Fashion designer Pierre Cardin's proposed Palais Lumière, a residential, hospitality, and shopping emporium planned for Venice (left) and a tiered skirt from Cardin's collection. Right photo: Associated Press
In his 75-plus years in the fashion industry, the 90-year-old couturier Pierre Cardin has molded silhouettes, cinched panstuits, and stretched and shortened hemlines. More recently he has sent his sights on shaping the Venice skyline. His proposed Palais Lumière—a dizzying 60-story pirouette of glass and steel—represents either economic salvation for a faded corner of Venice or a grandiose fetish worthy of Dubai, depending on whom you ask.
Last week, as the Times reports, several of Italy's prominent architects and art historians petitioned President Giorgio Napolitano to stop the project, which would include hotels, 284 private residences, a shopping mall, hanging gardens, a panoramic restaurant, swimming ponds, and a helipad. The palazzo's fate hangs in the balance: though local politicians back the development, Cardin and his architect, nephew Rodrigo Basilicati, still must win approval from the Italian Culture Ministry. If everything goes according to plan, construction could start early in 2013.
Sited in Porto Marghera, about five miles outside the center of Venice, Cardin's plan for the palais consists of three towers linked by six discs, which throw off a profile that recalls the clothier's design for the hooped white skirt above. Conceived as a habitable sculpture, the $2.6 billion structure would top out at 820 feet, twice the height of Venice's traditional landmark, the bell tower in St. Mark's Square. Critics worry that the palazzo's size would require foundations deep enough that they might break into the aquifer and further compromise the lagoon, where decades of pumping contributed to the city's sinking over time.
Basilicati told the Corriere del Veneto newspaper, "We chose this apparently ugly and difficult location because we hope that it will convince other people that Porto Marghera can enter a new chapter." Indeed, Cardin and Basilicati's weird brand of archi-couture would catapult this sleepy lagoon city into the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries all at once. It's been called Venice's answer to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and, well, Dubai. We sense a certain harmony between Cardin's mod discs and the flying saucers of the emirate's planned Water Discus Hotel.