venice canal

Photo: worldaroundtrip/Flickr

At 500 years old, most buildings are historic sites at best and ruins at worst. Il Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a 16th-century building in Venice, is about to become something else entirely: a department store.

OMA, an international partnership focused on architecture, urbanism and cultural analysis, recently finished restoring the 9,000-square-meter building after seven years of work, and the results are impressive — perhaps unsurprising given that the transformation was commissioned by the Benettons, the family behind major Italian fashion company Benetton Group.

A photo posted by OMA ( on

A photo posted by OMA ( on

Key changes include the addition of new entrances and a large wooden rooftop terrace; along with a ground-floor courtyard, the terrace will be open to the public. Inside, escalators with wood-paneled sides and bright red steps are a focal point. Mirrored and gold-colored surfaces also draw the eye.

“Each intervention is conceived as an excavation through the existing mass, liberating new perspectives and unveiling the real substance of the building to its visitors, as an accumulation of authenticities,” OMA explains in a press release.


A photo posted by OMA ( on

A photo posted by OMA ( on

While some changes were necessary, the building’s status as a monument meant OMA was somewhat restricted in the alterations it could make. As a result, many elements of the building’s original design remain.

For example, “rooms are consolidated in a way that respects the original sequences,” and the firm left the building’s historic corner rooms untouched. It also brought back some features that had been lost for hundreds of years — Il Fondaco dei Tedeschi’s gallerias now once again include frescoes, though they’re more modern than the originals.

A photo posted by o.D. (@architekturondemand) on

Il Fondaco dei Tedeschi has seen much more dramatic changes in the past. First constructed in 1228, it was destroyed twice by fire before being rebuilt in its current form in 1506. It was then manipulated in the 18th century, and in the 20th century was almost totally reconstructed using modern concrete technology. Its uses have been incredibly diverse over the years — it started as a trading house for German merchants before becoming a customs house during Napoleon’s reign and a post office under Mussolini.

With renovations now complete, it’s time for the building to move on to the next stage of its long life. Hong Kong-based DFS has leased the space, and will outfit it for retail use. The plan is to open it to the public in October of this year.

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