The Venice Variations: Preview Part 1

1. Why Venice matters today

There is a pair of linked questions at the heart of this book:

Why has Venice inspired, and continues to inspire, the imagination of so many artists, architects and ordinary people?

Does Venice still matter today? More specifically, what matters most the individual creative output of buildings, architecture and works of art, or the collective output of the city? 

For some, Venice might seem a residual legacy of past greatness, or a city of looming environmental threats whose inhabitants are in constant defence against mass tourist invasion.

But it is not only the questionable future of Venice that concerns us, but also the timeless contribution it makes to architecture and cities, two of the leading expressions of culture in modern society.

If, as humans, we are wired to instinctively seek out ideal places and patterns through architecture, literature, art, science, technology and mythology, Venice is one of those artefacts, which even when we remain in relative ignorance about how they evolved and where they come from, provide us with models and constructs, paradigms of experience revitalizing the imagination.

Through a discussion of Venice and two other works owing their inspiration to this city, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital, the book explores Venice as a prototypical city that holds unique answers to the ancient narrative of utopia, dramatizing the reality of these questions:

What led to the bubbling vitality of a self-made city at sea, with its resurgent energies for 1000 years, with its works of architecture and art, its explorers, conquerors, founders, immigrants and ordinary people? 

Gentile Bellini. Procession in Piazza San Marco (1496), image sourced from:,_Venice)

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