Construction can now begin, with the blessing of the Municipality of Venice, after the approval of the office of fine arts issued in January.
On Monday 10 June, during a press conference at Ca’ Farsetti, the operative go-ahead for construction in the Procuratie Vecchie was announced, one of the most important and beautiful buildings in Venice, completed by Jacopo Sansovino in the 16th century, on the northern side of Piazza San Marco.
The 152-meter palazzo set aside for the Procurators of St. Mark during the Most Serene Republic of Venice, whose portico has 50 arches and 100 windows in Venetian-Byzantine style, is a complex, stratified structure that has been repeatedly modified over the centuries, becoming the headquarters of the Generali insurance group (on the first and second floors) and of its associated philanthropic foundation, Human Safety Net (on the third floor). The building also contains offices to be rented to other associations and public agencies.
The deadline for the work is scheduled for 2021 to coincide with the first 190 years of Generali, owner of the property that has been abandoned for decades – almost two centuries.
The team of David Chipperfield Architects Milano, winner of the international design composition in 2017, has reinforced the historic structure and restored, in a careful philological approach, the interior spaces of the palazzo whose entrance is on the ground floor, bordered by the row of shops facing the piazza (including the iconic Olivetti store designed by Carlo Scarpa).
To date, only 'surgical interventions' of silent recovery of the original traces of the site have been implemented: precious details to restore dignity and consistency to spaces with different values, including rooms with damaged decorations, stuccowork and frescoes, ceilings with wooden beams, wooden thresholds and Gothic brick walls. At this point, the more complex operations on the over 12,000 square meters of the Procuratie Vecchie can begin.
“The biggest challenge was that of adapting to new public uses in a building that is 500 years old and was not built for these purposes, and stands in relation to the world’s best-loved piazza, that of San Marco,” said the British architect David Chipperfield, no stranger to undertakings of this size and worldwide importance (among others, he has designed the transformation of the Neues Museum in Berlin).
“Venice is a unique city,” he explained, “where architecture and nature absorb each other in an organic way everywhere, except at Piazza San Marco, a place that has a radical quality of its own. The extraordinary facade of the Procuratie Vecchie seems like a unified front, but behind its apparent uniformity it conceals many micro-cities stressed by changes over the last 200 years. We have to reorganize the interiors of a building with a fragmented typology, taking it back to horizontal-vertical connections required for new purposes, and making it permeable in terms of access and connections required by the new configuration on the various levels.”
For now the entrance remains the discreet one from the inner courtyard, where the volume of the stairwell from the early 1900s with its central skylight is now being refurbished. This is flanked by two new staircases, facing the internal Renaissance courtyards of Sansovino. The third floor will contain the offices of Human Safety Net, and these connections will permit the creation of two elevated plazas, or new rooftop courtyards. The upper attic level, marked by a historic row of oculi facing Piazza San Marco, will be partially opened to the public with flexible spaces for conferences, lectures and exhibitions – under the artistic direction of Davide Rampello – and has been interpreted as the level whose existing elements permit the greatest freedom of intervention.
“In the early 1900s this was already equipped with an auditorium, a space with brutalist concrete trusses that have been restored,” says the architect Giuseppe Zampieri. “We have grafted metal trusses onto them, and envisioned a row of arched openings to permit fluid circulation on this level, also including the two courtyards that correspond to the stairwell roofs. As for the walls of Sansovino, when all the bricks have been cleaned they will be finished with lime wash, a transparent patina that reflects their history. On all three levels of intervention,” Zampieri continues, “the mantra remains that of respecting the pale colors, the floors in pastellone or Venetian terrazzo already existing in certain rooms, the ceilings with exposed wooden beams, replaced by new suspended ceilings with a system of essential boards, similar to the original models, where needed.”
Essential design taken to new heights. All the physical plant systems, developed with Arup Italia, will be hidden in the suspended ceilings. Only on the third floor is the heating placed in the floors, while on the first and second floors it is camouflaged by wooden fancoil covers still being designed, as are the furnishings. The implementation of this ambitious and innovative project has been assigned to local companies: another interesting aspect in a perspective of valorization of techniques, workmanship and materials that represent a heritage of know-how in Venice.
“It is a choice that fosters employment in the center of Venice,” says the mayor Luigi Brugnaro, “a pragmatic choice, like that of opening the palazzo to the community; an investment of high social value that assigns a different meaning to tourism and the future of the city.”
A catalyst of human potential, The Human Safety Net is a philanthropy hub structured to support the most vulnerable communities (poor families, refugees and newborn children), active since 2017 in 19 countries with a network of over 25 partners.
“There is the symbol of the Lion, placed in 1932 on the Procuratie Vecchie. Here, Generali opened its first office in 1831. Almost 200 years later the Lion returns beside that of San Marco, putting life back at the center of a global network and offering the 25 million people who visit the piazza not just a universally recognized place of beauty, but also one of harmony and sustainability,” says Philippe Donnet, CEO of the group, which is also investing in the renovation of other parts of the area, including the adjacent Royal Gardens.