Portrait of Italian architect and designer Carlo Scarpa on his desk working

Carlo Scarpa

Italian architect and designer


“I want to see things. This is the only thing I can relate to.”

Carlo Scarpa

Carlo Scarpa (born June 2, 1906, Venice, Italy–died November 28, 1978, Sendai, Japan) was an Italian designer and architect influenced by the materials, landscape, Venetian and Japanese cultures, and Modernism. He turned his knowledge and interest in history, regionalism, and craftsmanship into ingenious glass and furniture designs; and his architecture reflects a deep awareness of the steep marks of history, and a masterful attention to detail and integration of ancient crafts within a clearly modern aesthetic.

When Carlo Scarpa was 2 years old, the family moved to Vicenza, a city close to his native Venice, where he spent most of his childhood. In 1919, when his mother died, the family moved back to Venice and later on the young Carlo enrolled in the Royal Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. In 1926, he was certified in Architectural Design and until 1931 he worked in the Venetian studio of architect Guido Cirilli, while he also apprenticed with architect Francesco Rinaldo. In 1934, Carlo Scarpa married Rinaldo’s niece, Nini Lazzari.

Carlo Scarpa Long Collaboration with Venini

Carlo Scarpa started collaborating with Venini in 1932, while still studying at the Academy, and later became its artistic director until 1947, developing a new modernist approach with glass artisans and artists away from their traditional ornate chandeliers and designs by embracing a contemporary vocabulary that included streamlined shapes and saturated colors. It was through his work with the Murano glassblowers at Venini, that he deepened his understanding of the role that traditional crafts should have in contemporary architecture and design. Despite apprenticing with architect Francesco Rinaldo, Scarpa did not officially graduate as an architect, as he refused to take the professional exam from the Italian government after World War II. As a consequence, during his entire architectural practice he was forced to work with a licensed architect for all of his projects. read more

Carlo Scarpa eight-arm Murano glass chandelier and made by Venini circa 1941
Carlo Scarpa Murano glass chandelier model 5334 A8 made by Venini ca. 1941 – photo: Casati Gallery

Carlo Scarpa Main Furniture And Product Designs

Through his collaboration with Venini, Carlo Scarpa designed numerous glass objects and lamps, that, to this date, routinely demand the attention of design enthusiast and museums.  Although glass was the primary focus of his product design practice while at Venini from 1932 until 1946, Scarpa also created other furnishing designs such as the 618 chair for Meritalia (1964); the Delfi terrazzo table, in collaboration with Marcel Breuer, manufactured by Simon (1969); the Samo marble table manufactured by Simon (1970); and the Kentucky chair for Bernini (1977).

Samo table made out of Carrara marble and designed by Italian designer Carlo Scarpa
Carrara marble Samo Table designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1970. Photo taken at Cité exhibition in Paris 2019

Carlo Scarpa Architecture – Prominent Projects

With regards to his architectural projects, Scarpa created a limited number of new original structures, and most of his architectural work centered around interventions in pre-existing public buildings and palazzos. His design and architectural approach was markedly different than the then prevailing norm, as his appreciation for, and familiarity with, artisanal approaches and skills separated him from Italian Rationalism and International Style that had spread throughout Italy and Europe.

Between 1935 and 1937, Scarpa worked on his first transformational architectural work, the intervention at the Ca’ Foscari in Venice, home of the homonymous university. This work, for which he had a second intervention between 1955 and 1957, but which was later tampered with, turned out to be one of the most innovative restoration projects of that period, and won him national and international recognition.

From the mid 1940s until his death in 1978, Scarpa taught drawing and interior decoration at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia. While most of his built work is located in the Veneto, he also designed landscapes, gardens, and buildings across Italy as well as in Canada, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France, and Switzerland.

Fondazione Querini Stampalia
Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice. Architectural intervention by Carlo Scarpa

Among Scarpa’s most notable architectural and designs are the reinforcing and intervention at the Palazzo Attabelis in Palermo (1953-1954); the Olivetti Showroom in Venice (1958), where Scarpa created a the Pop minimalist interior with slabs of marble and alabaster mixed with ingenious copper details and door and window hinges; the masterful intervention of the 1356 fortress Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona (1956–1964), where he excavated sections of the medieval structure exposing its foundation, inserted glass panels in the raw rocky walls, placed the 14th century equestrian statue of Cangrande della Scala on a concrete platform, and designed a new approachable museography where sculptures and paintings were made more accessible to the viewer; the museum garden of Fondazione Querini Stampalia (Venice 1961–1963), in which Scarpa designed multilevel water basins of copper and alabaster that allow the flow of water from the city to participate into an ever mutating inner atmosphere; and the masterful buildings and gardens of the Brion Tomb and Sanctuary in San Vito d’Altivole (1969­–1978).

Brion Cemetery in San Vito d’Altivole designed by Carlo Scarpa

Carlo Scarpa was very interested in Japan, its culture, and, specifically, in the Japanese design sensitivity with the use of every-day materials such as reclaimed timber and rusted metal, and the preoccupation with details and hardware. He first traveled to Japan in 1969, and during his second trip in 1978, he died of an accident in Sendai.

For more information on Carlo Scarpa, please go to Biography of Scarpa at Cooper Hewitt

Last updated: April 9, 2020

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Bibliography About The Work And Life Of Carlo Scarpa

Tobia Scarpa

Carlo Scarpa Sandro Bagnoli: Design for Dino Gavina

Silvana Editoriale

Milan, Italy (2014)

 

Giuseppe Tommasi

The Drawings of Carlo Scarpa for House Ottelenghi

Silvana Editoriale

Milan, Italy (2012)

 

Francesco Dal Co

Carlo Scarpa: Villa Ottolenghi

Mondadori Electa

Milan, Italy (2007)

 

Zannier & Beltramini

Carlo Scarpa. Atlante delle architetture

Marsilio

Venice, Italy (2006)

 

Cleto Munari

Cutlery – Carlo Scarpa, Paolo Portoghesi & Luca Scacchetti

Cleto Munari

Milan, Italy (2000)

 

Marino Barovier

Carlo Scarpa – I Vetri Di Un Architetto

Skira

Milan, Italy (1999)

 

Bianca Albertini

Carlo Scapra: Architecture in Details

The MIT Press

Cambridge, MA, USA (1988)