It is a true privilege to live in the Eternal City. This becomes more significant when you dwell amongst the diverse and talented community of the American Academy in Rome (AAR), that gives the Fellows both the freedom and the unique opportunity to work, uninterrupted on a project. Returning to Rome with my husband, Agamemnon G. Pantel, after having lived there during 1984 when we studied together at the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), has provided important answers and experiences during this phase of my architectural conservation career. The 28 years that have passed since, as well as my professional experiences in the Caribbean region, where I practice, were in need of a re-assessment and renewal.  

The Roman Forum at night

Visiting on-going conservation projects was essential to my research as well as to re-document traditional Roman building technologies that form the basis of Spanish-influenced colonial structures in the Greater Antilles. It was also important to visit all types of Italian intervention procedures into historic fabric, specifically masonry structures, since Italians are known experts in this field. Masonry buildings make-up most of the patrimony that has survived through time in the Spanish Caribbean region, main subject of my project. I have already anticipated that these site experiences would enrich the historic preservation and conservation knowledge which forms the essence of my professional practice.

During project visits, I met Italian professionals (mostly architects, engineers and archaeologists) who were either responsible for, or the consultants to, the architectural conservation projects. They were experts in the building technologies I was interested to, or were professors teaching topics I wanted to investigate. So, the focus of my research expanded and evolved to include themes which are of utmost relevance for the protection and conservation of cultural sites and structures. These themes were not unknown to me, yet have become more important as I realized their significance within a successful architectural conservation project.  

In a unique city like Rome, which I found somehow different (more exuberant and beautiful), but yet the same (still full of secrets), the initial experiences provided a format for subsequent work. It became essential to find time for visits and meetings on specific project sites; to attend professional seminars and conferences, university presentations and talks; and to document the historic fabric. As in all research, gathering printed and digital technical data was also of great importance and involved visiting specialized libraries in Rome, as well as purchasing technical publications throughout Italy, or from the authors themselves. Herein is presented a brief summary of my research while at the Academy.

Conservation and Restoration 

Building Material Compatibility

In order to guarantee the success of an architectural conservation procedure are necessary a thorough knowledge and understanding of the properties characterizing the raw materials and the building techniques of a specific structure. If design and technical compatibilities are achieved, the proposed conservation project will be successful from an economic, technological, aesthetic and theoretical point of view.

Roman Engineering Precedents

It was important to visit sites within Italy which maintained an ample stock of its historic fabric. Italian professionals have been effectively dating interventions through time, by utilizing bricks or tiles with the date of the work, or by changing the color, texture or through the indented placement of intervention patches. This process effectively identifies the evolution of conservation means and methods and facilitates the identification of compatible interventions.

Traditional Roman building technologies at Ostia Antica, Pompeii, and Acqua Felice

Traditional Roman building technologies at Ostia Antica, Pompeii, and Acqua Felice

Traditional Roman building technologies at Ostia Antica, Pompeii, and Acqua Felice

Sites visited included Via Appia, Ostia Antica, Mausoleo di Sant’Elena, Parco degli Acquedotti, Circo di Massenzio, Mercati di Traiano, and the Terme di Diocleziano in or around Rome, as well as settlements outside the capital city like Pompeii, Ercolano, Baiae and Pozzuoli.

Colonnato di San Pietro

We visited the Cleaning Project for the Colonnade of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with representatives of the Fratelli Navarra restoration team and Dott. Guy Devreux, director of the Marble Restoration Lab of the Vatican Museums as to observe their innovative procedures.

Mattatoio di Testaccio and the Palazzo Altemps 

These successful rehabilitation projects transformed Roman sites into art galleries. The first project included the industrial compound of the slaughterhouses in Testaccio. The second project transformed, restored and rehabilitated a Renaissance palazzo utilizing innovative techniques to enlarge smaller spaces. 

Palazzo Altemps

Investigations of surface finishes on an historic wall


Cement and reinforced concrete are among the recent building technologies that I investigated, since structures mostly built from the 1910s to the 1950s presently require preservation world-wide. This is true in Puerto Rico, and was the reason to visit and document modernist buildings by important Italian designers such as Pier Luigi Nervi, Enrico Del Debbio, Luigi Moretti, and Riccardo Morandi who took concrete technologies to new heights. Other important buildings visited were the Foro Italico, the Vatican’s Audience Hall, the Esposizione Universale a Roma (EUR), and Moretti’s GIL building. In particular I looked at structures built utilizing modified reinforced concrete technologies, mostly used during the Second World War when steel was scarce or unavailable.  

Present state of the Palazzo delle Armi at the Foro Italico

Crucial to the conservation of reinforced concrete was Engineer Marzia Marandola. Her knowledge of early Italian concrete structures, published references, and coordinated site visits were important and included the Foro Olimpico and the Mausoleo delle Fosse Ardeatine.  

I photo-documented the present state of these structures or how they have survived through time, but contemporary repairs or conservation work were hard to ascertain since most structures are clad in travertine stone, since reinforced concrete was not meant to be exposed then. 

Covers or Shelters for Historic Ruins and Sites

All historic sites require some type of contemporary physical cover or shelter wether it be short or long term, therefore it was important to address this topic. It has been our experience that most of these structures are not given much thought and oftentimes become an un-wanted permanent fixture. We had the opportunity to visit successful, as well as not so successful projects for shelters at Italian sites. 

Ercolano in Napoli and Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina in Sicilia

In the company of Conservation Architect Gionata Rizzi, we had a private tour of Ercolano, where he also shared with us his successful designs of shelters for important sites in Sicilia, such as Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, Maison de la Nouvelle Chasse in Bulla Regia, Tunisia, and Copán in Honduras. 

Documenting contemporary architectural shelters to archaeological ruins at Ercolano with Conservation Architect Gionata Rizzi

Ara Pacis in Rome

I also studied Architect Richard Meier’s design for the reinforced concrete and travertine contemporary shelter for the Ara Pacis, or Altar of the Peace, which has been the subject of constant debate and controversy. 

Earthquake Protection and Repair

Since the Caribbean region is also an active seismic zone, it was important to visit projects to shore-up, repair and reconstruct historic buildings after an earthquake. Two major Italian earthquakes were of particular interest, that which occurred in 1997 in the region of Umbria and the one of 2009 at L’Aquila.

Basilica di San Franceso d’Assisi

During 1997 a major earthquake severely affected central Italy. The collapse of three major segments of the original roof of the 12th century Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi was of world-wide concern. The original over-roof was rebuilt in reinforced concrete to suspend from it the historic frescoed masonry vaults. Prof. Sergio Fusetti, chief Art Conservator of the Basilica, led us on a site visit within the hanging scaffold between the two roofs to see the reconstruction, impressive structural retrofit, and conservation work.

Mercati di Traiano and Terme di Diocleziano

We visited also The Mercati di Traiano and the Aula Ottagona of the Terme di Diocleziano in Rome to witness the structural retrofit realized for earthquake protection and to see strapping methods and movement monitors.


We visited the town of L’Aquila as a study case for earthquake stabilization and reconstruction. In 2009, a major earthquake damaged this town’s complete building stock. Since then, every structure within the centro historico has been shored, strapped and/or pinned. We were led by Prof. and Arch. Claudio Varagnoli from the Architecture School of the Università "Gabriele d'Annunzio" di Chieti e Pescara, who has utilized the town as a study case for his students and who is participating in some of the conservation projects.

One of the many examples of structural conservation measures to extreme earthquake damaged buildings in L’Aquila

Rehabilitation and Interpretation - New Uses and how the sites are explained to the public

Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini in Rome

This site includes the archaeological ruins of two patrician houses near the Roman Forum. During the guided tour, the original Roman dwellings are brought back to life in 3D digital format and include the graphic reconstruction of all original surface decorations of the ceilings, walls and pavements.   

Tempio di Apollo in Veiio

In this contemporary volumetric reconstruction of a corner of the Temple of Apollo at the Etruscan site of Veiio, iron reinforcement bars and metal plates were welded together to provide the necessary interpretation regarding the shape, volume, and decoration of the original stone structure without being literal.

Contemporary architectural interpretation of temple ruins at Veiio

Museo Archeologico Virtuale (MAV) in Ercolano

An interactive digital journey takes you to the sites of ancient Roman cities along the bay of Napoli through 3D reconstructions of their original architecture and urban layout.


In close proximity to the town’s main plaza, a large number of free standing color panels explain, with the use of photography and drawings, the effects and damage of the 2009 earthquake that destroyed L’Aquila.

Saving Cultural Heritage in Crisis Areas

This topic, which affects us globally, was the subject of an international conference which took place at the American Academy in Rome during the Fall of 2011. Guest speakers and participants included representatives from the military, academia, government and non-government organizations.

Disaster prevention and model programs to protect cultural heritage in case of natural disasters formed part of this seminar and included earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Looting archaeological sites, site flooding for the construction of a dam, illegal traffic of art, and war stood out among the man-made crisis. As moderator of the session Negotiating the Course from Conflict to Conservation:  Iraq, Libya, and Albania, I had the opportunity to meet the lecturers and talk to them about their specific views and the solutions presented. 

Existing Conditions Diagnosis, Scientific Analysis of Building Materials and Code Compliance

Our interests in teaching Architectural Conservation Laboratory courses took us to the Politecnico di Milano University where we met Architect and Honorary Professor Luigia Binda and Assistant Professors Giuliana Cardani and Cristina Tedeschi. Through the Dipartimento di Ingegneria Strutturale’s outstanding analytical scientific labs, these professionals have been put at the forefront of building diagnosis and technical testing in Italy. We lectured to a group of doctoral students on our work in Puerto Rico knowing that we carry out the same technical processes and speak ‘the same language' as these professionals.  

Visit to the teaching laboratories at the Dipartimento di Ingegneria Strutturale at the Politecnico di Milano.

We went to the conservation and rehabilitation project of the former Benedictine Monastery San Paolo D'Argon outside Bergamo to observe existing conditions and structural diagnosis and retrofit at work.  

Other scientific laboratories visited

We visited the Laboratorio Restauro Marmi e Calchi, at the Musei Vaticani in the company of Dott. Guy Devreux to see their on-going marble and stone restoration projects.

Italian Studies in Architectural Conservation

As Lecturer and Director of the Architectural Conservation Laboratory at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico’s School of Architecture, I was interested in visiting and meeting key professionals who would shed light on methods and topics utilized in teaching Architectural Conservation in Italy. For this reason I visited three Italian Schools of Architecture and the Dipartimento di Ingegneria Strutturale at the Politecnico di Milano to see their Architectural Conservation Lab projects.

At the School of Architecture I met the following architects and professionals:

 At La Sapienza - Universitá di Roma, Dipartimento di Storia, Disegno e Restauro dell’Architettura I met with Donatella Fiorani to discuss their master’s specialized courses. I also met Prof. and Arch. Giovanni Carbonara who directs the graduate program.

I met Maria Margarita Segarra at the School of Architecture of Roma Tre - Universitá degli Studi.  I had the opportunity to visit her classes and site projects. 

I met Claudio Varagnoli who teaches at the Architecture School of the Università "Gabriele d'Annunzio" di Chieti e Pescara. There, we lectured about our work and conservation in the Caribbean to 4th year Architecture students, and were given important publications by their School. 

Rome under snow, February 2012

The Italian cities and projects visited, provided a fresh look at everyday historic preservation matters. If nothing more, the AAR fellowship has provided the opportunity to re-visit and the time to re-affirm the professional concepts we are pursuing in our projects and teaching work.  These unique re-encounters with a varied form of my initial questions will undoubtedly enrich and refresh my future work in the Spanish Caribbean. 

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