An Uncanny Attraction to Venice

Annabelle Selldorf with an uncanny attraction to Venice

This essay, “An Uncanny Attraction to Venice,” is an excerpt from the book Dream of Venice Architecture written by Annabelle Selldorf.


An Uncanny Attraction to Venice

I have a deep affinity, a kind of uncanny attraction, to the city of Venice. How is it that certain places draw us back time and time again, as if guided by subconscious attraction or even fate? I remember clearly the many times I have found myself in Venice, the visits during my childhood, returning as an adult and also to work there as an architect. Some of these visits coincided with episodes of loss and emotional turmoil, times when the melancholy that belongs to Venice is medicinal.

For so many people, cities are captured by the visual memory of an iconic panorama but for me Venice is a wholly visceral experience where what we see is so much less than what we perceive or feel. In Venice, there is all at once the sound and smell of the water, the chiaroscuro of confined passageways that give way to expansive campi, the constant rise and fall of crossing so many bridges and the twisting irregularities of its labyrinthine streets. A place of great intensity; I know no other city where one must navigate by way of intrinsic memory rather than conscious understanding.

Like the water, splendor envelopes the city but it is also subject to the perverse—where the domes of Santa Maria della Salute are dwarfed by the monstrosity of cruising megaships, the Rialto crumbles under the weight of tourists, and the most magnificent palazzi are forced to admit putrid lagoon waters inside.  It is this coexistence of immense pleasure and profound sadness that makes Venice, for me, the perfect place. But Venice is also tricky. There is nothing innocent or forthright and deception is everywhere, perhaps used with the intention of protecting a precarious paradise. These contradictions fascinate me. By challenging my sense of order and hierarchy Venice gives me the desire to probe beyond the rational.


Dream of Venice Architecture Cover

About Annabelle Selldorf

Annabelle Selldorf is the Principal of Selldorf Architects, a 65-person architectural practice that she founded in New York City in 1988. The firm has worked on public and private projects that range from museums, libraries and galleries to a recycling facility. In Venice the office designed Le Stanze del Vetro.