After many, many years, it’s again possible to gaze upon Piazza San Marco from the same perspective once enjoyed by the Procurators of San Marco. In fact, that was five centuries ago, making this project a journey through both time and space. The Procuratie Vecchie, that is, the building spanning the north side of the piazza from Saint Mark’s Clocktower to the Correr Museum, has reopened to the public after five years of restoration by David Chipperfield Architects, which were hired by financial services company Generali. The interiors, including an exhibition space and multimedia content, on the third floor were the work of Migliore+Servetto Architects under the artistic direction of Davide Rampello.
The historic seat of the Procurators of Saint Mark, the high ranking officials once responsible for assisting Venice’s poor and needy, the building is again a functioning part of the city’s heritage, establishing a new relationship and a different dialogue with it. At its heart, the newly opened building retains a close continuity with the past. However, as a global hub for social initiatives, it also features innovations and technologies intended to meet the needs of visitors. A sharing of the traditions and culture of the past is the fulcrum of much of the project. With pastellone, terrazzo, marble, and whitewash used on the lower levels, and cocciopesto and terracotta on the upper level, the walls, floors, and ceilings of the building are a treasure trove of antique local construction techniques and craftsmanship. The aim of the project wasn’t to make changes but to respect this inheritance, restoring what has existed for centuries as a whole.
The client, Assicurazioni Generali, which has gradually been acquiring space in the building over the course of the years, presented a brief that called for reviving, breaking down, and restoring the meaning of the different layers of work carried out over the centuries, while also creating more engagement with the piazza and the rest of the city.
Besides continuing to provide office space for Generali, co-working spaces, and auditoriums, the building now has areas designed for the public. The third level also houses the headquarters of The Human Safety Net, a foundation established by Generali that aims to unlock the potential of people living in vulnerable circumstances so they can transform the lives of their families and communities. This complex set of objectives required an equally complex project. The result was the restoration of the first and second levels, the rethinking of the accessibility and usability of the building with new stairways, and the renovation of the central pavilion on the third floor, an area with access to The Human Safety Net’s public exhibition space. Generali’s CEO, Philippe Donnet, has pointed out the historical and cultural links between the antique functions of these rooms and the current ones of THSN:
“Our aim is to help people in vulnerable circumstances, especially families, children, and refugees. And at present, there’s a growing need for greater commitment from our company and everyone else who wants to be part of this project. The Human Safety Net is a network of people who want to help others.”
This is the background to the exhibition space on the third floor. Titled A World of Potential, it’s curated by Orna Cohen and Andreas Heinecke of Dialogue Social Enterprise. It offers visitors a first-hand opportunity to get to know the THSN, its mission, and its work to help disadvantaged people in 23 countries. Conceived as a prologue, three acts, and an epilogue, the exhibition presents a series of experiences to help visitors discover their own personal potential, according to the values identified by the curators, and explore their own inner strengths. One of the installations asks, “What are your greatest strengths?” Another, “What helped you become an adult?” And another, “What makes you happy?” Creativity, kindness, perseverance, gratitude, curiosity, hope, social intelligence, and teamwork have been translated into sixteen interactive machines, each designed to engage the most diverse audiences and provoke reflection on the issues of inclusion, innovation, and sustainability.
“The new headquarters of The Human Safety Net is distinguished by the subtle way it engages with both the city of Venice, an emblem of a strong cultural identity and hospitality, and the historic complex of the Procuratie Vecchie building that houses it,” explain Migliore and Servetto. “There are three recurring symbols running through the project: the table, the nest, and the mirror. The table, a symbol of meeting and dialogue, is present in the interactive installations and the public spaces. The nest, a symbol of hospitality and connection, is referenced in the library structures as a kind of common thread that connects the public and office spaces. Finally, the mirror, which has a centuries-old tradition in Venice, features in the interior design of the café as well as in several of the installations. It’s an allegory of self-examination, reflection, and consciousness.”
The interiors, exhibition space, and multimedia design on the third floor were the work of Migliore+Servetto Architects, with artistic direction by Davide Rampello. Besides the exhibition space, architects Ico Migliore and Mara Servetto took an innovative and experimental approach to create inclusive, sustainable spaces intended for personal interaction.
Beginning with the materials (glass, copper, wood, mirrors) and collaborations with local craftspeople, references to the Venetian style can be found at multiple levels throughout the project. The visual level is the most obvious through the emphasis given to the one hundred 16th-century oculi that surround the entire floor. These windows not only give the spaces a pictorial value, they also create a direct relationship with Venice, a city that’s welcomed cultures from all over the world and incorporated them into its own identity. For some of these openings, the view has been enhanced with a magnification system that, like Canaletto’s optical machines, lets visitors immerse themselves in the city through an entirely new way of interacting with it. On top of this, the installation Window on Venice is an opportunity to travel back in time as you discover – in 3D – how some of the city’s most famous attractions looked in the 16th century, including the Rialto Bridge, Arsenale, and the islands of Giudecca, Burano, and Murano.
Venetian theater and its famous masks inspired the installation Teatro Veneziano – again based on an idea by Davide Rampello. Wooden puppets of Harlequin, Pantalone, and Columbine, created by Atelier Carlo Colla and animated using some of the latest technology, interact with visitors as they tell the story of the city in different languages.
The environmental graphics and wayfinding were also the work of Migliore+Servetto, which was likewise responsible for selecting the exhibits in Art Studio, a space dedicated to temporary exhibitions. The practice also oversaw the installation of 100 tapestries on the building’s Piazza San Marco façade, which were on display for a week after the opening on April 13, as well as the installation of 22 tapestries on the Corte Maruzzi façade, which used environmental graphics to explain the foundation’s mission. The tapestries, based on the dimensions of the historic banners that Generali hangs from the windows on special occasions, are made of a recyclable, iridescent technical fabric in shades of red, orange, and purple by THSN, while those in Corte Maruzzi were designed for the event using technical, and sustainable, i-Mesh fibers.
Constructed in the 13th century, the building was originally on a single level above a long ground-level portico. It was redesigned by architect Bartolomeo Bon and, in the first half of the 16th century, by Jacopo Sansovino as part of Doge Andrea Gritti’s Renovatio Urbis program. From the early 1530s, the Procuratie building was reserved for politicians and royalty. The doges and their governors, in particular, used the building as their headquarters for hundreds of years.
Generali didn’t start buying up space in the building until around 1832 – that is, a few months after the company was established in Trieste. After hiring David Chipperfield’s studio for the renovation in 2017, it wasn’t until 2019 that the Superintendence of Archeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for the Commune of Venice and Laguna gave the green light for the project and the Commune itself gave permission to build.
Location: Venezia, Italia
Architect: David Chipperfield Architects
Client: Generali Real Estate
Interior, exhibition and multimedia design: Migliore+Servetto Architects
Gross floor area: 5.200 m2
Restoration of the gates: Margraf
Photography by Andrea Martiradonna, courtesy of Migliore+Servetto Architects