01 August, 2006

68. Ghosts in the walls

Doors and windows are not just openings in the outside walls of a building, they are a reflection of what is happening inside as well. People change their minds about how to use a building, and sometimes that means they need to change the building physically.

What used to be a hallway is now a storage space; one large bedroom becomes two smaller ones; enlarging the kitchen means moving the front door a metre or so to one side; and so on.

One of the fascinating things to me about Venice (and about Italy in general) is that when structural changes are made to a building, the builders very often make no attempt to disguise the effect of their renovations on the outward appearance of the building. Sometimes, they even make a feature of the structural residue, deliberately accentuating its former outline by rendering or painting around it.

Almost every wall in Venice carries the scars in its surface where doors and windows used to be, but where they are no longer.

I love these scars. I call them 'ghosts' – ghost doors and ghost windows – and I have collected hundreds of these sometimes clear sometimes faint echoes of the past. In the older walls centuries of renovation history are writ into the brickwork, successive outlines of windows speak of changing tastes in design and shape. Doors become windows and windows become doors, and both become shadows of their former selves.

The central window of this first floor pharmacy became redundant and was killed off some time ago, yet some of its bones very deliberately remain in place as its memorial.

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