Matthew Cook

Author: Jennifer Fulton

Matthew Cook is a 5th year architecture student and the recipient of two grants from the Nanovic Institute.  The first was a Senior Travel and Research Grant to travel to Vernazza, Italy last year over spring break.  When Matt wanted to continue his work in Vernazza, the institute awarded him another Senior Travel and Research Grant for a fall break trip.  Matt wrote to us about his most recent trip:

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I traveled to Italy over fall break to continue research I began this spring that will ultimately become the basis for my thesis design proposal.  My project will be a winery located in Vernazza, one of northwest Italy’s famous Cinque Terre.  Thanks to generous funding from Nanovic and CUSE, I was able to visit the site in March to begin assessing the damage to the town by a severe storm two years ago.  While I expected that most of my first trip would be devoted to documenting the site, I found that Vernazza has some very deeply rooted issues that existed long before the flood, and I spent much of my time on the ground trying to understand these complex problems.  Most of Vernazza’s issues are the direct result of unsustainable tourism in a small town that is not prepared for a vast volume of visitors (every year, two million people travel to Vernazza, a town of only a thousand residents).  I was able to meet with city officials and Save Vernazza, a non-profit responsible for the rebuilding effort in town, in order to more fully understand Vernazza’s problems.

With the main problem areas identified and the scope and goals of my thesis decided, I was able to focus my attention during my fall break trip on understanding wine making practices and the spaces in which wine is produced.  My trip began in Tuscany, where I spent time in several wineries producing at very different scales.  The winemakers at Fattoria Poggerino, a family run winery producing about 40,000 bottles a year, shared stories about their biodynamic practices; the staff at Villa Vignamaggio, producing about 500,000 bottles, opened up their cellar and bottling facility for my visit.  I learned a tremendous amount about wine making and the history of cultivation in Italy.

I also had the opportunity to spend time in Vernazza again, and much has been done to restore the town to its original beauty since my last trip.  The building effort has begun, and concrete trucks were beginning some of the first foundation pours while I was in town.  I met with Ruth Manfredi, the director of Save Vernazza, two days of the four I spent in town, and we were able to discuss my project and the evolution of the rebuilding effort over time.  She was in full support of the winery proposal and thought it would be a great way to bring more sensible and sustainable tourism to Vernazza. Ruth was able to supply me with many architectural drawings and surveyor’s documents of the town, which will prove extremely useful as I begin designing.

Though the trip was educational in many ways, it was the human element of my experience in Vernazza that made my visit truly stellar.  I returned to Vernazza not as a tourist but as a member of the community; I was greeted by old friends from past trips and really felt connected to the town.  Spending time on the ground in Vernazza reminded me that my project is not strictly academic – it has the potential to serve as an example of what Vernazza could become, affecting the lives of real people with whom I've become close over the course of this project.  My visit has inspired me to tackle my thesis with great attention and care, and with my research now complete, I feel prepared to proceed with my project so that I can ultimately do some good for a place that is very close to my heart.

Matt was recently award a prestigious Luce Scholarship.  To read more about Matt and this fantastic honor, please go to the School of Architecture's website.  Congratulations, Matt!