MILAN (AP) — French fashion designer Pierre Cardin has designed a gift meant as an economic catalyst to Venice and the region: a 250-meter (800-foot)-tall modernist glass skyscraper housing a fashion university, luxury hotel suites and shops.
But rather than unbridled enthusiasm, the proposed €2.4-billion ($3 billion) project has been met with everything from healthy skepticism to open ridicule.
The "Palace of Light" has been described alternatively as a spaceship that crashed into the lagoon, a shiny fishing lure or an illuminated mushroom.
"It is seen with interest, but at the same time with open perplexity," said Claudio Borghello, a Venice city councilman. "There is not a skyscraper of this dimension in all of (the) Veneto (region), forget right on the lagoon." At the same time, "this could become a symbol that you can relaunch this part of the world."
Cardin, who turned 90 in July, designed his "Palais Lumiere" as a gift to his native Veneto, the region that includes Venice. While Cardin epitomizes French style, he is actually Italian-born: Pietro Cardin, trundled off from San Biagio di Callalta, north of Venice, by his parents to France at age 2.
Three interconnecting towers would be built at the industrial port of Marghera, an area in economic decline some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Venice's landmark St. Mark's Square. Under the proposal, Cardin would clean up pollutants from the land, invest €1.4 billion ($1.75 billion) himself and endow the fashion university, said Cardin's nephew, Rodrigo Basilicati, who has been pushing the project through the bureaucracy.
Plans envision 2,500 to 3,000 jobs on site created during construction, and another 2,000 to 2,500 after completion.
While welcoming the prospects of an environmental cleanup and new jobs, critics are concerned about overall impact on the fragile lagoon environment and a city already overwhelmed by mass tourism — as well as visual pollution from the tower itself, which some complain has no relationship with the city's Byzantine architecture.
Architect Vittorio Gregotti urged Cardin: "If you want to do something for Venice, do something else." Italia Nostra, a preservation group, said the skyscraper, at three times the height of St. Mark's "would squash the city's proportions," and referred to the structure itself as a "giant illuminated mushroom."
To help persuade Venetians that the criticism is overstated, Cardin is opening an exhibit on the project in Marghera on Monday on the sidelines of the Venice Biennale of architecture, which opens Wednesday.
Basilicati said his uncle knew the project would be "a provocation." But the stylist wasn't quite ready for the intensity of the criticism.
"Let's say the reaction to the aesthetics he understands, even if it doesn't make him happy," Basilicati said. "On the other hand, the objections about the skyline and the environmental impact have disappointed him, using lies."
The towers, he insists, won't be visible at all from Venice's historic center, and only barely seen from the Lido island.
Italy's air traffic authority is expected to say within days if the tower's height interferes with local air traffic. After that, a committee of local authorities will convene in an effort to streamline final approvals, which could pave the way for construction to begin early next year.
"In an industrial zone like Port Marghera, which is not protected by UNESCO, I think this is only an improvement," Basilicati said