Rebuilding a Stone Heritage
by Michael Cockram
"[ I worked with the mason]... until my fingers had the art to make stone love stone." — from "Tor House" by poet Robinson Jeffers
For the past two years, students from the United States have gathered in a small village in northern Italy to participate in an unusual experience — the preservation of a built environment that has changed little since medieval times.
In the foothills of the Alps just south of the Swiss border lies the narrow, ruggedly beautiful Ossola Valley. Subject to frequent invasions throughout its history, the valley had become a place for vigilance and defense. The buildings drew together in tightly structured villages and were made almost entirely of granite — the one plentiful building resource of the valley.
Although the local quarries still supply stone for construction worldwide, the rush to modernization has left traditional life styles and dwellings abandoned. Whole villages stand practically empty, in various stages of collapse.
The Field School
To help protect some of these remaining structures, faculty and students at the University of Oregon have established a historic preservation Italy Field School Program in the Ossola Valley village of Canova. The program was the brainchild of architecture research associate Tomoko Sekiguchi who is now its stateside coordinator. >>>
The village of Canova is the site of the Italy Field School Program, where American students learn ancient stone construction techniques.
Photo: Donald Peting
Section through a traditional stone house, with a cantina below grade, two living levels, and an insulating hayloft at the top.
Image: Charles Link
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.