A Floating City

By Melissa Wreyford

Architects and engineers look to the past to better understand the present and future.  Inspiration can easily be derived from the works of historic craftsmen and experiencing history first hand is in itself influential and motivating.

Take the islands of Venice for example, linked together by canals and footbridges.  Venice is a city like no other.  Basically floating within the Laguna (lagoon) on closely spaced petrified wooden piles.  Similar to Boston, much of what the coastal Venetian region has to offer is marshy land with a soft-top layer of sand and mud.  Buildings constructed on this chain of islands sit on a foundation of wooden piles driven into the sand and mud until contact with compressed clay has been made.  Submerged in mineral rich water and oxygen-poor conditions for an extended period of time, the wooden piles become petrified and turn into a stone-like foundation strong enough to support the weight of brick and mortar buildings. 

Among even the engineering feat of constructing essentially floating stone buildings, architecturally, Venice holds some of the world’s most iconic structures.  Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Palazzo Ducale located on Piazza San Macro (or The Doge’s Palace), Piazza San Marco, Ca’ d’Oro (House of Gold) and the Rialto Bridge to name a few.  There are also an endless number of various buildings lesser known to the general public that have a magnificent history.  These structures, buildings, and spaces represent the wealth of knowledge early architects and engineers had.  Designers had an extensive understanding of how all components of a structure and/or building functioned within itself and within the whole of the cityscape.  An appreciation of how all components function as a whole is an influential motivation to continue my career in architecture.