Hortus Conclusus. The Humane City. Midnight Blue. Dream of Venice Architecture depicts Venice as the city built along concentric circles. A novel yet ancient concept and in our opinion, so revealing about the layers and fabric of the floating town, stretching from private to public and beyond into the Lagoon.
Soul gardening, Venetian style. Our private gardens, the horti conclusi, mean home to us. As you may have seen in our blog posts so far, Venice consists of a myriad of garden sanctuaries, oases of calm, shade and privacy. These gardens are invisible to visitors but so dear and important to Venetians. Dream of Venice Architecture explains the characteristics of our private spaces (gardens as the innermost concentric circles) and how they communicate with public ones. You can sense this approach in the video below by film director Riccardo De Cal who took the pictures for this Book.
“Venetians built for necessity – their own survival – in a difficult Lagoon environment, and for beauty only in a second time. As inventive merchants, they brought back from the Levant colorful visions and ideas which they enacted in and adapted to the specific environment of Venice. Dream of Venice Architecture explains why our town looks like a fairy tale and how architecture reflects her history as merchant and trading power.”
Venice is a humane city, built to suit the needs of her inhabitants. With texts and captivating pictures in all shades of Midnight Blue, the book reveals surprising insights into the art of building on unstable ground.
Building in a liquid environment meant taking care of details which architects on terra firma would never have thought about. For example, the particular structure of Venetian buildings must be able to absorb the reflections of water in order not to disturb their inhabitants !! I know of no other book mentioning this interesting fact.
Of course we were curious about the Editor’s and Photographer’s own experience with Venice. How they came to love this city and why they feel so attracted to her. What a perfect day in town looks like for them, what they love to eat and which is their favorite season to spend time in Venice.
What makes people want to come back to Venice as often as they can?
JoAnn: I believe Venice is a difficult place to know. Physically, it is a labyrinth of narrow calli and distorted perspectives. Venice is a small, urban, dense environment that constantly confuses. She is antithetical to our conscious understanding of how a city should logically behave. If you are a romantic, Venice contains layers of poetry, which take a lifetime to decipher. And so insatiable for clarity, we return. We hope for recognition. But we settle for sustained reflection.
Riccardo: Perhaps it’s her special role of a city suspended in time. A place that like no other will rouse romantic visions in any visitor.
Why can Venice become such a constant in our lives?
JoAnn: My sense from reading literature that spans several centuries, from speaking with smitten visitors and from own personal experience is that Venice has the capacity to creep into our DNA. It is a cellular level beyond the rational. So, if the city has permeated that layer she becomes an intimate appendage of our being. To the more cerebral, Venice simply defies logic.
Riccardo: I think it’s the morbid fascination Venice exercises as an enigmatic city, a fact that every visitor will perceive on an unconscious and sublime level.
Why did you choose to set your books (both Dream of Venice and Dream of Venice – Architecture) in winter?
JoAnn: Winter is the time when Venice can breathe. She is not besieged by cruise ships and smothered by tourists. In winter, the fog softens her angles, the shadows lengthen, and she is pretty much left up to her own devices.
Riccardo: Winter is the only season to take pictures of Venice without having to fight with tourists elbow against elbow. But then it’s also the Venice I love most, the one shrouded in fog, acqua alta and rain: A city that makes herself rare and in which the atmospherical elements intervene so strongly with one’s own sensations.
Venice is more authentic (also because she’s less crowded) in winter. As a student, I used to walk along the Zattere or to the Giudecca with el caìgo (thick fog), listen to the sirens of the boats reverberating in the fog. Unforgettable, so emotional moments.
Which is the part (sestiere, campo …) of Venice that makes you feel at home the most? (Our favorite question !!)
JoAnn: I never feel I’ve actually returned to Venice until I go to the Accademia Bridge and stand at the crown and gaze towards the domes of Santa Maria della Salute. If a point on a bridge can qualify as home, then this would be it.
Riccardo: Campo San Giacomo dall’Orio! There are children playing hide and seek and in the summer, they love bathing in the fountain. People rest on the wooden benches, it’s a campo populated by Venetians. The church dominates this campo which is one of the oldest in town, and its poor Franciscan church was loved by both Ruskin and D’Annunzio.
What makes Venice so humane as city and melting pot, in architecture and beyond?
JoAnn: Venice was built as an extension of the Lagoon. She is a city completely integrated with her landscape. As Massimiliano Fuksas writes in our book, “It is rare that landscape is used as the substantial element of a city, its GEOGRAPHY. But Venice is the exception.” Without cars or any land vehicles, there is a peaceful sound quality; footsteps are recognized, the ringing of bells mark time. Her elegant structures are not constricted by massive fortified walls. Venetians felt confident in their ability to protect themselves, and the city, though noble, also feels communal. In Venice, the rhythm feels organic. To paraphrase Peggy Guggenheim, even when you walk, you float. Neighbors know each other, family histories go back centuries. This collective memory adds to the humanity of the city because it is written in the stones.
Riccardo: Venice has always had a tradition of hospitality, despite her being rather tested today. She’s always exported culture, art and beauty.
What can „modern“ cities learn from Venice?
JoAnn: Salvatore Settis points out in his critical anthem IF VENICE DIES, that Venice was the “first global city of the modern world.” It was through diversity and tolerance that Venice built her strength. Cultural distinctions were integrated into the texture of the city, not excluded. Venice prospered because the idea of the “common good” was elevated beyond individual gain. In our book, TA Massociati reminds us that the “glory of La Serenissima” was a result of her collective efforts; the metaphor they use is prophetic—acting as if the entire city were “members of a crew.” Venice with her melange of influences and resplendent setting is unlike any other city on earth. But this remarkable treasure has also bred corruption, greed, mismanagement, and an administration negligent in their responsibility to protect and strengthen the city they were elected to serve. Venice is on the cusp of being included on the World Heritage Danger list. She is also fair warning that if you do not invest in your citizens, or your infrastructure, or housing, or a sustainable local economy, or ecology, and you allow despotic interests to reign — your modern city — just like Venice, may not survive.
Riccardo: Venice has the potential to teach modern cities, but also countries – Italy, in particular – the principle of preserving historically valid treasures: Why substitute, for example, an old wooden sign with a plastic one? An old lamppost of the 18th century with a “modern” ugly and short-lived one? Preserving objects of historical value should be guaranteed by law. In that manner, much of the historical heritage, lost to us forever , would have been salvaged.
What does your perfect day in Venice look like?
JoAnn: Any day in Venice filled with walking, art, delicious food, and friendship is a perfect day.
Riccardo: On a foggy morning, I love taking a walk along the Zattere or the Giardini, perhaps taking the vaporetto to the Lido to walk along the beach. It’s a treat I still enjoy even though I’m no longer a university student.
Which season would you choose to come?
JoAnn: I only come to Venice in the winter months, November being my favorite.
Riccardo: In the winter, I love November or January.
Which time of the day in Venice do you prefer?
JoAnn: I love dusk when the light turns blue and the temperature drops by several degrees. It is when Venice is the quintessential liminal space, when air, stone and water merge into one. A time of transition and anticipation. Maybe it is because of my fascination with mosaics but I’ve always been drawn to the interstices, the places in-between.
Riccardo: I love winter mornings, shrouded in fog.
Which is your favorite Venetian food?
JoAnn: This question is almost impossible to answer because there is so much Venetian cuisine I love. But if I absolutely had to choose one dish, it would be cape lunghe. Of course eaten with my fingers, as Victor Hazan taught me to do.
Riccardo: Baccalà mantecato and obviously fritole (frittelles) when they are in season.
… and what do you like for breakfast in Venice?·
JoAnn: Black coffee, made in a moka and lots of it! The studio that I rent is in Castello, four steps away from Pasticceria Chiusso. Need I say more?
Riccardo: I ate breakfast so many times in Venice, always in a hurry. Cornetti caldi (hot croissants) and coffee at pastry stores, Tonolo, Rosa Salva or in Rio Marin.
While we think that JoAnn’s first book is the most luminous book on Venice we’ve ever seen (just look at the turquoise lights on the cover page !!), we were struck by the hues of Gold and Midnight Blue used so often in Dream of Venice Architecture. You can see it in the picture above. It’s not just any combination but reflects the colors historians associate with many defining moments in Venetian history.
Thank you, JoAnn and Riccardo, for your beautiful gift dedicated once again to the Venetians !!
Find out more about Dream of Venice Architecture and where to buy it on the Website of Bella Figura Publications. We would like to thank JoAnn and Riccardo for the interview and for sharing with us the pictures for this blog post !