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Thursday24 July 2014

Architects' Venice bridge plans divide city

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Schiavina’s glass, steel and stone design would replace Ponte del Accademia

Architects and conservationists in Venice have reacted angrily to plans to replace the iconic wooden Ponte del Accademia (Academy Bridge)with a new steel and glass design.

Provisional plans drawn up by architects Schiavina of Bologna show a giant glass, steel and Istrian stone bridge vaulting the Grand Canal which are sympathetic in design to the gentle arch of the current wooden bridge.

The provisional designs for the new bridge have already been approved by the superintendent for the city which is now looking for a sponsor to help pay for the €6 million (£5.3 million) design.

However, prominent art critic Francesco Bonami - who directed the 50th edition of the Venice Biennale of Art in 2003 - has lashed out dubbing the plans a “bad crash” in the Italian press. Other critics have also discussed the possibility of calling a referendum on the plans.

Built in the 1930s as a temporary structure to connect the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti and the Accademia Gallery, the 78-year-old Ponte del Accademia spans what is considered one of the most picturesque corners of Venice.  The City authorities have been accused of rushing to replace the current bridge without proper public consultation.

Supporters of the new plans claim that the current wooden bridge is a fire hazard, has no access for disabled people and is too costly to maintain, with minister for public works Alessandro Maggioni citing current restoration projects as “unsustainable”. But opponents claim that despite being built of wood, there are measures which can make the Bridge safe at a fraction of the cost of the replacement.

Critics of the new plan have also pointed to the furore surrounding Venice’s last major bridge project – the Calatrava Bridge – as a reason to halt any new construction project until a full public consultation has been carried out.

Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the 94-metre span which connects Venice train station with the car, bus and ferry terminal across the Grand Canal caused uproar after the costs of the project soared and it was dubbed a waste of money.

Final approval for the new bridge lies with the ministry of heritage and culture in Rome, which has bought in a panel of experts including former president of the Architects of Bologna Alessandro Marata to oversee any designs.

A decision on the new bridge is expected next month.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Malcolm Hecks

    Somewhere between pretty and ugly - pretty ugly.

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  • The existing bridge is not a timber structure - it has steel girders hidden by timber elements, having been largely rebuilt in 1986. The overall "look" dates only to 1933, so it is not one of Venice's most historic structures in any event.

    As with many Venice bridges, its steep gradient is a real barrier to use, and it is undoubtedly in poor condition. The real scandal here is the unwillingness of Venice to fund improvements by any means other than private sponsorship.

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