Fondazione Zegna-FAI: collaboration in the name of excellence


Love of Italy, quality, beauty and style. This is the common denominator shared by Fondazione Zegna and FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano since 2003. Their joint mission is to promote a culture of respect for nature, art, history and traditions in Italy and safeguard a heritage in which the identity of every Italian is rooted. Having produced the world’s biggest crocus garden (boasting 1.5 million flowers) at Villa Della Porta Bozzolo in Casalzugino (Varese), Fondazione Zegna funded the upgrading of the Viale delle Querce (oak avenue) in the same 18th century Varese villa and the creation of the Cloud Garden, a vast plantation of 6,600 Spireaea vanhouttei, a cascading shrub that produces spectacular white blooms in spring, in the park at Castello di Masino in Caravino (Turin). Lastly, on 11 November 2011, the collaboration between the two foundations led to the commissioning of a new version of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Third Paradise, a work of Land Art, in the clearing in the Bosco di San Francesco (St. Francis Wood) in Assisi, a new FAI property. On the second anniversary of the opening of St. Francis Wood to the public we asked FAI executive vice president Marco Magnifico to explain the shared values underpinning the collaboration and its future development, which also envisages a “pilot project” to upgrade the Punta Mesco Area of Levanto (La Spezia).   How did collaboration between the FAI and Fondazione Zegna come about and what are its objectives? Between the two foundations there is friendship down through the generations, starting with the bonds formed between Ermenegildo Zegna’s sons, Aldo and Angelo, and the founders of the FAI, Giulia Maria Mozzoni Crespi and Renato Bazzoni, and continuing today between me and Anna Zegna, president of Fondazione Zegna. Their family have always shared with the FAI the same cultural and social attitude and they’re constantly engaged in striving for excellence. Which is a characteristic of the FAI and should also be a characteristic of our country.   Do the projects supported by the FAI and Fondazione Zegna have a common denominator? When we started working together at Villa della Porta Bozzolo, and then at Castello di Masino, we were motivated by our shared passion for rescuing gardens. In fact, when Anna writes to me, she calls me “Dear Crocus” and I reply “Dear Spirea”. But what has made our collaboration even closer has been the desire to create something special together. A natural choice for a family descending from a man like Ermenegildo Zegna whose projects were more than special. I was at Oasi Zegna just recently and once again appreciated the splendid “folly” of such an ambitious territorial upgrading project, which created jobs, between the two wars, for people otherwise threatened by famine. It was the “crazy” but extraordinary dream of a man who knew he would never actually see the result of what he was doing.   How did the St. Francis Wood project come into being? How important has it been for Assisi? Shortly after acquiring the Wood, I was watching Fabio Fazio’s “Che tempo che fa…”. His guest on the show, Michelangelo Pistoletto, was talking about his Third Paradise. At the time, we were looking for something that would make a walk along the path through the Wood unique and indispensable. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be extraordinary to produce a Third Paradise entirely of olive trees in the clearing? I called Anna Zegna and asked her to help me get in touch with Michelangelo Pistoletto, who immediately liked the idea. This particular collaboration was fortuitous but excellent and we quickly reached an agreement enabling us to launch the most special project we’d so far undertaken. In these two years, the Wood has become a major attraction for both families in Assisi, who like to spend Sundays there, and foreign tourists, who are enthusiastic about the cultural service offered to them.   How has the concept of landscape evolved over time? What role does it play in our lives today? The relationship between citizens and the landscape has improved a lot compared to ten years ago, when no one spoke about safeguarding the environment or reviving agriculture as a vital step towards protecting the landscape, issues now firmly on the agenda. This is confirmed by the success of the advertisements I do for Striscia la Notizia and the incredible results of the FAI’s national census, “Places of the heart”. How citizens’ relationship with the environment has evolved through history can also be seen in the Zegna family. After the enlightened and pioneering times of grandfather Gildo, followed by the economic boom in which conservation of the landscape wasn’t a priority, there is now full awareness of the importance of husbanding the environment and upgrading the territory, which is what led to the creation of Oasi Zegna in 1993.   Can this collaboration between foundations deal effectively with the emergencies facing our heritage of art and nature that government seems incapable of handling? The president of the FAI, Andrea Carandini, recently said something I liked a lot: the role once played by enlightened aristocrats whose task it was to manage the common good, most of which they owned, with farsightedness, is now provided by private groupings of intelligent, responsible and social minded people, like the FAI, who help the State safeguard Italy’s heritage of art and nature, but also family foundations like Fondazione Zegna. A new aristocracy no longer of blood or wealth but of ideas and civic sensibility. If our motives for acting are the same, then we will naturally get on and work well together.   What are the objectives of the Punta Mesco project? What are the next steps? The idea is to create a model of sustainable management for the terraced terrain typical of the area, once under vines and olives trees and then abandoned, that can be “exported” to other similar areas in the Cinque Terre National Park. Fondazione Zegna has come up with the biggest injection of funds so far, which shows it’s a project that’s not only reclaiming the landscape through agriculture (its original and ideal use) but is also becoming an important instrument of economic promotion of the territory, with social and civic benefits as well. The plan is to start work at the beginning of next summer following the signing of the Program Agreement scheduled for March 2014.   What about collaboration with Fondazione Zegna in the longer term? We’re thinking of creating a network of places in Italy where particularly panoramic and picturesque landscapes can be enjoyed, places like Punta Mesco, Castello di Masino or Oasi Zegna itself. The concept of “panorama” was very fashionable in the 19th century but largely forgotten today. Our aim is enable people to rediscover the experience of observing an extraordinary panorama, an intimate, spiritual and Leopardian experience. Discover the Fondazione Zegna – FAI projects © photo Andrea Angelucci

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