Selected topics in history of building techniques and materials

Objectives and competences

The course provides a fundamental knowledge for the understanding of the historic building culture, which is indispensable reference point for the understanding of architectural conservation practice.
In addition the course will provide basic knowledge in physical, mechanical and technical properties of the building and ornamental materials (stones and lithoids) according to the mineral, petrographic and chemical characteristics.


Acquaintance in the methodologies of historic research, sound knowledge of history of architecture, basic culture of building construction, fundamentals of chemistry and lithology and observational skills (drawing) might be requested for the on-site visits.


  1. Introductory notes on the research methodology
    • In situ observation;
    • Investigation of the building rationale (acknowledgment of historic techniques, materials, manufacturing processes with the support of historic treatises and building site notes);
    • Assessment of the technical, technological and material consistency of the historic building;
    • Assessment of the wider urban and environmental context;

  2. Historic building techniques and materials
    • Analysis and assessment of the building components (structural principles and layout, masonry techniques and materials);
    • Techniques and materials of building elements (foundations, walls, arches, vaults, etc.);
    • Techniques and materials of timber carpentry (beams, ceilings, etc.);
    • Methods and materials of traditional flooring (terrazzo, etc.);
    • Plasters and plastering techniques;
    • Technical systems (sewer systems, cisterns, wells, flues and chimneys);

  3. Building site process
    • Peculiarities of site and soil;
    • Building materials and labour supply and manufacturing process;
    • Dynamics between building process and building projects;
    • know-how transfer and its evolution into a closed body of “building knowledge” (historic architectural treatises, etc.)

  4. Assessment of the architectural language
    • Recurring elements, evolutions and interruptions
    • Comparison of building data and functional organisation of the building with the context’s spatial, environmental and visual requirements

In view of the complexity and vulnerability of its built and natural environment, the course will have Venice and its lagoon as main working context. Additional comparative learning experiences on the course topics will be gained through conference participations and key note/guest lectures.

  1. Applied petrography and conservation insights
    • history of quarrying, use and geological-petrographical insights of some frequently used building stones (Vicenza calcareous rocks, Verona calcareous rocks, Venice trachyte, Alps sandstone, Freising rocks, Istrian rocks);
    • stone deterioration causes (stone’s and brick’s physical and chemical deterioration, micro-macro morphology of deterioration, conservation insights);
    • the scientific characterization of binders: raw materials and manufacturing technology of gypsum, lime and cement;
    • clays, properties and products: ancient technologies for manufacture of pottery, bricks and architectural terracotta;

During the course the students will visit the laboratory for ancient material analysis and get acquainted with some basic analytical techniques for the physical characterisation of stone - lithoid materials.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will gain sound understanding of the historic and traditional building techniques and materials which is fundamental for the advanced research in the field of built heritage conservation.


  • Howard D., The Architectural History of Venice, Batsford, London, 1980. E-version
  • Gianighian G., Les citernes à Venise depuis le Moyen Âge : une solution d’hier pour demain ?. In Christèle Ballut. Patrick Fournier (edited by) “Au fil de l’eau. Ressources, risques et gestion du Néolithique à nos jours”, Clermont-Ferrand, 2013, pp. 93-109.
  • Gianighian G., Appunti per una storiaa del cantiere a Venezia (sec. XVI-XVIII), in Caniato G., dal Borgo M., Le arti edili a Venezia, Roma 1990, pag. 249.
  • Lazzarini L., Pieper R. (edited by), The Deterioration and conservation of stone : notes from the International Venetian Courses on Stone Restoration , Venice, Italy : UNESCO, 1988
  • Lazzarini L. (edited by), Pietre e Marmi Antichi, CEDAM, , Raccomandazioni UNI-NORMAL, Padova 2004
  • Trincanato E. R., A guide to Venetian domestic architecture, Canal Book, Venice, 1980. E-version

You will receive additional material during the lectures.


Based on assignments and open discussion/presentation of work. 50/50

Lecturer's references

Giorgio Gianighia got his degree in Architecture at Università Iuav di Venezia in 1970, becoming professional architect and assistant professor on 1973, researcher in 1981 and full professor in “Architectural Restoration” in 2007. At Iuav he also held the position of pro-rector for international relations. His teaching topic is Monumental and Urban Conservation, Architectural restoration, taking relevant international case studies also from the UNESCO WH List.
Giorgio Gianighian is member of the Academic Council and Professor at Venice International University in San Servolo, Visiting professor since 1981 in several international universities in Canada, UK, Scotland, Japan, Israel, France, Colombia, Bulgaria, Germany, USA, Nepal, India, Argentina, Cina, Messico. He became Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (since 1997).
He has been also Overseas Visiting Scholar at St. John’s College in Cambridge (2013). In his professional career he has been consultant on heritage preservation for Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Bosnia Herzegovina, UNESCO WHC in Nepal, Armenia, Moldova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Thailand, EU Commission in Turkey (2004), the Council of Europe in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kossovo, FYROM, Montenegra, Romania and Serbia (2004-2007), the Italian ministry of Foreign Affairs in China (2007)

Lorenzo Lazzarini is full Professor of Applied Petrography at the Università Iuav, and Director of the Laboratorio di Analisi dei Materiali Antichi (L.A.M.A.) –Laboratory for the Analysis of the Antique Materials, of the same University. He has numerous years of experience in the study of ancient building materials, the deterioration and conservation of stone, and the characterization and provenance studies of marbles and ceramics. More information can be obtained from the L.A.M.A. website at :