Giudecca felix

In the ancient times the Isle of Giudecca, the largest island of those surrounding Venice, was an entertainment piace, adorned with gardens and orchards. Since the old times churches and monasteries were built on it, like St. Biagìo’s, on the area of which the Stucky Mill was later built. Considering the healthy air of the piace, since the XVI century it was chosen by the Venetian aristocrats as a seat for the construction of villas and holiday homes. So the “houses of delight” were born, a sort of c1ubs where the members could play cards, or talk after paying a certain sum of money to join the club. Until the second half of last century a colourful social Iife developed around them, and components of the royal family of Greece, prince Michele of Romania, the duke of Edimburgh and the earls Volpi of Misurata were the most famous members among the others. In the first decades of 1800, after the religious institutions had been banned by Napoleon’s government and the consequent expropriation of their relevant areas, there were a lot of free spaces on the Isle of Giudecca, and these areas were considered suitable for the construction of the new-born industries. Therefore a number of mills, pasta­factories,textile industries, dyeworks and other factories were built, which deeply transformed the life conditions of the local people, who had devoted themselves to agriculture, fishing and other activities related to navigation until then. Actually, around mid-XIX century whole Venice was involved in an industrialization process that transformed the traditional productive activities with the consequent creation of new settlements and new architectural styles. It was generally considered that, owing to the artisti c features of Venice, the new factories had to maintain the memory of neo-classìcal elements revisited in the Iight of the eclectic movement.

The most beautiful mill in Italy”

In this frame, the first unit of the Stucky Mill was created. Giovanni Stucky (1843- 1910) came from an old family of armorers originally coming from Switzerland. His father, Giovanni Senior, after marrying the Venetian Domenica Forti, had moved to Treviso where he had installed the first small mill. Giovanni Junior had Iived in the main European capital cities during his youth and had developed remarkable technical skills, especially in the milling technology, as he had worked in this field in Vienna, being an assembler and tester. Once back in Treviso, after his marriage, he started a small mill himself, but, thanks to the experience acquired during his journeys, he soon realized that the future of his business could only be assured by a plant near the sea, where transport could have been much easier. In 1880 he purchased the whole area of St. Bìagìo’s monastery on the Isle of Giudecca, a church which had already been suppressed by Napoleon’s law in 1809 and, in 1882, he had the old buildings demolished and started the construction of the mill. This first mill, even if smaller than the one it was going to be later, was different from the traditional plants which had marked the banks of the Italian rivers since the Middle Ages. The milling technology was no longer based, indeed, on the traditional stone grinding wheels, but on a system of grooved steel cylinders, which were then introduced in Italy for the first time. From a structural point of view the mill, in 1884,was already a large rectangular building, to which new units were added in the next years, along with the development of the factory productive capacities. Indeed the plants, which were steam-powered in that time, passed from an initial output of 500 quintals per day to 1,500 in 1886 and 2,500 in 1895, when Stucky decided to restore the factory, giving the project to the German architect Ernst Wullekopf (1858-1927). Wullekopf was a member of the architectural eclecticism born at Hannover School and he designed a project following the neo-gothìc style, but the Venice Town council rejected ìt and imposed a series of alterations in order to remove the most typically N orthern ornaments, such as steeples and pinnacles. Anyway the project in its whole was adopted also thanks to the support of the local people who foresaw an important source of employment in the new factory. Wullekopf’s work consisted mainly in the fusion of the former buildings with the new ones to create a single huge factory which combined typically gothic elements and Romanesque ones. Therefore, in 1897, the factory, finished by then and dominated by the solid ten-storey tower, was defined “the most beautiful mill in Italy” by Trevisani.

Growth, decline and abandonment or the mill

Although the Stucky MiIl had received the architectural shape from Wullekopf, it underwent remarkable alterations in the following years, mainly for two reasons: first the productive structures had to be renewed and secondly there had been fires which had marked its history. The first fire occurred in October 1895 causing the destruction of the wheat cleaning department, immediately rebuilt in the respect of the heterogeneous complex. After another fire in 1897, the new warehouse west of the building was constructed and, a few years later, exactly in 1903, the large pasta-factory was built to face the competition with the factories in Naples and Trieste. Other wings of the complex were added in early 1900, from the new silos which lay behind the tower, along St.Biagio’s canal, to the warehouses along Lavraneri canal, which were built in 1922-23, just to mention a few. From a technological point of view the Stucky MiIl imposed itself as one of the most modern and advanced factories in the world. The loads of wheat landed there from the sea and were distributed both in the oldest silos, 22 metres deep, and in the most recent ones which were in the new nine-storey unit. The milling operation, fed with electricity since the first decades of 1900, was able to process 3,500 quintals of soft wheat every day. The products, automatically sifted and weighed, were later sent to the sacking machines which were able to sack 5,000 quintals in ten hours. The pasta-factory could produce 250 quintals of pasta per day. On the whole, in spite of ali the automatic machines used, about 200 people were employed there. After Giovanni Stucky’s death (1910) the business passed to his son Giancarlo, who had already been the director for two years. The Stucky Mill first went through a critical time during World War One, when the business relations diminished, so the building was used as an air-raid shelter. However it was after World War Two and after Giancarlo Stucky’s death (1941) that the business proved to be unable to fight the competition of the modern mainland mills, which were helped by road transports, while the plants, no more advanced and renewed, appeared old-fashioned by then. The industriai activity stopped in 1955. The Stucky MiIl became the property of the “Estate Roman Institute” in 1979 and then passed to the “Acqua Pia Antica Marcia” Institution, which restored it with the aim of a residential, hotel business and commercial area.

A stratified, complex monument: the restauration

The documents relevant to the origins and the folIowing transformations of the Stucky MiII, confirm that the building, more than being the result of a single project, is the result of a long evolution process, in which the growth and alterations have been melted in one unmistakable architectural unit. AIthough the original nucleus reflected the perimeter of the former monastery, WulIekopf’s intervention undoubtedly gave a fundamental architectural shape, inspired by the esthetical features of transalpine eclectìcìsm. Besides the huge external wings, which are situated in an uninterrupted way along the Giudecca canal and other adjacent rivulets, we discover, looking at the pian of the internai buildings, a number of functions that have produced as many spaces: next to the actual mill Iying on the Giudecca there were, on St. Biagio canal, the silos for the wheat, the pasta-factory and the warehouse; the warehouses for the Il o ur s lay on Lavraneri canal and inside there were other departments, from the sack printing unit to the power station and the areas used for the administration and housìng. A careful historical analysis of the building stratification has permitted a restauration in the respect of both the extant volumetries and the originai architectural and decorative characteristics. Therefore the taller buildings along the Giudecca and St. Biagio canals, connected by the tower, have been destined to a hotel, while the housing complex has been made in the buildings formerly destined to the warehouses, on the opposite corner and along Lavraneri canal. The internai spaces, formerly destined to different service buildings, are now used as Convention Centre and Shopping Centre. The new-born building complex and its new destination represent the best basis for the return of the Giudecca to its originai function of priviliged residence, a real “garden of delights” of our times.