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34 PROJECT REPORT: HERITAGE & CONSERVATION


be built in the early Renaissance style, and set the tone for much of the construction in the city that followed. During Venice’s time as a city-state, the building was the headquarters of the government, and housed the offices and apartments for the Doge and his nine ‘procurators’ – officers of the Treasury – hence the name Procuratie. The building was the embodiment of the power of the Doge himself, who although elected, tended to come from a wealthy family. Since the Napoleonic take-over and consequential demise of the Doge’s role in the 18th century, the Procuratie Vecchie has had a number of tenants. The current and long-standing occupier is Italian insurance company Generali, whose Venice head office has been in the building since 1832. In the intervening 185 years, the company has purchased the building in increments, carrying out attendant work on it between 1909 and 1914, and in the 30s and 40s. However Generali has a new intention for Procuratie Vecchie to ‘give something back,’ particularly interesting given the building’s historical relationship with power, wealth and aristocracy.


The Human Safety Net


Despite its long tenure, Generali has found a new headquarters in the city, and is launching a new philanthropic initiative – The Human Safety Net – which will have its home in the Procuratie Vecchie. In a striking contrast with the building’s historic use, the scheme will be helping some of the most vulnerable people in society. The Human Safety Net will focus on three specific areas: supporting refugee business start-ups, saving newborn babies from asphyxia, and creating opportunities for disadvantaged children. “Our mission is to protect people’s lives,” said Generali CEO Philippe Donnet at the project’s launch. “In some cases people have real problems that cannot be solved with an insurance policy. Generali is like a person, not only does it have a brain but also a heart – The Human Safety Net is going to be the heart.”


As well as providing a prestigious home for its new initiative, Generali will also be creating spaces in the building that will be accessible to the public for the first time in over 500 years. Following an international competition, the company appointed David Chipperfield Architects (DCA) to carry out the works – a practice that’s earned itself a reputation for its delicate handling of important heritage buildings,


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demonstrated by its boss’ knighthood for services to architecture. “Mr Donnet talked about Generali being the brain and The Human Safety Net being the heart, and I suppose that I’m having to deal with the body,” Chipperfield himself commented at the launch.


Chipperfield’s portfolio of heritage projects was recently augmented by the rebuilding of Berlin’s Neues Museum, and accolades for the firm include the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for Architecture and Japan’s Praemium Imperiale. The practice’s reputation for respectful restoration has led to them working on UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world – so perhaps Venice’s high-profile status was less daunting to Chipperfield than it would be to most.


Building projects in the city are governed by the 1973 Special Law for Venice, which largely focuses on safeguarding the city from flooding – an unfortunate side effect of building a city on top of 118 small islands. The city’s unique composition also means that all building materials for the project will arrive via waterway. The Procuratie Vecchie itself is protected by a Legislative Decree, under Italy’s Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage Act. Far from presenting hurdles, the legis- lation in fact encourages the renovation of architectural heritage buildings, in order to prevent them falling into disrepair. The city council announced recently that it would be allocating €43m to the mainte- nance of both the historic centre and wider mainland. This is set to include the mainte- nance of public parks, improvement of the hydraulic and sewage system, renovation of residential buildings and improvement of accessibility.


All key stakeholders in the project are of course only too aware of the sensitivity required – particularly given the building’s prominence – and none more so than Chipperfield. However, he noted that there is considerable work to be done to realise the client’s ambitions: “These spaces are a little bit forgotten,” he commented, adding: “We don’t want to destroy their character.”


Design approach


Before any major work can begin on upgrades, extensive work has had to be carried out to evaluate the Procuratie Vecchie’s current condition, and this began in March 2017. “We’re in the very early stages of the work,” explains Chipperfield. “Some physical works have been done onsite and that’s mostly to do with strip-


ADF FEBRUARY 2018


© Martino Lombezzi


© Martino Lombezzi


© Martino Lombezzi


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