Towering Achievement

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An exhibition of architectural replicas and ancient artworks from Pisa cement UM’s commitment to preservation.

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Italian architects Gianluca De Felice and Alessandro Carmignani discuss a replica of the Cathedral at Pisa with Professor Antonio Nanni, right. Below, putting a finishing touch on the Tower.

A worker climbed scaffolding two stories above a small grassy area of UM’s Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center 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 showcase at the School of Architecture.

During February’s two-week exhibition Pisa AD 1064: The Square of Miracles, students and other visitors saw 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.

Opera architect Alessandro Carmignani made a 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, he first visited Cathedral Square’s “brilliantly stunning” collection of buildings when he was 7 years old and even then was duly impressed. Nanni, who leads a research center at the college that develops construction preservation techniques, says the biggest engineering challenge over time has been stabilizing the distinctly tilted tower.

Preservation efforts for other structures in the Pisa complex, he says, have involved recreating the materials used centuries ago to construct the buildings.

Denis Hector, associate dean of the School of Architecture, has made several trips to Pisa, and he wants UM students to learn about the important preservation work going on there and to join it. 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.”

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