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A life for Venice - Jane da Mosto

6 min read

Double love: Born in South Africa in 1966 and educated in London, the environmental scientist Jane Press moved to Venice in 1995 after marrying Count Francesco da Mosto.

[Translate to englisch:] Jane Da Mosto

However, she had been in love with the city long before as her mother owned a house there. Contessa Jane da Mosto is an internationally experienced consultant for sustainable development, climate change and wetland biology. Since 2012, the co-founder of ‘We are here Venice’ (weareherevenice.org) – an NGO funded exclusively by donations – has been firmly committed to the future of the city. She has also worked for many years on a project supported by ‘Venice in Peril’. Since 1995, she has participated in or been responsible for numerous projects, such as local NGOs, the Agenda 21 for the City of Venice, the OECD Territorial Review and the British Council’s installation at the Biennale of Architecture. Jane da Mosto is the co-author of the 2005 book ‘The Science of Saving Venice’, which deals with the perils to which Venice and the Lagoon are exposed. Her most recently published book ‘Acqua in Piazza’ (2016) explains how the different water levels in Venice come about, what the causes of flooding are, and how people live and work in a place that is constantly being flooded.

Today she lives in the City of Water with her husband, who works as an architect and a TV presenter, and their four children in the family palazzo of the da Mostos. The da Mosto dynasty has lived in La Serenissima for more than 800 years. Its members were merchants and courtesans, adventurers and academics. Ca’ da Mosto, the oldest preserved palazzo on Canal Grande today, was owned by the family until 1603. Today, the da Mostos live in another palazzo, the Palazzo Baglioni, which features magnificent staircases and ancient frescoes. The family have access to a canal and, naturally, a boat of their own.

So far, this all sounds like a fairytale; however, Jane da Mosto is a very committed woman with her feet firmly on the ground. She works hard with her ‘We are here Venice’ team to understand what is threatening Venice and to find genuine solutions. She also gives lectures, often appears in the media and speaks about Venice at conferences and seminars worldwide. In 2017, her activism won her the ‘Osella d’Oro’ award from the Municipality of Venice, named after the golden coin the Doges of Venice used to give to the senators.

This was in honour of her continuous personal commitment to the cultural life of the city, the preservation of its social fabric, the lagoon and its unique urban landscape built on water.

Jane da Mosto describes the first years she spent in Venice as being like a “gentle, euphoric dream”. She was fascinated not only by churches and palaces, but also by trivial things such as the algae on buildings – and she is still fascinated by all of this today. She is also astonished by the family-owned palazzo, which, in contrast to many modern residential buildings, is still standing solid, robust and elegant even after more than 400 years. It features low rooms, which are easy to heat in winter, and high rooms, which are airy in summer. She praises the advantages of living in Venice: no traffic jams, short distances that take no more than 20 minutes, plus cultural opportunities and easy orientation. At the same time, she is very worried about the city. The presence of deep navigation channels for tankers and cruise ships is causing strong currents in the Lagoon that wash away vital sediments. Huge salt marsh areas are disappearing. And, needless to say, there are the negative effects of tourism and the dramatic decline in the local population. These are only some of the reasons for her commitment to save this fantastic city with its magnificent palazzi, beautiful canals and legendary flair. We interviewed Jane da Mosta about Venice, the treasure she is determined to save.

Part of the series:

Treasures [#7] or: What is precious to you?


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You live in an ancient palazzo. Can you tell us a little about its interior and the people who live there?

The building is 400 years old. My husband’s family have been living there for 100 years. A typical Venetian palazzo contains living quarters and offices for the patrician family, storage rooms, etc., as well as apartments for personnel and relatives. My father-in-law refuses to submit to the trend of providing tourist accommodation, which threatens the future of Venice as a living city.

Therefore, all the apartments are occupied by people who live and work in Venice. Sometimes, modern health and safety requirements collide with the architectural circumstances, which is why I don’t envy my husband, who is responsible for managing the daily affairs of this huge, ancient palazzo. It also seems that the historical monument protection authorities – who are stretched thin as it is – are sometimes a bit arbitrary in applying the relevant regulations.

You are committed to sustainability and protecting the environment. What do you believe are the criteria that need to be met by sustainable architecture?

 

Sustainable architecture should make the most of its environment, including the use of materials and energy. The best example is the house I grew up in, which Marco Zanuso built for my parents in South Africa. The farm is now owned by a workers’ cooperative, and the house is no longer taken care of. However, due to the clever use of stone and wood combined with an intelligent design, it is still functional and has a pleasant atmosphere.

What can the architects of today learn from the design of the Venetian palazzi?

The Venetian style of building is very specific to the environment. The beauty of this architecture results from a number of practical considerations, for example, how is it possible to achieve maximum lightness and robustness at the same time. Every building in Venice rests on a forest of wooden piles, which are anchored in the layer of solidified soil, which is known as ‘caranto’ (hard rock with a high calcium content below the softer sediments which the islands consist of). The foundations are invariably made of Istrian stone, a type of white marble that is relatively impermeable. The walls consist of bricks and decorative elements that cannot be too heavy so that the city doesn’t sink rapidly.

[Translate to englisch:] Lagunenstadt Venedig

Venice represents several centuries of art and architecture – what needs to be done to protect this treasure against destruction and possible ruin?

The hashtag #veniceforthevenetiansvenicefortheworld originates from a long afternoon spent with Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler in the early days of ‘We are here Venice’. Vivienne understood my growing conviction that Venice will only survive if it preserves its community. Every city must be taken care of by its inhabitants just as a home is looked after by the family. Venice is a microcosm of many global problems, which urgently need to be addressed worldwide. So, if we make use of Venice’s dimensions and the century-long symbiosis between man and nature – including the physical system of the Lagoon (both a lifeline and a threat) – to take a close-up, magnified look at things and to change them, the resulting experience can also be used to deal with other situations elsewhere. Or as Vivienne puts it: If we can’t save Venice, what will that mean for the rest of mankind?

The problems are being aggravated even more by the climate crisis. What can political powers and individuals do?

My father owned a large company and in front of the entrance to the headquarters, there was a commemorative plaque: “The success of a company is the result of its employees’ joint efforts to create values.” The same principle applies to planetary management. We have definitely reached the ‘Anthropocene’, which means that human activities are having more impact on the Earth’s systems than physical and natural processes, and therefore radical changes must take place on the political level to make human activities compatible with the Earth again. This means that every individual plays a significant role in generating sufficient pressure to effect changes. ‘We are here Venice’ is there to help people understand what is happening to Venice. Our work consists of creating an awareness of the perils threatening the future of the city and the stability of the lagoon, as well as suggesting possible solutions and taking specific actions.

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