstruction project of the Fenice.
YEAR: 1999-2004
WITH: Marco Brandolisio, Giovanni da Pozzo, Massimo Sheurer, Michele Tadini, Marc Kocher
TYPOLOGY: Redevelopment and extension
CLIENT: City of Venice-Impresa Sacaim
COLLABORATORS: Massimiliano Molteni, Corrado Anselmi, Ilaria Brollo
Venezia, Italy

Public Buildings