Heritage in the kiln: Renewal and sustainability through brickmaking

Author: Gráinne McEvoy

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Nathan Walz '24 inside the furnace at Fornace Bernasconi conducting research with 3D laser scanning equipment.

Have you ever considered the bricks in the walls that surround you, the walls of your home, your classroom or your office? Alumni of this University probably know the story behind the “Notre Dame Brick” that gives some of the oldest buildings on campus their distinctive buff-yellow hue. But beyond a handful of specific historical instances, how many of us have ever thought about where the bricks in our walls came from, the origin of their raw clay, the process by which they were molded or the kiln in which they were fired?

Research into traditional brickmaking in the central Italian region of Umbria by two University of Notre Dame School of Architecture students, Jack Harrington ‘23 and Nathan Walz ‘24, provokes such questions about our built environment, the structures we have inherited from the past, created ourselves, and those we will build in the future.

Supported by a summer research grant from the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, a unit within the Keough School of Global Affairs, Harrington and Walz traveled to the village of Castel Viscardo, near the city of Orvieto, in June to document the process of traditional brick making at Fornace Bernasconi, a historic kiln now in its second generation of production. Led by master brickmaker Luigi Bernasconi, the facility is renowned for its bricks, tiles and other terra cotta elements that have helped restore and preserve some of Italy’s most treasured structures including the Colosseum and the imperial building on the Palatine.

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