Sink or Swim: Three projects on the future of Venice

“During the entire period of growth of the city of Venice, its uniqueness—in terms of being water- bound—was possibly the main reason for its success. The form of the city (a built form) responded expressly (functionally) to its commercial, logistic, defense and representative needs. Venice formed part of an archipelago and maintained a close relationship with the different islands in the lagoon. The lagoon system which guaranteed its success at the time of the Republic of Venice was regulated by functional zoning. Each island had a specific use in relation to its position and physical characteristics: the smaller islands supplied essential services—religious, medical, cultural and welfare—to the city, and larger islands like Murano, Burano and Sant’ Erasmo were spaces reserved for agriculture or industry. This was a city with isolated points in the midst of a wide open space and a particular communications network. Venice has always had a twin dimension, being a place for living in and a place of transition between terra firma and open sea.

The city’s commercial decline, due to new Atlantic routes and the industrial development of later centuries, meant that Venice would gradually lose its ability to represent itself through its territory and that it would cease to understand itself as a metropolitan system. The city attempted to become one with the only seemingly feasible model of development: the main island was linked to terra firma by a bridge and journeying through the lagoon, which was now revealed to be too slow, rendered its islands useless. The lagoon itself came to be seen as an enormous empty space available for the implantation of an industrial agglomeration.

Due to these conditions the site asks for a re-consideration in order to rehabilitate the urban idea of the lagoon as a complex network of communications and settlements, through a hypothetical re-colonization of the territory of the lagoon, the decentralization and atomization of a program of uses, and the rehabilitation of the idea of the lagoon as an urban constellation necessarily integrated in its natural environment.”

Project Teacher / Docent:  Silvia Lupini  (

The Park of the Third Landscape in the Lagoon of Venice

by Simona Serafino

“The third landscape is made by all the places abandoned by man, parks and natural reserves, big uninhabited areas of the planet but also smaller and common, almost invisible spaces: former industrial areas, brambles and scrub, the grass in the middle of a traffic island. They are spaces different in shape, size and functions, which only share the absence of any human activity but which as a whole are essential to keep biological diversity.”

G. Clement, The Manifest of the Third Landscape, Paris 2004


by Jacques Abelman


Due to faster than expected sea level rise, scientists project that even the drastic intervention of the M.O.S.E. sea barrier project will only delay the permanent flooding of Venice by 100 to 200 years. In this future vision of drastically altered climate conditions, coastal cities such as Venice will have to physically and economically reinvent themselves in order to survive.

After the M.O.S.E. sea gates stop functioning, Venice will once again face imminent danger. Concurrently, sewage pollution will increase exponentially because the sea barrier will increasingly close the lagoon which will no longer be renewed by the tides. Venice has never maintained a main sewage system- for this reason, a large portion of the wastes generated in the historic center of Venice have always been discharge directly into its channels. Water quality, particularly near the city, is extremely poor.


The Serenissima plan proposes to augment the existing underwater topography of the lagoon with a readily available and sustainable material: sand from the floor of the Adriatic. The sand is gathered by large boats called Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers. The sand is projected into the lagoon shallows, progressively forming a dune barrier with an inner zone of sand flats and tidal marshes. This process is similar to the coastal reinforcement and climate proofing strategies of Northern Europe, for example in The Netherlands.

A system of locks connects the dune sections, allowing ships into the city. Opening the locks allows fresh sea water into the heart of the city, flushing water outwards into the tidal marshlands on the edges of the dune zones. The large surface area of these wetlands, which contain a gradient of salt to brackish water, is sufficient to cleanse the water. Organic waste is turned into plant biomass, which also functions as a large-scale carbon sink, thus working against climate change.  Wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems; they are biological engines that can be adapted to waste water treatment as well as agricultural purposes. They are vital to the large populations of migrating birds that visit the lagoon. This will in effect create an enormous nature reserve around the city and preserve the specificity of the lagoon environement.

The widest dune section functions as a water purification plant. Water is pumped through the dunes, the sand acts as a filter. Lightly brackish water can further be purified to provide fresh water and stored in reservoirs. Recreational paths, camping sites, wildlife zones, Mediterranean maquis shrubland and dune vegetation ecotopes are some of the essential elements that inform the program of the dune barrier.

This designed land will function as a hybrid territory of landscape identities and new urban growth. Residential and business zones set into the emerald necklace will create a thriving future city, with the jewel of old Venice at its heart. The edge of the city will extend to the dunes and beaches facing the New Adriatic. Finally impervious to the elements and transformed into a new island nation, Venice will once more be married to the sea.

Sposalizio della Terraferma

by Jasper Hugtenburg

The lagoon, a way of living with nature

Venice and its lagoon have a long and strong tradition in coping with the forces of nature. The islands and marshlands of the lagoon has always provides safe and rich habitats. And when the harbours of Torcello silted up in the 14th century, people moved to other islands that were created by that same natural process; sedimentation. From this point of view, the large-scale engineering of the Renaissance that diverted the rivers like the Brenta and the Piave around the lagoon were a crucial mistake in Venice’s history. These interventions deprived the lagoon from the sediment that is today so desperately needed to allow the islands and marshlands of the lagoon to keep up with the rising sea level.

River sediment as a fundament for sustainable development

Islands are made of sediment, so a steady supply of sediment is a first requirement for this strategy. In this delta area, the most reliable sources of sediment are the rivers that come down from the Alps. A first step is thus to redirect these rivers back into the lagoon.

This development will however take time, and people are notoriously impatient. This project therefore focuses on speeding up the process of sedimentation in order that the ‘Sposalizio della Terraferma’ (marriage of Venice to the mainland) can soon be celebrated!

Speeding up the development of islands

Sedimentation is speeded up by connecting the high sediment concentrations in the main river channel with the shallow areas that surround it. This is done by installing groynes; rows of poles that guide the sediment to the shallow areas where the velocity of the flow is low and the sediment is deposited.

A landscape park that connects Venice to Terraferma

In this proposal, the recreational perspectives for celebrating this new overland connection between Venice and Terraferma have been investigated and designed. The result is a wetland landscape park that extends La Giudecca to San Giorgio in Alga and Fusina. The park design is inspired by the Renaissance reclamation of the Veneto and especially the way that Andrea Palladio’s villas are situated in this rural landscape.

Building in the park

When sea level rise pushes through, and the lowest parts of Venice are permanently flooded, the axes of the park will be further developed to form the main streets of new residential areas. This demonstrates how the development of Venice can be sustained on new and higher islands. In the long run the islands of the lagoon will follow the rise of the sea level and chances for development will be available throughout the lagoon.

This city vision entry proposes a strategy based on natural processes to secure the sustainable development of Venice and its lagoon. Not by protecting the island of Venice as we know it today, but by promoting the development of new islands on which new and equally unique cities can be built.


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