Matilde Cassani, Ignacio G. Galán,
    Iván L. Munuera
    Giardini della Biennale

When we enter the restroom, we are never alone. Instead, we are entangled in a network of bodies, infrastructures, ecosystems, cultural norms, and regulations. In the Restroom Pavilion, some nodes within these networks are explored as they specifically materialize within Venice—a city that reveals itself as a constellation of mutually dependent environments and distinct geographies. In the Pavilion, a number of flags celebrate these networks in lieu of typical bathroom signage. Inside, a new materialization takes the place of the tiling that typically sustains modern and contemporary ideals of hygiene in the architecture of restrooms. If these ideals have typically operated through the creation of increasingly isolating and discriminatory practices, the Restroom Pavilion provides an inclusive description of the realities within which restrooms exist.  In the restroom, we always live together.

Photographs: Delfino Sisto Legnani


A hidden network of underground brick tunnels constructed beginning in the sixteenth century, the “gatoli” made possible the more visible architecture of churches and palazzi built at the time and the humanist ideals that these architectures celebrated. Both were intrinsically connected, for the gatoli supported the development of humanist ideas of hygiene, by which waste would be excluded from the spaces of human co-existence—conducted through this network into the canals and diluted within the Lagoon.


The Lagoon’s daily tides have traditionally guaranteed that human waste coursing through the sewage system into the canals would be dispersed away from the metropolis into the Adriatic basin. The importation of global merchandise into the city—resulting in its economic expansion—has been mirrored by the export of human waste. The MOSE project, intended to protect Venice from flooding, will have a major impact on the dynamics of the region’s water bodies and is expected to result in local accumulations of pollutants and sediments in specific areas of the Lagoon.  Will the project prevent this regular evacuation of fecal contamination?


The expansive use of domestic technologies and the massification of tourism into the city added extra pressure on Venice’s historic sewage system during Italy’s economic boom in the 1960s, leading to the increasing accumulation of sediments at the bottoms of the canals and ecosystemic transformations of the Lagoon—its eutrophication. As a result, floating asphyxiated fish transformed the Venetian waterscape in a number of instances, triggering public uproar.


Following the massification of tourism in Venice and the consequent effects on the sewage system, the city started to implement the use of septic tanks in the 1990s. Their introduction was mandatory for all structures undergoing renovation starting at that time. These tanks only temporarily store and treat human waste and need to be regularly emptied using portable containers that carry their contents away from the city.  


  While the architecture of Venice has historically contributed to changing ideas of the public—something rehearsed since the middle ages in the city’s characteristic piazzas and spaces of congregation—Venice is now famous for its dearth of public restrooms and their exclusionary nature. Turnstiles currently negotiate the shapes of the “public” through their discrimination in determining who has access to restrooms. The price of entry can be reduced if one pays online, dividing those with access to digital technologies and the appropriate networks of information from those who lack them and pay a higher fee.  


  While San Marco, as a monumental open space, is symbolically open to the arrival of traveling constituencies coming from overseas, the shortage of toilet facilities in Venice primarily affects those who do not call Venice home. The transient “public” of the twenty-first century (ranging from tourists arriving from global centers of power to migrant street vendors commuting daily from dormitory cities on the mainland) is not shaped symbolically in the piazzas but in the provision of access to spaces to urinate, defecate, use sanitary pads, and engage in other related activities.


The gender division of restrooms is coordinated with other structures that reinforce binaries governed by patriarchal systems, including those of the gondolas that circulate through Venice’s canals. Just as restrooms reinforce gender stereotypes, professional associations have only recognized male candidates as gondoliers since 1094. In 2007, Alex Hai challenged this econo-gender structure. Hai, a transgender man, repeatedly failed the gondolier’s test. He accused the gondoliers’ association of discriminating against him due to his gender at the time. He currently works as a private gondolier for a hotel.


While twenty million human tourists visit Venice every year, other non-human species also travel along. Such is the case with Undaria pinnatifida, a species of kelp native to Japan, which has been documented in the Lagoon since the mid-1990s. Introduced by cruise ships, the presence of this seaweed has been favored by the waves generated by ships, which trigger its reproduction. Currently competing with indigenous species, Undaria pinnatifida  could clog the sewage system of local restrooms and threaten their operations.



  Venice’s tap water shares its aquifer with one of the most popular mineral waters commercialized in Italy: San Benedetto. This shared origin was utilized to convince Venetians during the 2000s to drink tap water rather than contribute to the global industry of bottled water—one decried by environmentalists and social justice activists around the world. And yet, bottles of this particular mineral water are commonly found in the city’s hotel restrooms, standing by the tap through which the same water flows. 


The commercial cleaning products typically used in the city’s bathrooms—often generically referred to using the brand name Lysoform—are entangled with the diverse variety of Venetian ecosystems, since these products not only pollute the water and thereby affect its animal populations, entering diverse food chains, but also change the composition of the air through the evaporation of volatile inorganic compounds. The iconic Venetian fog is, today, full of Lysoform.

Photographs: Imagen Subliminal (Miguel de Guzman + Rocio Romero)

Matilde Cassani, Ignacio G. Galán, Iván L. Munuera

in collaboration with:
Paula Vilaplana de Miguel,
Leonardo Gatti, Pablo Saiz del Rio.

Giardini della Biennale


Elise Jaffe+Jeffrey Brown, Barnard College (Columbia University), Princeton University School of Architecture, AC/E (Acción Cultural Española)