generali group, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, has announced the launch of a new flagship initiative to help some of the planet’s most vulnerable communities. open to alliances and partnerships with like-minded people and organizations, ‘the human safety net’ is a new platform based on the idea that communities of ‘people helping people’ can bring about sustainable change. as part of its long-term commitment, generali will work with david chipperfield architects milan to create a home for ‘the human safety net’ inside the procuratie vecchie, a historical landmark on venice’s piazza san marco.

 

designboom was in venice for the launch, where we heard from david chipperfield who explained the project and the building’s restoration in more detail.


generali will work with david chipperfield architects milan to create a home for ‘the human safety net’
image © david chipperfield architects

 

 

the plans unveiled by generali and david chipperfield architects milan involve restoring the procuratie vecchie in order to bring together the other parts of piazza san marco as well as the royal gardens. since being completed in the 16th century by jacopo sansovino, centuries of modifications have severely compromised the building’s internal structure. ‘the project is multifaceted in its responsibilities — one is to repair the building,’ david chipperfield tells designboom. ‘over the years, the building has suffered practical, logistical, and technical modifications, which have not always been done with sufficient reflection. we now have the opportunity to make a much more reflective review of the things which have been done over time — to turn it from a 16th century building to a 21st century building.’


the headquarters will host regular public exhibitions, events, and discussions
image © david chipperfield architects

 

 

once complete, the overhaul will re-establish the historic paths and flow to and from piazza san marco. ‘the human safety net’ headquarters will host regular public exhibitions, events, and discussions on social and demographic challenges from poverty to migration, providing a location for the exchange of ideas and inspiration. a historical drawbridge, which has been closed for many years of neglect, will also be restored in order to re-connect the gardens with piazza san marco and the marciana museums district. the renovated procuratie vecchie and royal gardens are set to be completed by 2020.


the overhaul will re-establish the historic paths and flow to and from piazza san marco
image © david chipperfield architects

 

 

‘the other consideration, which requires a more thorough intervention is the desire to open the building up more to the public,’ continues chipperfield. ‘clearly, you cannot do this in a heavy, simplistic manner. it’s the nature of projects like this that you cannot impose a singular concept. you have to find a number of surgical operations to deal with the issues. and, of course, you want those operations to have some coherence and integrity. that is really the work we are doing: trying to find a new integrity in the building.’

 

 

the human safety net for families
video courtesy of generali

 

 

‘the human safety net’ seeks to influence key social issues affecting communities where we live and work. the first program, the human safety net for families, promotes equal life chances for children who grow up in poverty. the initiative will provide support to 30,000 parents during the first six years of their children’s life — the years that shape what children achieve in school, their health, and their future career path.

 

the human safety net for refugee start-ups takes a different approach to the ongoing crisis in europe by empowering people to ‘realize their entrepreneurial potential and build livelihoods in their new countries.’ this program aims to help refugees to set up 500 new businesses, creating jobs and opportunities for work.

 

 

the human safety net for refugee start-ups
video courtesy of generali

 

 

finally, the human safety net for newborns works with the medical community and parents to improve prevention and treatment for asphyxia — a devastating birth condition that leaves many babies handicapped for the rest of their lives and can even result in death. this program aims to train professionals and equip them with innovative technologies, to help save 1,000 lives from this potentially fatal condition. generali employees from across the group submitted over 300 ideas for community projects, with the three programs all sharing the common purpose of unlocking the potential of disadvantaged people.


a watercolor painting illustrating how the restored bridge will connect to the royal gardens
image by anna regge

 

 

‘the project doesn’t need another architect to impose themselves,’ states chipperfield to designboom. ‘however, there are gaps and there are things we have to do, and it will involve careful decisions. through those decisions, maybe we impose our own position. this is something we are used to doing, and we are used to doing with a certain amount of care and deference to the project itself, and, in this case, to the new program in trying to make the building more open.’


the royal gardens will be re-landscaped as part of the project
image by martino lombezzi

 

 

‘it’s the nature of projects like this that, over time, many improvements have been done in an ad-hoc and improvised way,’ continues chipperfield, who is known for completing a number of sensitive restorations. ‘through the proper integrated planning, it is much easier to integrate technical systems and they don’t have to be in conflict with the historical building. our project absolutely begins with understanding the history of the building and its nature. there are implicit contradictions in the way the building is built and the way it has been used. it was built with a vertical organization and now it needs to be used in a more horizontal way. a building like this doesn’t have one history: one has to understand what things to keep and what things to throw away.’


restoration work on the building is already underway
image by martino lombezzi

 

 

‘if we were designing a new building we could show some images about how wonderful this new staircase this will be, or how wonderful this new room will be. but you can’t do that with a project like this because the qualities will come out of the work. if you want reassurance about the methodology, I can assure you that we are working incredibly close to the building itself to understand its limits and not to work against it. having said that, over the years it has lost some of its identity, so we need to regain that and not necessarily by imitating the historical losses.’


the renovated building is set to open in 2020
image by martino lombezzi

 

 

the procuratie vecchie is one of three connected buildings on venice’s piazza san marco, which date back to the 16th century. ‘there’s a great charming quality in this building, which is quite difficult to understand from the front,’ says the british architect. ‘it appears from its façade as something very coherent, but actually if you go round the back it assumes the organic nature that venice is built out of. actually in the thickness of the building, you have the negotiation between the civic formality of the square and the real nature of venice, which is much more organic and improvised.’


an aerial view of venice, with the water-adjacent royal gardens shown in the foreground
image courtesy of generali group

 

 

‘the other thing that is difficult to talk about is that, in my experience, projects like this have explicit intentions and implicit consequence,’ he elaborates. ‘for instance, we will spend a lot of time and care on the courtyards and looking at how this building hits the ground and how you enter it. at the moment, the spaces are a little strange and are somehow forgotten. as the project takes more care of itself, I think there will be a consequential change to all of the ground floor areas. in my experience, projects like this are delicate. they are not based on image, they are based on material, how well they are done, and a lot of things you will never see. there will be a general improvement of its qualities, and at the heart of this will be a real understanding and respect for the history of the building.’


a concept sketch by architect david chipperfield
image © david chipperfield architects

 

 

‘the beauty of venice is a source of inspiration for the world, and generali is very proud to enrich the city’s heritage by restoring the area of piazza san marco,’ adds philippe donnet, CEO of generali group. ‘by opening the procuratie vecchie to the public for the first time in nearly five centuries, we are creating new and vibrant spaces where people can meet to discuss some of today’s most pressing social and global issues. we are grateful to the venetian authorities for their support in this endeavor. venice has long been a crossroads of different cultures from around the world, and we hope to build on this tradition through the human safety net and our movement of ‘people helping people’. david chipperfield architects was a natural choice due to his love of venice and shared vision for an architecturally and socially coherent restoration.’


portrait of david chipperfield
image © designboom

 

 

‘the human safety net and its home in venice, a city steeped in history and culture, brings together knowledge and inspiration for the common good,’ concludes david chipperfield. ‘I am delighted to be working on this architecturally and socially coherent project, which will convey and connect ideas and people around the world. working closely with generali, we have a vision to transform the procuratie vecchie into a more active and engaged space, which embodies the global mission of ‘the human safety net’, while retaining the dignified beauty and history of the buildings.’

 

 

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  • nice coup to get the building restored, something Venice couldn’t afford itself. However it transforms Venice more and more a mere exhibition space instead of a city, a placing for living.

    Astrid says:

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