Venice Aqua-emerald Archipelago, Venice Italy

The Venice Aqua-emerald Archipelago plan proposes a farsighted and practical way forward for the islands City of Venice to address the ‘two floods’ which have had devastating effects on the city over the last 50 years; that of rising sea level flooding and mass tourism, which has made the physical and social fabric of the city extremely brittle. Then came Covid-19 which has brought the city’s economy to a halt.

Distinctive among Italy’s great cities, and those worldwide, Venice consistently is rated as one of the world’s most beautiful cities; renowned for its architecture and artwork; a UNESCO World Heritage Site; setting of several important Renaissance artistic movements including operatic music, symphony, and the birthplace of Vivaldi.

Despite Venice’s rich history, beauty, culture, and enviable urban form, as measured by some important metrics, Venice is a ‘failed city.’ Among other things, it is a metropolis that has lost seventy percent or more, of its resident population over the last 50 year. A crippling, unfathomable mass exodus of its residents from that which was a model city, leaving its social, economic, and building fabric in tatters. Bloomberg media in a recent article deemed it “the long, slow death of Venice . . .with no turnaround in sight.” A state of decline that arguably is past a state that can be correct, or close to the brink of no return. The City of Venice politicians are not willing to change course; a direct consequence of years of choices in the name of money, seduced by the easy money that the mass, cheap, day tourism hordes bring which has resulted in the brittle mon-economy.

The Venice Aqua-emerald Archipelago plan for the great and much beloved Italian city puts forth a way forward for Venice using human and health-centered strategies for designing complex urban systems. The parti for the Venice Aqua-emerald Archipelago intervention consists of four primary elements:

1  Flood and Cruise Ship Barrier: a simple circular string-like flood barrier which lowers the water levels by approximately one and a half metres and also provides a barrier to storm surges. The necklace links existing islands and adds new islands, creating an emerald-like necklace of islands of different shapes and uses. The islands are separated by water course locks spanned by pedestrian bridges, allowing the porous nature of small to medium sizes boat traffic, which presently exists between and around existing islands, while also creating a ‘cruise ship barrier’ and wake protection from such large shops to the historic islands of Venice. The creation of rising sea level barriers, as a result of global warming, is now a global phenomenon for waterside cities, including New York City’s eleven kilometre flood protection project called the ‘Dry-Line.’

The proposed necklace both protects Venice against floods and storm surges, while also creating social and environmental benefits to the residents of the city with a new mixed-use waterfront park system 32 kilometres in length.  Instead of a single use infrastructure approach such as the MOSES flood barriers that only protects against storm surges, this green infrastructure cross breeds environmental resiliency measures with social and recreational activity that enhance the quality of experience for all the cities inhabitants.

This design solution is one that creates flood protection while also enhancing social, economic, and ecological infrastructure for Venice, while avoiding the single use purely engineered storm surge barrier infrastructure inherent in the MOSES infrastructure solution.

Like a pure circular necklace that is overlaid on a person’s neck, shoulders and chest, the pure circular form is distorted as it confirms to the unique contours and shape specific of whoever is wearing it. Similarly, the aqua-emerald infrastructure bends, moves and responds to the immediate conditions of Venice, including lagoon bed depths, tidal flow routes, views to and from the existing islands, weather and seasonal light among other design criteria.

2  De-central Park: the linked existing and new islands creates a continuous 32 kilometre necklace park system of active and passive green space for the City of Venice.  Not a ‘central park’ like in most dense urban cities, this is a ‘de-central park’, like a countryside, in which residents of the city can ‘leave’ the built city to experience nature.

Range of recreational uses include: The new archipelago offers a diverse range of recreational and social spaces, uses and activities including: foot paths, winding walkways, biking ways, running routes, sports fields, playgrounds, dog off leash running parks, winter skating park, outdoor fitness equipment areas, rock climbing walls, gentle hiking hills and new topographies, flexible open areas, performance and art spaces, amphitheaters, lounging and lookout areas, picnic and barbecue areas, naturalized areas, soft sea edge nature preserves used as outdoor education classrooms, bird sanctuaries, salt marsh pools, filtered swimming ponds, fishing areas, lagoon promenade, boating, water bike and canoe rentals areas, coves for water concerts and movies, allotment gardens, rain gardens, micro farms and flower markets, community gardens and allotments; along with sustainable economically profitable uses such as agri-tech crop development located in ‘agri-pavilions’ throughout the necklace waterfront park system; in effect creating an ‘edible park’. It is important to note that no vehicular traffic roads will be provided on the new archipelago; all access and servicing will be provided by boat traffic.

During the pandemic and the new reality of living with Covid-19, parks have become much more essential to people’s daily lives. The recently released Canadian City Parks Report looked at what was happening in parks in twenty-seven cities and discovered that the pandemic had created tremendous pressures on exterior park space and given them a new sense of life and importance.

The report found that eighty percent of the people surveyed said that the green open space was very important to their mental state of mind during the pandemic when one is dealing with isolation and anxiety, leaving a lasting impact on how we view, and use park space. Similar reports have occurred around the globe, setting the conditions for a new park culture, like that experienced in the mid 1800’s and the work of Frederick Law Olmsted city park systems.

3  Active Precision Agriculture and Aquaculture Pavilions: the aqua emerald archipelago will also support a small range of sustainable commercial activities located in ‘agri-pavilions’ through the waterfront park. These activities will provide creation of sustainable, real, and rooted ‘green’ job opportunities for Venetians based on active precision food production.

The agri-pavilions include:  hydroponics seed production in artificial light conditions that carefully controlled lighting conditions to optimize the plants’ photosynthesis; glasshouse vegetable production of a range of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in controlled conditions that manages every aspect of production, which greatly reduces water use, virtually eliminates diseases and the use of pesticides and protects against extreme weather conditions; aquaculture fish farms which are different that traditional open-ocean cages that corral fish in suspended netting or pens that cause significant environmental damage, the water systems are ‘land based’ separated from the surrounding water and remove most of the waste from the water using recirculating aquaculture systems which are akin to filtration systems in a household fish aquarium, creating one of the most sustainable seafood choices available.

The agri-pavilions follow the tradition of The Crystal Palace at the 1851 Great Exhibition located in Hyde Park, London England.  But instead of providing exhibition space to display examples of new technology developed in the Industrial Revolution, the agri-pavilions will showcase working examples of revolutionary methods of Italian food production through active precision farming and agri-tech methods; both providing a show piece and University research and specialized education program opportunities, but also producing food that will be taken on boats to the canals of Venice as pop up vegetable boats as well as exported by boat to other areas of Italy and beyond.

4  The metaphor of nature’s seasons: four zones of the aqua emerald archipelago necklace: the necklace is broadly divided into four segments oriented to the four cardinal directions of north, east, south and west and each segment has its own mood, related to its location and overlaid with a seasonal ‘stimmung’ of Venice’s own Antonio Vivaldi and his best-known baroque set of four violin concerti, Four Seasons.

The metaphor of nature’s seasons, both as a physical characteristic and of the characteristics of life’s journey, will be a condition of the necklace islands and their design characteristics. The eternal cycle of seasons is used as a metaphor of the dynamic journey of lives. This theme is like Antonio Vivaldi’s four violin concerti, Four Seasons, which gives musical expression to the seasons of the year: integrating the most primal human aspects of life – the movement of time – the rhythms of the year and nature. The four seasons poses a moment of departure for a varied array of metaphors based on the exquisite sonnets thought to have been written by Vivaldi and inspired by the Italian painter Marco Ricci’s renditions of the seasons in oils. The aqua-emerald island necklace takes its point of departure from Vivaldi’s “Le Quattro Stagioni” concerti and sonnets as the design narrative.

An Invitation to Discourses on transformative development for Venice

We are aware that the idea of a necklace of new islands in Venice – for its protection and further qualitative evolvement- might go far “beyond the thinkable”. The imagination itself could be considered as frame-widening, as literally “space-opening”: And thereby, as a first and important step, it might just bring to our common awareness, that our initial human impulse of feeling “repulsed” by an imagination of change -i.e.. by the idea, anything around Venice might transform, after all- leads us back to our own (often unwarily guiding) concepts and schemas of how things “ought to be”.

And there is nothing wrong about this, it is a natural human tendency. Yet, if we are bound to discover, that our guiding concepts or schemas might not serve our human life and the well-being of the larger whole anymore, because they would not be in healthy resonance to the embedding macrosystem anymore. And if we are to finally accept, that our associated action patterns in fact endanger the larger whole and our habitats within, then we might take these discoveries as the “fairly unfair disturbance” that in saluto-systemic terms nurtures and thrives evolvement ever since.

For the urban community of Venice, it seems a good time to maybe rethink guiding concepts and coping strategies. And co-creatively imagine and explore varying ways that might inspire and help to face healthy further development and transformation. The continuing of current narratives and associated action patterns, it seems, do encourage threatful interdependencies within the complex multi-leveled system that Venice is. As such, it is in the course sinking.

In this sense, the Venice archipelago project offers an impulse, an invitation, an opener towards a shared and participatory discourse: about the widening of spaces and the opportunities of health-oriented thinking at an urban scale.

Autumn Park Segment

Summer Park Segment

Spring Park Segment

Winter Park Segment