Built in the early 1500s years, in order to close the square together with the Basilica of St. Mark after a devastating fire, the 150-meter neoclassical facade of the building is today one of the most famous and recognizable images of Venice.
Everyone who has been to the “city on the water”, probably at least once sat down at a table in one of the cafes located in the porticos on the ground floor of this historical monument.
Now, for the first time, tourists can access the fourth and last floor, where a permanent exhibition is located under a sloping beamed roof.
The building, which has been the headquarters of the Italian insurance company Generali since 1832, has undergone a five-year renovation under the direction of architect David Chipperfield.
While Generali has retained offices on the frescoed second floor of the building and will be leasing the third — including for exhibitions open to the public, the fourth will be the headquarters of the Human Safety Net, a project that helps people and families at risk, including refugees.
There will also be a high-tech exhibition, which is rarely seen in Venice. Instead of covering history or art, World of Potential addresses social issues through technology. Hands-on exhibits designed to instill mindfulness and empathy in visitors include team games and one unusual exercise in which visitors are able to lift a ball into the air with sheer concentration.
A ticket to the exhibition, and half of its cost goes to the Social Fund protection of the population, will also give visitors access to the cafe on the fourth floor, with two roof terraces overlooking the domes of St. Mark's Basilica and the famous bell tower. From the terraces, the square itself is not visible, as they are below the roof line of the building. However, the rooms on the top floor have windows overlooking a square that Napoleon is said to have called “the living room of Europe”.
Chipperfield's renovation turned the abandoned attic floor into an endless series of interconnected rooms with stone-clad arches , crossing them all the way.
On the top floor co-working spaces and conference rooms will be located, although tourists and local residents will not be allowed there. The cafe will be open only to visitors to the exhibition.
Generali previously funded the renovation of the Royal Gardens, a popular site between Piazza San Marco and the seafront.