VENICE, Italy -- British architect David Chipperfield is bringing his expertise in restoring historic buildings to a familiar, but perhaps overlooked, 500-year-old palazzo that forms part of the colonnaded perimeter of Venice's St. Mark's Square.
The project unveiled Tuesday is the initiative of the Italian insurer Generali, which made its Italian headquarters in the Procuratie Vecchie palace from 1832 and will launch a new initiative in the restored structure to help disadvantaged people around the world.
"Behind this fantastic facade is a much more jumbled building, and the building has been modified over time, for practical and technical reasons," Chipperfield told The Associated Press.
"And through those modifications it has lost some of its character integrity, some of its history. Really, the challenge is to sort it out a bit, tidy it up and get it back into a better shape."
The restoration involves 11,000 square meters over four floors and is to be completed by 2020. The restored building will be open to the public for the first time in 500 years, with events around Generali's new Human Safety Net initiative, which will bring together organizations working to help refugees launch businesses, aid disadvantaged families with small children and work on a project involving newborn health.
"Sometimes people have real problems that cannot be solved with an insurance policy," said Generali CEO Philippe Donnet. "Our mission is not to change the world. The world is too complicated. It has too many problems. We just want to improve the lives of a few people. And we have the power to do it."
Generali, which has its global headquarters in nearby Trieste, is also behind the renovations of the royal gardens on the Giudecca canal side of the Procuratie Nuove. Once the domain of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth, popularly known as Sissi, they have long fallen into disuse.
The gardens will not be restored to Sissi's splendor, an age when her Moravian gardeners would transport vases and vases of rare begonias, geraniums and orchids from Vienna to Venice for the duration of her stay.
Recreating Sissi's royal garden would be too costly, so the project will instead incorporate more trees and plants to shade and give respite to Venetians and tourists alike. In addition, a bridge from the gardens through the southern-flanking Procuratie Nuove and into Piazza San Marco will be reopened after many years, giving the public new views on the city's most historic piazza.
Under Chipperfield's renovations of the Procuratie Vecchie, the familiar facade by Jacopo Sansovino, which continues on two other sides of the piazza, will remain untouched.
While tourists may take the collective Procuratie for granted, Chipperfield says the three interconnected buildings that form it are admired by architects for "the sort of ruthlessness of a building that is that long, that makes a square."
This version corrects the date referred to in the second paragraph to the mid-1800s, not the mid-1880s.