The Brion Cemetery (1968–1978) in San Vito d’Altivole near Treviso, Italy, is a masterpiece of modernist architecture. Designed by Carlo Scarpa, the project establishes a contrasting narrative. Subtly, the project reveals the narrative approach that operates within Scarpa’s work and its potential to express mythic concerns within architecture in general.
Brion Cemetery & Sanctuary Technical Information
- Architects1-2: Carlo Scarpa
- Location: Via Brion 5, San Vito di Altivole, Treviso, Italy
- Client Onoria Brion
- Topics: Concrete, Cemeteries, Modernism
- Area: 2200 m2
- Project Year: 1968 – 1979
- Photographs: Flickr User © Trevor Patt
I would like to explain the Brion Cemetery… I consider this work, if you permit me, to be rather good and which will get better over time. I have tried to put some poetic imagination into it, though not in order to create poetic architecture but to make a certain kind of architecture that could emanate a sense of formal poetry….The place for the dead is a garden….I wanted to show some ways in which you could approach death in a social and civic way; and further what meaning there was in death, in the ephemerality of life – other than these shoe-boxes.
– Carlo Scarpa
Brion Cemetery & Sanctuary Photographs
The Rich History of Brion Cemetery
The Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978) began designing this addition to an existing municipal cemetery in 1968. Although he continued to consider changes to the project, it was completed before his accidental death in 1978. The enclosure is a private burial ground for the Brion family, commissioned by Onorina Tomasi Brion, widow of the Brionvega company’s founder.
Scarpa himself is buried adjacent to the Brion sanctuary. Several discrete elements comprise the Brion family burial site: a sloped concrete enclosing wall, two distinct entrances, a small chapel, two covered burial areas (the arcosolium for Giuseppe and Onorina Brion, and one for other family members), a dense grove of cypresses, a Prato (lawn), and a private meditation/viewing pavilion, separated from the main Prato by a separate and locked entrance, and a heavily vegetated reflecting pool.
The site is an L-shape situated along two sides of the cemetery of San Vito. A boundary wall leaning inwards encloses the site with its three centers: the pool around the pavilion, the “arcosolium” at the corner of the “L,” and the chapel. There are two entrances, one directly from outside to the chapel, the other from the cemetery at the end of the main avenue. This second entrance gives access to the site: Scarpa borrowed the name “propylaeum” from the Acropolis. It leads to a portico, from which one sees the garden through two intersecting mosaic-framed rings.
With the Brion Cemetery, Scarpa made his impact with an unreserved commitment to the modern movement and a new sureness of language, in continuity but not imitation of Wagner, Hoffman, Loos, and Frank Lloyd Wright. He re-created here the splendor of nineteenth-century Middle Europe, where beauty had the power to redeem man from his limitations. He avoided the narrow dictates of rationalism, choosing rather to stress inner depth, dreams, and nostalgia.
Description by Carlo Scarpa
“From the village, the site is approached through a private entrance: here is the church, where funeral services are held, the village cemetery, and here is the chapel – this is accessible to the public because the ground belongs to the estate. The family has the right only to be buried there. A private path leads to the little pavilion on the water – the only really private areal on the site. This is basically all there is.
This place of death is little like a garden. Incidentally, the great American cemeteries of the nineteenth century, in Chicago, for example, are extensive parks. No Napoleonic tomb, no! You can drive in with your car. There are beautiful monuments, for instance, those by Louis Henry Sullivan. Cemeteries now have become mere piled-up shoe boxes, one on top of the other. I wanted to express the naturalness of water and meadow, of water and earth. Water is the source of life.“
Brion Cemetery & Sanctuary Plans
Brion Cemetery & Sanctuary Image Gallery
About Carlo Scarpa
Carlo Scarpa (1906 – 1978) was an Italian architect and is considered one of the most enigmatic architects of the 20th century. He was not permitted to practice architecture because he refused to sit the pro forma professional exam administrated by the Italian Government after World War II. Those who worked with him (clients, associates, craftspersons) referred to him as “Professor” rather than “architect.”
He is best known for his instinctive approach to materials, combining time-honored crafts with modern manufacturing processes. After World War II that Scarpa began to be recognized internationally for his architecture. This recognition led to a series of commissions in and around Venice – many of them involving the renovation of existing buildings, which became a trademark for Scarpa, who carefully balanced new and old.
- Design Team: Carlo Scarpa. Guido Pietropoli, Carlo Maschietto
- Landscape architect: Pietro Porcinai
- M.L.Randolin, Carlo Scarpa: Theory Design Projects, p.61