Calle delle Beccarie, San Giobbe, Restoration of a Vernacular House

A restoration for Venetians: the San Giobbe House, fit for modern living but with all its history preserved.

Venice is made up not just of architectural masterpieces, but of thousands of anonymous and ancient buildings that are the city's housing stock. As you go round Venice, you see many insensitive modern restorations of these, using hard modern bricks at ground floor level, cement rather than lime plaster, inappropriate window frames and harsh industrial paint colours. 

To show that such a vernacular house can be made habitable to modern standards at relatively low cost, yet keep its historic features, Venice in Peril  collaborated with the government authorities and the Municipality on an exemplary conversion of a publicly owned house in the parish of San Giobbe.

the finished project

The Fund provided the incentive for this restoration to take place and paid for the detailed planning of this radical new approach while the Municipality financed the actual restoration work through the Special Law for Venice. A team of architects, some from the city's own famous architectural university, recorded the project in detail and the book, Un Restauro per Venezia has been published to provide an example of good practice that we hope may influence future restorations in Venice. 

The conversion of the San Giobbe house by the town council into flats for low-cost, public housing, has been carried out by the firm Pasqualucci and work is now complete. The Special Law funds were the source of finance. 

The Challenge 

The challenge was to prove that a restoration based on an historically expert study of the building, aiming to conserve all possible original elements and carried out with traditional materials and techniques, need not cost more than a commercial, more destructive restructuring. Wherever possible the original terrazzo floors have been retained, which, using lime mortar are flexible, allowing movement (modern developers tend to use concrete flooring, which cracks due to its rigidity). The window frames and doors have also been retained and the walls have been plastered with lime plaster throughout. An innovative approach was taken to countering the rising damp, by washing the corrosive salts from the original brickwork (see below) rather than replacing it with new, industrial bricks. 
We are happy to say that the challenge was met, and the final bill was within the limits we had set ourselves. 

Venice is restoring old buildings for the low-paid to live in.

“The San Giobbe house is a leap of faith, and an example to the weary Western world. It is one of those anonymous vernacular buildings, 18th-century on a 16th-century base, that make the city such a treat to wander or glide around: a jewel box of water-dappled plaster. The city’s slow decay and — crucially — its gradual depopulation by working Venetians left the house sad, dilapidated, used miserably by squatters. This made it ideal for a bold social and architectural experiment. 

The Venice in Peril Fund, more usually associated with saving monuments and co-ordinating research on the tidal barrage, decided to urge a new treatment. It paid for detailed plans and scholarship concerning every historic feature of the building, and persuaded the municipality into a beautiful and practical restoration that turns the house into four flats. These — wait for it — will not be sold to tourists but offered to Venetian families on the waiting list for social housing. “ 

An extract from an article by Libby Purves

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