Doors of Venice Are Impossible to Miss

Boym writes about Doors of Venice

This essay, an excerpt from Dream of Venice Architecture, was written by Constantin Boym.


Doors of Venice Are Impossible to Miss

Doors of Venice are impossible to miss. Walk on any alley off the beaten track and every few steps you’ll encounter these monumental aged entrances on both sides of the street. Typologically, they are all similar: a massive wooden double door set inside a stone or marble frame. Of course, like everything in an old city, each portal has its own unique face and expression.

I do not know if a taxonomy of Venetian doors has ever been made. To compile one would be a lengthy and immensely satisfying task. One could note, for example, the variations in wood paneling; the location and style of handles; the placement of bronze mail slots; or the tiny lookout windows, always protected by massive iron bars. Some doors feature almost illegible darkened bronze name plaques while others display well-worn metal kick plates, which seem to show old boot marks. Most importantly, such taxonomy should include the degree of aging—one could say, of deterioration—of the doors from dignified patina of age to almost complete decay of wood boards that seem to hold together only by a miracle.

Every entrance has a four-digit number, always applied onto the frame in a uniform stenciled typeface. A few years ago I happened to be passing by the house numbered 1937, which featured a particularly distressed and ominous-looking door. Suddenly I had a strange vision that the horrific memories of the year 1937—Guernica, Kristallnacht, Stalin’s Great Purge—are hidden behind that locked portal. It took a good half-a-bottle of wine before I could let this disquieting fantasy go. Yet ever since, I cannot rid myself of an impression that every Venetian door represents a particular year; that the city is, in fact, a museum that contains all human history and all our future as well. This would of course explain why the doors are so mysterious and forlorn: why they are always locked; why nobody seems to be ever entering or coming out.

Dream of Venice Architecture Cover

About Constantin Boym

Constantin Boym was born in Russia and graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute. He received a Master’s in Design from the Domus Academy in Milan and founded his award-winning studio in New York in 1986. Boym is the Chair of the Industrial Design Department at Pratt Institute.