Reservations are rife in Venice today as news comes that one of only four bridges to cross the city’s treasured Grand Canal may be torn down and replaced by a more contemporary equivalent. The original Ponte dell’Accademia was constructed in 1854 and designed in iron by Alfred Neville, yet has been replaced twice – the steel original exchanged for a temporary wooden counterpart in 1933, then perfectly replicated in 1986 – and is now a cherished landmark on the Grand Canal.
Despite its elevated status, authorities have raised doubts for some time over the safety of the bridge and the black hole of repair work that has eaten up public funds. Several years ago extensive restoration work cost upwards of €250,000, with some now suggesting that a modern structure would save the city money and cater to the needs of all visiting demographics (elderly and disabled access to the existing bridge is limited). This said, local sentiments towards the splintering bridge remain strong, with Lidia Fersuoch of Italian conservation group Italia Nostra commenting: “The bridge now has its own dignity and should be restored. Venice risks losing a piece of its identity.”
Unfortunately, the troubles that surrounded the construction of Santiago Calatrava’s Ponte della Constituzione remain firm in the memory of many Venetians, fuelling fears that history will repeat itself with the replacement of the Ponte dell’Accademia. In 2008, Calatrava’s steel and glass construction was slotted into place across the Grand Canal by barge, illuminating the waterways and forming a new icon in the heritage city. The concept was harshly juxtaposed against the eloquent aging architecture of Italy’s most romantic city and there was a continued outcry from local residents and conservation groups for a more sympathetic bridge.
Irrespective of the visual ramifications, the Ponte della Constituzione was criticised for its disregard for wheelchair access and steep, uneven stairs which are said to have caused more than a few twisted ankles over the years. Calatrava has stood by his design however, assuredly stating: “The bridge is important both functionally and symbolically, connecting arriving visitors to the city and welcoming them to Venice with a panoramic view of the Grand Canal.”
An official statement from the City of Venice authorities confirms that designs by architectural practice Schiavina are being ‘examined by the ministry’ however it indicates that steps will be taken to ensure that ‘the Accademia Bridge will not replicate the errors made with the Calatrava bridge’. It continues: “We must not forget that the bridge was completely rebuilt in 1986 and is therefore not an ancient artefact. A few years ago there were extensive restoration works that cost €250,000 and in recent weeks there have been two major incidents involving fire.”
The proposed designs for the new bridge are estimated to cost €6m and will incorporate wood, metal and glass. Access is split into two channels: one with steps and the other a smooth curve to enable elderly and disabled users to enjoy a safe and easy passage across the Grand Canal. Despite the modern concept for Calatrava’s bridge, the realised construction neglected to include wheelchair access causing outbursts of anger from critics and the community.
WAN will be following this story as it develops, bringing details of the proposed design when they become available. Until then, let us know your opinions in the ‘Your Comments’ section.