Another master of the art of motion, Carlo Scarpa, enlarged at length on the art and mystery of kinetic decorating, beginning with the exquisitely detailed shutter system of the Aula Magna at Ca’ Foscari, overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal. To periodically screen this meeting room and lecture hall from an adjoining corridor, the intervening glass wall was overlaid with a remarkable series of operable panels. Pivoting off timber posts on a complex assembly of iron and brass pivots, each pair of shutters can be folded together to open views into the room and canal beyond, or unfolded to form a discreet visual barrier.
It is the manner in which the shutters open and close, however, that is of paramount significance. The panels intrigue the eye initially with uncertainty about how they might move, and about where to place one’s hand and exert force. Bevels mark the boundary and invite touch, but then one slowly becomes aware of the curious and complicated mechanism of the pivots and, when the shutters are fully retracted, an intriguing metal catch below into which the shutter slips and causes one part to rotate upward and click smoothly into place. Within this phenomenology of motion lies a pregnant tension, an evasive presence and revelation that are able each time to provoke wonderment and, in William Carlos Williams’s words, ‘startle us anew’.66
Carlo Scarpa, Aula Magna (1956), Ca’ Foscari, Venice, detail of pivoting assembly (left); clasp with a double rotation to receive and hold each shutter (right)
10 Contemporary Home Decorating Ideas Photo Gallery
Carlo Scarpa, Olivetti Showroom (1958), Venice, sliding and rotating gate guided by a brass-faced steel track (left) and radiator cabinet with plaster-faced grilles and brass corner clasp (right)
Scarpa’s fascination with protean beauty reappears in the mysteriously moving doors and gates of almost every building he designed. We are immediately drawn to these captivating things, but their material weight and flow through space are only disclosed at the very moment of bodily contact and force, in acts that are manifold, rather than singular, and develop with gratifying shocks. Beyond their invitingly sensuous form and texture, the devices are endowed with metamorphic change, enigmatic joints, perplexing degrees of sliding or rotational freedom and the equipoise of intermeshed motions.
A recurring apparatus in Scarpa’s repertoire is the dark metal screen set parallel to, but offset and distinguished from, the glazed entry it protects. The perceptual independence of boundaries produces a collage of operable systems in successive layers, causing their opening or closure to set off a cinematic transparency. Sheets of interwoven black steel and smooth glass modify one another and render each more ambiguous, a visual tension between superimposed linings that turns fluid as the gate slides past. But an extra surprise has been inserted to complicate the action, for each part of the gate hangs from two different pivots that slide in adjoining but separate tracks, their channels beginning parallel and separating when nearing the end wall, with the innermost track veering off through an undulant curve, allowing each sheet to swing 90° flush with the wall and out of the way.