Towering Achievement

An exhibition of architectural replicas and ancient artworks cements UM’s commitment to preservation

A burly worker climbed scaffolding two stories above a small grassy area of UM’s Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center and gave a tug to make sure everything was sturdy. For more than a week, a team of Italian architects, engineers, designers, and technicians had been readying this near-life-size replica of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa’s top two tiers for its one-of-a-kind showcase at the School of Architecture.

Recognition System

Italian architects Gianluca De Felice and Alessandro Carmignani discuss a replica of the Cathedral at Pisa with Professor Antonio Nanni, right.

During February’s two week exhibition Pisa AD 1064: The Square of Miracles, students and other visitors saw firsthand the ongoing preservation efforts of the Opera della Primaziale Pisana, the Italian organization that maintains the architectural marvels of Pisa’s famed Cathedral Square. On view inside the Irvin Korach Gallery were other impressive works: highly detailed small-scale replicas of the entire Tower, the Baptistry, and the Cathedral, as well as priceless original sculptures from the Pisa campus, some of which had never been out of Italy.

Recognition System

Putting a finishing touch on the Tower.

Opera architect Alessandro Carmignani made a first scouting visit to UM last year and found the school, reminiscent of Pisa’s medieval Cathedral Square in some aspects, an ideal setting. Helping to realize the international project at UM were faculty from the School of Architecture and the College of Engineering, and Pisa’s sister city Coral Gables.

For Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering, Pisa AD 1064 was a taste of home. Born and raised about 100 miles away in Bologna, he first visited Cathedral Square’s “brilliantly stunning” collection of buildings when he was 7 years old and even then was duly impressed. “There was more freedom back then because you could walk up the bell tower, which is not allowed anymore,” says Nanni, who leads a research center at the college that develops construction preservation techniques. He says the biggest engineering challenge over time has been stabilizing the distinctly tilted Tower, noting that strategies such as placing weights at one end of the base, removing soil from beneath the structure, and installing underground drainage all have been employed. Preservation efforts for other structures in the Pisa complex, he says, have recently involved recreating the materials used centuries ago to construct the buildings.

First struck by these historic structures’ “radiant white marble,” Denis Hector, associate dean of the School of Architecture, has made several trips to the Pisa campus, in Italy’s Tuscany region. He wants UM students to learn about the important preservation work going on there and to join it. As such, efforts are under way to enable students in the school’s Semester in Rome program to take part in maintenance efforts in Pisa, which Hector calls a veritable “preservation laboratory.”