OMA Trumps Preservationists in Battle to Turn Venetian Palazzo into Department Store

Architecture’s favorite black humorist Rem Koolhaas is at it again, off planning a Venice Biennale that stresses the dangers of globalization while battling conservationists for rights to transform a 16th-century Venetian palazzo — which currently serves as a post office — into a retail hotspot. Koolhaas’s firm OMA and its client Benetton recently secured permission to redesign the palazzo into a department store/cultural venue after five years of facing resistance from preservationists. The redevelopment scheme has allegedly been modified to appease those in opposition — i.e. an escalator has been relocated, and the historic roof will be retained — though it’s not all water under the Rialto bridge just yet.

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the heritage group Italia Nostra believes that OMA’s plans will inflict “serious damage to the building’s physical integrity and historical identity,” as they testified in court just last year, and others have questioned Benetton’s alleged promise to give over $7 million dollars to the city, a gesture seen as an unscrupulous means of buying themselves out of controversy. The renovated palazzo is expected to partially serve as a venue for 2014 Venice Biennale events, so we can only wait and see how the OMA design will illustrate Koolhaas’s much-anticipated “Fundamentals” theme.

Image: A model of the OMA-designed renovation, courtesy the architects.

- Kelly Chan