The Operating Venetian Lagoon: The Agency of Barene – Archiprix 2021

Amina Chouairi (TU Delft) redevelops the brackish Venetian marshlands to tackle flood risk, recover hydromorphological processes, enrich ecology and biodiversity, requalify the abandoned cultural heritage and support the fishing industry.

Can you (briefly) explain your choice of subject?
I have always been fascinated by lagoon and riverine landscapes, especially the ones along the coast of Veneto region, in north-eastern Italy. There, between the coastal lagoons of Caorle and Bibione I have spent most of my childhood vacations.

As a child frequenting those places mainly in summer, water was the element I met more often. It was not at all inviting, that shallowness and turbidity. I can only remember that when, to the sight of my classmates’ holiday pictures, I was jealous of their crystal-clear waters. In those lagoons, currents and tides were almost non-existent. However, there were different water temperatures, warm above and cold below. Once, as all children do, I drank the water of one of these lagoons by mistake and I still remember the amazement in my mouth. It was not completely salty, but brackish, sweet and salty at the same time.

During those summers in Veneto, coming from Milan, I used to take a regional train connection in Venezia-Mestre station, to reach the final destination of Portogruaro-Caorle. Venezia Santa Lucia, Venice city train station, was immediately there, just a few minutes away by train, beyond Ponte della Libertà; however, it was not planned to pass by, there. For years, I have thought many times about staying seated on that train for just another stop, leaving Mestre behind, getting off in Venice and finally see. As time passed by, I have developed a morbid attraction for that unknown and undiscovered city on a lagoon.

The recondite and, for some aspects, romantic passion for a place of my childhood, the relevance of the Venetian Lagoon landscape and the city of Venice within the Italian artistic, cultural and naturalistic panorama, the emergency that this territory is experiencing nowadays, the necessity for a landscape design integrating holistically forms, functions, and flows, the desire to stitch solidly together the complex identity of Venice and its precious lagoon; all this important load of research, awareness and personal experience has contributed to the production of the present master thesis in Landscape Architecture.

What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly explain this?
Alongside looking explicitly for inspirations among the brilliant professionals and case studies within the field of landscape architecture, I have trained my observation spirit to attentively capture inspiring insights from daily experiences. For me, this is the major source of inspiration: what I see with my eyes, brain and heart happening around me.

State and (briefly) describe the key moment in your graduation project
October 2019 when, for the first time, I spent five days sailing around the Venetian Lagoon to explore and see what I was trying to understand, almost blindly, by only sitting at my desk.

The 2nd of July 2020 when I proudly graduated from my room, within those 9 m² where the entire thesis has been conceived, thought, rethought, discussed and developed.

Finally, September 2020, once that graduation excitement was over, when I received the incredible news that I have been selected as Best Graduate 2020 of TU Delft Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment for the thesis you are reading about.


Transitional territories such as lagoons are among the most impacted and delicate environments, threatened by the combined effects of climate change and human action. The project addresses the hydromorphological sufferance of the Venetian Lagoon (Italy), the neglect of its secondary islands, and the over-engineered flood defence as crucial issues. It reveals the need for redefining the role of the entire lagoon for the future, necessarily active, resiliently sustaining the surrounding territory. To achieve it, the main strategy is to reinforce the barene landscape, the brackish marshlands, through building-with-nature design principles. The research-by-design seeks to mitigate the threats of relative sea level rise by providing a nature-based flood defence, recreate barene habitat for ecosystem restoration, invest on alternative slow-tourisms, and enrich local economical vibrancy. Moreover, the project wishes to consolidate and enhance the cultural image of the Venetian Lagoon: the diffuse sense of horizontality, reflection and visibility conveyed by the unceasing water surface.

The thesis aims to address the Venetian Lagoon hydromorphological sufferance, the neglect of its secondary islands, and the over-engineered flood defence design as crucial issues. From the research conducted, emerges clearly the need for redefining the role of the entire Venetian Lagoon in the next future, shifting its role from passive, being exploited and consequently damaged, to active, able to sustain resiliently the rest of the territory. In order to do so, the main strategy to be pursued is to reinforce the “barene” landscape, the brackish marshlands, fundamental for the hydromorphological and ecological survival of the lagoon. These brackish marshlands are able to limit tidal and wind impact, favor water exchange and act as an expansion vessel, but, from 20th century onward, 70% of their surface have been lost due to anthropic actions.

Therefore, the goal of the thesis is to employ the agency of “barene” to mitigate the impact of anthropic and natural threats, acting as a nature-based flood defence (function), to recover hydromorphological sufferance (flow), and to support the cultural, ecological and productive heritage (form), making the Venetian Lagoon function as a sustaining landscape infrastructure. The “barene” act as pivotal means to achieve a comprehensive vision for the Venetian Lagoon where functions, flows, and forms are implemented and designed as part of a unique co-operating system.

The central area of the Venetian Lagoon is chosen as project site, being the most damaged hydromorphologically. Having researched on how natural forces (tides, winds, etc.) influence this portion of lagoon, different combinations of under-water and above-water concave structures are designed in harmony with these forces, to capture suspended sediments and promote accretion. In the most compromised cases, the structures are partially supported by initial dredges. The islands of the central lagoon become the perceptive points from which experience the transformation and the growth of this new landscape. In the end, the intertwined system of “barene” and islands, once grown sufficiently and matured, will produce a beneficial effect over the hydromorphological, ecological and biodiversity, and cultural surrounding environment.

Through the process of research by landscape design, the project seeks to mitigate the threats of climate change and relative sea level rise in the Venetian Lagoon; provide a nature-based flood defence; create brackish marshland’s habitat for ecosystem restoration; invest on alternative forms of slow-tourism and foster different duration of stay in Venetian lagoon; enrich local community livelihood and economical vibrancy. Moreover, the project wants to consolidate and enhance the cultural image of the Venetian Lagoon, consisting of the diffuse sense of horizontality, reflection and visibility conveyed by the diffuse and unceasing water surface.

Download the thesis.
More images.

Amina Chouairi

Start graduation
September 2019
July 2020
Technische Universiteit Delft
Faculteit Bouwkunde

What are you doing now?
After shortly coming back to Italy after the graduation, I found an extremely interesting and challenging opportunity as Landscape Architect in Paris, at Vogt Paysage et Urbanisme. And now, I am finally learning the profession in practice.

What do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
Simply, my ultimate goal would be to reach professional independency with a coherent spirit. I would like to keep on feeding an independent and critical mind able to propose coherent and distinctive design projects.

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