Travelogue: Wonders of Natural Stone in Verona

Faithful readers, you will recall in June, at the conclusion of my Chicago travelogue, I had hoped my next travelogue would come from Verona, Italy in the autumn.  Well, I ended up waiting until my return to write it, but indeed, this post will chronicle my Veronese stone experience.

With much anticipation, and great appreciation, I was able to attend this year’s Marmomacc Natural Stone Academy, Designing with Natural Stone, courtesy of AEC Daily, who made my trip possible.  I had high expectations for the program and, thanks to AEC Daily, Veronafiere, Marmomacc, Vince Marazita, and Sebastiano Brancoli, my expectations were not only met, but exceeded.  I was hardly a stone neophyte before attending the program, as I have been working with natural stone for most of my three-plus-decade architectural career.  I had also been to quarries, fabrication plants, showrooms, and warehouses throughout the United States and several in Europe.  However, the ability to see so much, concentrated into an entire week, was what made this experience so special.

On Monday, a tour of Verona and its many centuries of stonework, followed by the welcome dinner, gave us all an opportunity to forge significant bonds with our fellow classmates, instructors, and sponsors from around the world.  The class included architects and designers from the US, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, the UK, and India.  Similarly, the instructors, lecturers, and tour guides brought knowledge from the US, Italy, Ireland, England, Canada, Portugal, and Scandinavia, and our sponsors were literally from around the world of natural stone.  We formed bonds I expect will last a lifetime.

Renaissance period building in the palazzo style.

Renaissance palazzo (palace) in Verona, Italy.

Tuesday morning, we jumped right in with a visit to a Botticino quarry on the outskirts of Brescia.  I always marvel at quarry visits.  It is great to see the different ways each quarry operates, using a combination of ageless techniques, the most modern machinery, and various degrees of manpower.  I was also pleased to learn about current reclamation requirements and plans.

Next up was a gang saw slab-cutting facility, followed by a cut-to-size operation.  Between the two was the first of many scrumptious buffet lunches and dinners.  [I could write a treatise on how well we were wined and dined, but I will try to stick to stone from here on out.]  From quarrying blocks, to cutting slabs, and creating cut-to-size pieces in just a day, the sequence of tours gave us all a very clear picture of the complete fabrication process.

The next day brought us to another slab processing facility with an outstanding array of stone materials and the most up-to-date assortment of technology and machinery.  The inner-geek in me was clearly on display as I photographed every piece of machinery along the way.  Following lectures and lunch, we transferred to another cut-to-size facility and their new design showroom.  This was our first taste of how much the Italian stone industry has upped their level of marketing and presentation to better compete in the expanding global market.  [At many producers’ facilities, the showrooms, installations, warehouses and even landscaped grounds have all changed radically – for the better – since my last stone trip in 2010.]

Technology from right to left

A sampling of the latest technology on display at Marmomacc Natural Stone Academy. Starting at the top, from left to right: A CNC machine control station, two 5-axis CNC blades on one bridge, & a water jet CNC cutting head.

Thursday was our first visit to the Veronafiere grounds.  A morning of lecturers was followed by a tour and free time within Abitare il Tempo, a fair within a fair that was devoted to Italian design and fabrication.  It included exhibits on fabric, furniture, lighting, stone design, and many other disciplines.  Perhaps the most interesting part of this exhibit was the accompanying lecture, which focused on the design, prototyping and production capabilities of clusters of smaller-scale manufactures in various regions of Italy.  Their collaboration can often meet faster production schedules and smaller minimums than larger worldwide manufacturers.  Following Abitare il Tempo, we transferred to Antolini, a major producer and exporter of slabs.  We were treated to a sneak preview of their brand new stone exposition pavilion – another amazing display of Italian design and presentation – that was opening later that evening with a party for their 500 closest friends and clients.  The new space and stone slabs therein were yet another of several kid-in-a-candy-store experiences I had during the week.  We also toured their other showrooms and displays, and saw new surface treatments and advances in composite slabs of precious and semiprecious stone materials.

A granite block yard at the Antolini headquarters

A granite block yard at the Antolini headquarters.

Friday was dedicated to an entire day at Veronafiere and its Marmomacc International Trade Fair.  After another morning of lectures and lunch, our esteemed professore, Vince Marazita, led us through the pavilions and grounds, introducing us to various sponsors and imparting upon us even more of his vast knowledge about the global stone industry.  Following Vince’s tour we had free time to explore the fair on our own.  I used the opportunity to visit the displays of Margraf, Henraux, and Levantina, fabricators we worked with on Bass Hall, Severance Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Afterwards, I simply wandered to whichever display caught my eye, one after another, after another.  I found one display particularly apropos of the trip.  Out front was a six-foot-plus butterfly-style corkscrew carved from solid Carrera marble, truly symbolic of the week of stone and wine. The day ended back within Verona’s Roman walls with a reception, and our ceremonial graduation dinner, which offered a final opportunity to cement (pun sort of intended) new relationships with my classmates, professori, and sponsors.


Butteryfly corkscrew made of Carerra marble.


A planned free day on Saturday saw me back at Marmomacc for a few hours soaking up one last fix on stone and related machinery and, then, further exploration of the streets and piazza of Verona.  That evening I treated Professore Vince to dinner at Il Desco, a not-to-be-missed adventure in Italian gastronomy.  Molto bene!  So much for only writing about stone.  Thanks to an Air France pilots’ strike, I had yet another, albeit unplanned, free day on Sunday.  A quick train ride took me to Padova (Padua) to explore more palazzi, piazze, museo, piatti et vino.

Throughout the week, the program mixed lectures on a wide variety of related topics with the various trips and exhibits.  Topics ranged from sourcing and specifying stone, to new production capabilities, to design ideas, to installation detailing, to maintenance, to sustainability.  One of my favorite presentations was delivered by Italian architect Alberto Salvadori on “The Strange Case of the Stone that Floats.”  Architetto Salvadori fearlessly presented in his non-native English, a most poetic talk with references to one of my favorite authors, Italo Calvino.  Vince and his team put together an invaluable program of interest and utility to any architect or designer.   I can wholeheartedly recommend next year’s program to anyone with an interest in natural stone and/or all things Italian.

This travelogue was submitted by DMSAS Principal Craig Williams.

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