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Chiesa di San Lorenzo

Ocean Space reintegrates the historic Church of San Lorenzo back into the cultural fabric of Venice, after two years of conservation and renewal and more than 100 years of being largely closed to the public. For many, the opening of Ocean Space is the first moment in living memory when it is possible to experience this magnificent and enigmatic architectural structure.

Internal view of the Church of San Lorenzo, Ocean Space, 2020. Photo: Marco Cappelletti
© TBA21–Academy

Fabled as the final resting ground for Marco Polo, the Church of San Lorenzo dates back to the ninth century. Recognisable by its rough, unfinished façade, the current structure was built in the late sixteenth century (1592–1602) according to designs by architect Simone Sorella. Inside, a three-bay screen and a rare and resplendent, two-sided altar—designed between 1617 and 1620 by Girolamo Campagna—bifurcate the massive interior volume.

Over the centuries, San Lorenzo was known as a centre for music, where celebrated seventeenth-century composer Antonio Vivaldi, who was born in Venice, performed and rehearsed. The church suffered damages during the Napoleonic War and, in 1810, was deconsecrated and all decorations except the main altar were removed. It closed to the public in 1865 and, in the early twentieth century, underwent a series of archaeological excavations, in search of the remains of Marco Polo.

San Lorenzo has been the site for temporary installations over the past few decades, most notably Renzo Piano’s architectural intervention for the presentation of Luigi Nono’s opera “Prometeo. Tragedia dell'ascolto”, as part of the international contemporary music festival at Biennale di Venezia in 1984, and a sound installation by artist Ariel Guzik for the 2013 Mexican Pavilion of the Biennale.

Since 2016, TBA21–Academy has been working to return the structure to the community for sustained active use. Key revitalisation work, overseen by restoration expert Gionata Rizzi together with engineer Franco Pianon, has included the major stabilisation and consolidation of the edifice, a complete replacement of the ceiling, and a back filling of the floor—in such a way as to protect the previous archaeological excavations.

In 2019, Ocean Space exhibited Joan Jonas’s "Moving Off the Land II" and has been closed for refurbishment since September of the same year. In 2020, after the second phase of revitalization, Ocean Space reopened its doors with the exhibition "Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation", giving new life to the Church of San Lorenzo.

Photo: Marco Cappelletti