The Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia (St. Mary's Grand School of Mercy) is one of Venice's seven “Scuole Grandi”. These institutions were established during the Middle Ages and reached the peak of their power and popularity in the mid 16th century. Founded by wealthy merchants as lay institutions focused on religious devotion and solidarity, the “Scuole Grandi” (Grand Schools) played an important role in the social, political and religious fabric of the city. The revenue they accumulated (from legacies, donations and members' dues) was used to finance works of charity, like hospitals, houses for confraternity members, food handouts and other charitable actions that soon made these Schools an essential source of social welfare for the city's inhabitants.
Work began on the original Scuola Grande della Misericordia building in 1308. It had a soaring gothic structure and a majestic design that was decidedly too grandiose for the city and construction went ahead in fits and starts, before finally grinding to a halt. In around 1527, Doge Andrea Gritti handed the “Scuola Nuova” (New School) project over to a Florentine architect by the name of Jacopo Sansovino. Heavily influenced by Roman classicism, he redesigned the structure into an imposing quadrangular block. Its interiors were decorated with artworks worthy of a grand Venetian school, and included paintings and frescos by Veronese, Zanchi, Lazzarini, Pellegrini and Domenico Tintoretto, son of the famous master, Jacopo Tintoretto. From the early 19th century onwards the school had a rather chequered history. First it was used as a military barracks, then as a warehouse and finally as a state archive. From 1914 onwards it even became a sport and education centre for the Costantino Reyer gymnastics company who, despite the difficulties involved in reaching it, succeeded in turning the building into a temple of Venetian sport. This new vocation meant that the School became famous all over again, this time not only for its architecture, but also for its indomitable basketball team and the epic matches played in this truly unique setting. The Reyer gymnasium remained at the Scuola Grande until 1991 when the Municipality of Venice asked Giovanni Battista Fabbri to restore the building. This project was again not finished, but thanks to a new initiative, restoration, work on the building was finally completed in 2015. Entirely financed and supervised by the Scuola della Misericordia di Venezia SpA company - a subsidiary of Umana SpA - this project was designed by the architect, Alberto Torsello. iGuzzini worked closely together with Torsello to identify the most suitable industrial lighting products, which included designing special versions of the company's Cestello luminaire. As a result, the building's vast spaces have all been illuminated with DALI controlled LED devices. This kind of control system offers an advanced level of versatility in terms of spatial organisation, so the building's various areas can now be split up and used for different purposes. The architect had insisted on the need for a smart, adaptable lighting system and this was achieved by combining DALI technology and versatile Cestello luminaires. This floodlight consists of an aluminium body containing a series of LED lamps, each of which can be adjusted individually. In this project, different versions of the Cestello luminaire have been used, including a special pendant model and one installed on the wooden ceiling trusses that together create a sense of visual unity in the Grand School's vast space. A number of iPro spotlights have also been installed on the stairwell vault springers, recreated by the architect, and the banisters have been highlighted with Underscore light lines. Linealuce luminaires have been positioned on the large windows to produce a variable, coloured light. These windows are at the heart of the lighting design created by Architect Torsello, as they are particularly large and therefore welcome in a vast amount of natural light. Integrating this with artificial light was something that had to be carefully calculated, which is why the architect talked about his desire to "create a friendly lighting system that would not be too strong or invasive.”
Work was completed in 2015 thanks to a new restoration initiative designed by the architect, Alberto Torsello. This project was entirely financed and supervised by the Scuola della Misericordia di Venezia SpA company - a subsidiary of Umana SpA.
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