Continuing the 500-year legacy of iconic urban and architectural design on the Piazza San Marco, David Chipperfield Architects Milan has carefully renovated and reprogrammed the Procuratie Vecchie, which lines the northern edge of the Venetian square. Since it was built as part of a 16th-century urban renovation project, the public has rarely been able to experience the Procuratie Vecchie beyond its facade — that is, until now. Insurance providers and building owners Generali commissioned David Chipperfield Architects Milan to take on the renovation of the building and transform large swathes of the space into a cultural institution.
Though not previously publicly accessible, the building was always intended as an urban space that was not distinct from the piazza but part of it. Over time, as its ownership has changed hands and its program has shifted, the Procuratie has become increasingly introverted and inward-looking. Though its presence continued to be felt on the square, David Chipperfield Architects Milan saw an opportunity to strengthen the connection between the building’s interiors and the Piazza San Marco.
In response to the complexities of working on the historic site, the architects developed a design that does not revolve around a single architectural gesture but instead takes the shape of a series of strategic interventions. Together, they modulate and balance the needs for both conservation and renovation.
Though the architects left the building’s facade virtually untouched — maintaining not only its most recognizable element but also the Piazza San Marco’s original 16th-century design — the impact of their work still extends outside. By reorganizing the Procuratie Vecchie’s interior programs, the new interventions create a more porous relationship between the square and the building — socially, physically and visually.
Anchoring this reorientation of the interiors from being inward-looking to outwardly facing the square is the renovation of the building’s third floor, which now houses The Human Safety Net, a global foundation that aims to support and transform the lives of people, families and communities living in vulnerable conditions across the world. In addition to the foundation’s workspaces, the third floor of the Procuratie Vecchie now houses an auditorium and event spaces that welcome the public to engage with the foundation’s mission and programming.
The other two key interventions are the restoration of the building’s first and second floors, which house the Generali’s offices, and the reorganization of the building’s circulation. The architects implemented new vertical circulation to increase accessibility, foregrounding the route from the square to the public areas of the Procuratie Vecchie through an elegant, sculptural staircase.
The staircase leads all the way up to the newly opened rooftop — a space that’s sure to instantly become a top destination in Venice for tourists and locals alike. From the rooftop, visitors are able to look out onto the Piazza San Marco, reemphasizing the newly created connection between the square and the building.
Compounding the physical, visual and social connections to the site, David Chipperfield Architects Milan used traditional construction techniques and local materials for the project to create new spaces with modern functionalities that blend in seamlessly with the existing building and surrounding urban fabric. Venetian artisans were brought in to install the pastellone, terrazzo, marmorino, scialbatura, cocciopesto, and cotto that line the floors, walls and ceilings of the newly designed spaces — bringing both vernacular materials and craftsmanship into the project.
It’s not often that a site as well-known and as historically and architecturally significant as the Procuratie Vecchie gets the starchitect treatment. But what’s more unexpected is the way in which David Chipperfield Architects Milan reinterpreted a five-century-old design intent — and in doing so, brings in the public to breathe new life into the space.
With a series of thoughtful interventions, the architects welcome the public into the historic building for the first time since the 16th century.