Egle Renata Trincanato
& Venezia Minore

While it is hard not to love all of Venice, I most love the Venice of Egle Renata Trincanato.

Her exquisite drawings plumb the relationship between the grand and the modest, between houses and housing in Venice, while exploring the extraordinary rationality behind the seemingly picturesque city. The hidden dimension revealed in her 1948 book, Venezia Minore, is as ruthlessly modern and efficient as any developer today but with a Palladian sense of proportion, scale and elegance.

Celebrating the commonplace can be a tiresome, or at least quaint, exercise but with Trincanato the underlying structural relationships between the palazzo, the casa and the casetta are clarified, having the effect of making every Venetian building a study in grandeur. This may be at odds with our love of the worn, layered, sagging relic that Venice presents today. Her book forces us to confront the precision and intentionality, the complexity and the logic of Venetian living.

Who imagined that behind the most loosely symmetrical oddly punctuated facades ever devised, with multiple and overlapping local symmetries, are the most carefully wrought, geometrically precise and cleverly composed plans housing has ever seen. The revelation changes how you look at Venice. Like an actor playing a drunk, but playing it so well you both admire the artifice and the intelligence at the same time, Venice is a genius in mismatched socks.

This seems to me to be the essential contradiction of Venice; a place of romance that is as cool and calculating as surgery; picturesque facades masking an unmatched sophistication of plan and circulation; a city that appears to be a relaxed tourist-driven playground that is in fact a well-tuned machine struggling against incredible contextual odds to function with a sense of normalcy. The illusion of ease and simplicity is an Italian trait, but in Venice it is high art.

The veneer of irregularity masks a structural substance that is so modern, so rational as to be almost Miesian. And that puts Palladio in a new light, one that seems more like an extension of Venice (or Vicenza as an extension of Venice) than something entirely sui generis. There is a contextual ethic to making architecture that is profoundly affecting.

I recently realized that my love of the genius of the NYC Brownstone found its way into the USA Expo 2015 Pavilion. I am not Palladio in this case, but he is usually credited with influencing Venice, not the other way around. His attitude about grand houses seems directly related to Venetian housing; a “house of rooms” carefully stitched together either with efficiency or circulation disguised as furnished halls.

Ms. Trincanato (and I wish I had met her) would have just turned 105 this summer and we all need to be reminded of her genius. She was, of course, the first female student at the Royal Institute of Architecture Venice. After graduation she eventually rose to supervise historical architecture in Venice. She wrote both guides and serious tracts about the Palazzo Ducale and other monuments of Venice, as well as her most famous work: Venezia Minore, a study in the unstudied buildings of Venice.

Trincanato’s hand drawn elevations, plans, perspectives and renderings are a seemingly casual sketch of mid-twentieth century Venice, but are in fact a highly ordered survey of the city from the well known to the vernacular, all imprinted with the signature of its most acute observer.

I love Trincanato’s Venice because I see it as a Venice stripped of superficial beauty, but revealing its deeper beauty. Italo Calvino describes a Venice that is magically everything and everywhere; Trincanato describes the hidden intelligence of Venice exercised over centuries.