You can get there only on the water (15 minutes on a private shuttle from San Marco), to Isola delle Rose, also known as Sacca Sessola, one of the largest artificial (private) islands, 16 hectares in the Venetian Lagoon, made at the end of the 1800s with material excavated to build the shipping port of Santa Marta. The island was made for agriculture, with orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens, and planted with non-native species like palms and olive trees, which thanks to the effects of the encounter of currents from the lagoon and the sea find an ideal micro-climate here.
From 1914 to the 1950s the island was also the site of a hospital for tuberculosis patients, a modern structure (thirties) in a large park with a beautiful formal garden and a cistern for the water supply, together with 19 smaller pavilions to contain activities connected with the sanatorium. Then it fell into a state of abandon and neglect, until the start of the 2000s when an invitational competition was held and renovation work began to convert the place into a hospitality structure, designed by the studio Luca Rossi di Venice and to give the island a new lease on life.
Welcome to the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, the first five-star deluxe Italian hotel and resort of the American chain, part of the Marriott International Group, an oasis of relaxation and privacy functioning from March to November. The involvement of Matteo Thun and Luca Colombo dates back to 2011, when the studio Thun & Partners was asked to intervene on the constructed context protected by the local heritage authorities, to establish a holistic approach of sustainability for the entire island: from the master plan to the landscape design, the architecture to the interior design, all the way to product design for some of the objects and furnishings. A complex project still partially in progress, avoiding the classical opulence of most Venetian hospitality facilities, with their formal patina.
“The resort reflects the spirit of the lagoon: water, slowness, silence” Thun explains. “The luxury of the proposal is based on subtraction, recognizing the importance of integrating the buildings in the landscape.” This mood finds expression everywhere, maintaining the authenticity of the island. Not only in the highest building (four levels) set aside for the Hotel: four types of rooms, a spectacular swimming pool on the roof, newly designed, a belvedere overlooking the garden and the lagoon all the way to Piazza San Marco, a restaurant (Sagra) that extends outward with lateral terraces.
The ground floor contains the lobby, connected to the main dock, with a reception zone, a cafe and clustered lounge areas, made fluid by floating drapes in white linen along the perimeter glazing and around the pillars that pace the space. To the side, a contemporary art gallery, a breakfast room with an open kitchen, the Pantry-Delicatessen and the Cooking Academy (prize-winning chefs at work with fresh ingredients cultivated in the gardens).
The same mood is found in the Residence, the Olive Grove, the Maisonette and the Villa, the other four hospitality options of the resort, with two-level loft suites, glazings and sliding partitions that spread natural light and the colors of the landscape in spaces furnished with a selection of design pieces for a sense of comfortable, modern elegance. A total of 250 rooms and suites, all with a unified style. The atmosphere extends to the pavilion that hosts the Dopolavoro restaurant (a former multifunctional space for the health care workers, now featuring the creations of the chef Giancarlo Perbellini, with two Michelin stars), or the large spa with Turkish bath (1750 mq) run by the Asian company GOCO Hospitality. These two places can be reached independently now, thanks to the reopening of a canal. There is also a deconsecrated church, used for cultural events, workshops and ceremonies.
“We have restructured the buildings with respect for their aesthetic and historical value, using materials – mostly wood, tiles and roof tiles – produced locally, in a chromatic range from white to dove gray, sky blue to Mediterranean turquoise, with low-tech solutions that optimize energy efficiency. Above all, we have opted in many cases (the Residence and the Maisonette) for ‘box in the box’ solutions, conserving the external walls of the buildings, renovating the pitched roofing in wood where possible, and inserting true boxes for the rooms and suites, to guarantee avant-garde standards in terms of physical plant” says Luca Colombo.
Matteo Thun explains further: “Who is the 21st-century guest? Someone looking for authenticity and warmth, a relaxing pace, personalized services. So the island is perfect. The main hotel is located in a building that was already conceived to contain many rooms and public areas of different kinds. This made it easy to convert the spaces for new functions, without having to disrupt the original structure and layout, while also conserving its external appearance. There are also many smaller buildings. This has allowed us to use each one for a different purpose, responding to the needs of guests while concealing the support technologies in the basements or in the most remote areas of the island. Technologies and services can be at the highest levels without invading the landscape, the architecture and the interior design”.
What are the elements that make this hospitality facility unique, as opposed to the others found in the Venetian context? “In Venice few hotels can have lots of land, and even small private parks and gardens are a rarity, spaces for leisure time and relaxation. Instead, the island has an area of 16 hectares which we have been able to use to create different zones: a formal garden, an olive grove, a vegetable garden, the family pool, the dock, the area along the canal, etc. Many of the suites, and the Villa, have a private garden with swimming pool. The size of the spaces has allowed us to insert conference facilities with a large capacity, without interfering with the quiet life of vacationers. Combining all these aspects not under the same roof, but on the same island, is a great privilege and a distinctive characteristic of the JW Marriott Venice”.
Four levels of project intervention: master plan – architecture – interiors – styling: is the synergy of these fields the winning formula to respond to the challenges of a globalized world? “The holistic approach we have applied to this project was aimed at making the island into a single system, with a homogeneous architectural and landscape language that would respect and enhance the history of the place. The island can truly rely on that history, avoiding the logic of the globalized market, in a certain sense. In other words, we have complied with very high standards of quality and comfort, but without the need or the desire to sell out the genius loci just to stay in step with the technological and infrastructural evolutions that global market might insist upon. Venice is not Las Vegas, not Dubai”.
Some thoughts on these key words: heritage, sustainability, character… “Heritage and sustainability go together. I mean that the sustainability of a project has to do not only with the environment and energy efficiency, but also with aesthetic values. Only by respecting the local and geographical heritage can you create long-term aesthetic value. And a project can be effectively considered sustainable only if it has timeless aesthetic impact. Otherwise it will be used up quickly. If we consider the fact that the strong, authentic character of a place is the one it inherits from its past, this awareness brings us right back to the idea of sustainability”.
How is the Zero-Km philosophy applied here? “Zero-Km has a role in the construction of the hotel, using local or regional suppliers and products wherever possible. It also has to do with the management phase of the hospitality facility. On the island, it is above all the vegetable garden that reflects this concept, as a local supply of fine ingredients for the kitchens of the various restaurants”.
How does the JW Marriott aesthetic adapt to that of Venice? “The focus of this project for the client, i.e. JW Marriott, was the theme of luxury. But we were granted lots of freedom in its interpretation. So we could make unusual choices, for example making a bistro with chairs in pale natural wood, using wooden lamps in place of blown glass chandeliers, etc”.
You can perceive the recovery of particular crafts traditions of the territory in the design choices… “Venice is great in this sense, because it offers many interior design stimuli. The widespread use of glass and fabrics (Rubelli) reflects the know-how of local artisans, and the Laguna lamp series by Artemide has been specifically designed for this project, starting with the suggestions of the art of glassmaking in Murano. We have also used pieces by other local brands, like Barovier & Toso. The bath accessories are by Zucchetti. And wood of local origin has been used for the table tops”.
foto by Paolo Utimpergher