Carlo Scarpa, the Most Famous Architect You Never Heard Of?

Carlo Scarpa wearing a hat
Carlo Scarpa, © Lino Bettanin – CISA A

I had never heard of Carlo Scarpa until I started planning a trip to Italy with my girlfriend, an architect from NYC. She is a big fan of his work.

Am I just being lazy? For sure. However, it’s also true that I just don’t have much patience for all verbiage that gets written or said these days about the arts.

I was obsessively studious as a kid with art, literature and the like, but not anymore.

In the end, it’s all just opinions and fashion, These days I prefer the certainties and usefulness of science.

But anyway back to Scarpa. I decided to do some research before the trip and thought he looked interesting.

Carlo Scarpa was born on June 2, 1906, in Venice and died on November 28, 1978, in Sendai in Japan, falling down some concrete stairs (not sure if he designed them). 

His entrance into architecture came via glass. He was 19 when he started working with Giacomo Cappellin, a renowned glass-master in Murano.  

In all, he designed 58 architectural projects in his life, as well as gardens and glass objects. He is perhaps, as well renowned for his renovation projects as for new constructions.


Carlo Scarpa, Venice

Entrance to the Olivetti Showroom
The Olivetti Showroom, designed by Carlo Scarpa

The Olivetti showroom in St Mark’s Sq was my introduction to his work, this was a visit I viewed with some trepidation; it’s the epicentre of tourism in Venice and can be kind of hellish.

It turned out that the showroom was an oasis of calm. We spent maybe an hour there and shared that time only briefly with another couple of tourists.

Olivetti Showroom, detail shot
Carlo Scarpa’s meticulous attention to detail, here we see wood, brass and concrete combined

What is notable about his work is the attention to detail and the mixing of materials. He has an artisan’s passion for finish. Something lacking in most modern work.

In my research for the bare details I came across one site that was illuminating and a good read.

I highly recommend The Venice Insider site, if you want to discover more, it’s entertaining and comprehensive, one little gem was this:

“DID YOU KNOW? Carlo Scarpa didn’t bother about the license and did work as an architect anyway. When he was indicted for practicing architecture, he had to appear in the Manilo Capitolo courtroom which he was redesigning at that time. Even his lawyer didn’t really mind about the license and asked Scarpa to design his house.”

He did eventually get his licence, in case you were wondering.