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Introducing our Newsletter

Welcome to our first email newsletter. For over 20 years NIAUSI has enriched the lives of Northwest design professionals through our fellowship programs, design charettes and community activities. Now, we are enlarging our presence both in Italy and in the Northwest. Through this quarterly newsletter we will be informing you of our new programs and local presentations, as well as updating you on the fellowship and residency programs.

We remain committed to providing an opportunity for mid-career professionals to pursue studies and research in Italy, and have expanded that program to offer both the traditional fellowship as well as shorter term residencies. Even better is that we have taken the first steps toward establishing an institute in Civita di Bagnoregio, a spectacular hilltown north of Rome. Our plan is for the institute to accommodate seminars, workshops, and study programs, thus allowing greater numbers of our colleagues to experience this unique hilltown environment.

With the generous help of NIAUSI founding members Professor Emeritus Astra Zarina and Tony Costa Heywood, we started implementing our plan last fall, when we sent our 2003 NIAUSI Fellow, M J Anderson, to Civita for two months to study the role of niches in public spaces.

At the same time, Cory Crocker, a Seattle architect, spent a one month residency furthering his research on sustainable communities. We also awarded a residency to Mary Ann Peters, a Seattle public artist, who used Civita this past April as a base to study Italian frescoes and their influence on space. Next spring our 2005 fellow, James Harrison, will be in Civita to study local masonry techniques and Betty Torrell, our 2005 Resident, will be in Civita to research the fireplace and its relationship to the concept of home.

We are developing the Civita Institute into a true resource for the design community - a place for the exchange of ideas and expertise, a place for reflection and renewal, a place for professional growth, and an opportunity for collaboration with colleagues abroad. We look forward to working with the design community as we embark on this new course.

Enjoy our first edition and let us know what you think.

Clark Pickett


Announcing This Year's Fellow and Resident

In the words of James Harrison and Betty Torrell, the NIAUSI Fellowship and Residency recipients of 2004 respectively, here are their proposed projects. Both projects will be conducted in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy in the Summer of 2005.

Wood sculpture by Harrison
shown as part of the exhibition 'Blurred' CoCA Seattle 2002

James Harrison
Indigenous Masonry Techniques: Stacking and Carving Space

I am an artist working in the arena between sculpture and architecture. As someone who is fascinated by construction techniques, I will be studying the masonry of Civita in order to expand my own vocabulary of making. I will study the tectonics of building in this unique place, so my agenda is to discover from the point of view of the maker, the mason. If it is at all possible I will build in Civita somewhere, but if that is not practical I will build a piece upon returning to the Northwest that is based upon my discoveries.

It is known that masons have 'rules of thumb' for laying brick and stone.  Many of these rules are handed down orally during the apprenticeship process. Aside from the transit, level, plumb bob, and string, there are numerous and perhaps countless techniques for laying up a wall.  I am interested in studying these local 'mechanics' of wall building.  I will use my time to study local wall types, construction techniques, mason's manuals, and other relevant material.  

I am ultimately interested in ways these techniques can be updated and transformed to work with the materials of the Northwest, namely wood and steel.  I will pay particular attention to methods used to create transtions, say the moment a wall becomes a squinch, or has to turn a corner, or span an opening.  It is in these moments when masonry tries to break free of flatness.

Contact James Harrison

Sketch of the Civita chair
Sketch of the
Civita chair

Betty R. Torrell
A Study of the Fireplace in Civita di Bagnoregio

"The stable central fire has always been the focal point of home. Ovid writes that the focus is the Latin word for hearth and that 'the hearth (focus) is so named from the flames, and because it fosters all things.' " -Anthony Lawlor, A Home for the Soul, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, 1997)

I am a practicing architect with an office that specializes in residential architecture and interior design. My interest in Italian architecture developed during my studies in Italy as part of the University of Washington’s foreign study program, Italian Hilltowns in Civita di Bagnoregio and the Architecture in Rome programs.

My proposal for the NIAUSI residency focuses on the hearth in Civita. As the domestication of fire has shaped our culture, the hearth has shaped our houses. From a simple and direct form as fire pit or campfire, the hearth evolved into a symbol of status or wealth with its original purpose relegated to the microwave oven, the cellar or the outbuilding. In Civita the hearth remains a viable and lively part of the contemporary culture of the home.

The purpose of the project is two-fold, a study of the hearth both as an idea and as an artifact. The physical documentation of the hearths of Civita di Bagnoregio is the basis for the study of the hearth as an artifact. The documentation of these hearths through measured drawings, photographs, the inventory of materials, and their use and context will play an important role in preserving a record of this unique built environment. The second purpose of the project is an attempt to understand the way in which the hearth, a tool to warm the house, cook food, and produce light became the center of the home, enlightening and enlivening the life in the house. The hearth in Civita plays an important role in domestic culture throughout the year, especially at holidays when food becomes the focus of the family’s activites and traditions. This knowledge will be a valuable tool in the design of rich and meaningful contemporary residential architecture.


The Civita Institute

The Civita Institute: the Center for the Study of Italian Hilltowns, is a place for scholarly collaboration, reflection and retreat, located in the 2,600 year old Italian hilltown of Civita di Bagnoregio. The institute manages an extensive archive of documentation on Rome, Italian hilltowns, and on Civita di Bagnoregio in particular.

The institute disseminates pertinent material on Italy and Italian hilltowns amassed over three decades of research. The international institute sponsors individual fellowships for architects, academics and artists, hosts scholarly conferences, and shares its ample archives with researchers.

The mission of the Civita Institute is to inspire and foster an interdisciplinary understanding of the unique qualities of Italian hilltowns that remain pertinent to our contemporary experience, through the promotion of historical preservation, scholarly research, artistic creation, and professional exploration.

Civita Institute logo design
Civita Institute
logo design

Our plan is to establish a base in Italy that will serve for fellowships and residencies, a point of contact for collaboration with foreign colleagues, and a setting for small conferences and urban related studies.

The Civita Institute will be housed in the properties of Astra Zarina and Tony Costa Heywood in the town of Civita di Bagnoregio near Orvieto. Astra’s library, research, teaching materials, copies of selected student projects and the archives from over thirty years teaching in Rome and Civita will be organized for use. We are sure that this spectacular place will continue to inspire thought and discovery.

Updates on the development of the center will be announced here in future editions.


Spotlight: M J Anderson, NIAUSI Fellow of 2003

A studio artist for over twenty years, M J Anderson carves marble and travertine as fine art sculptures and for public commissions, working both in her studio on the Oregon coast as well as her studio in the village of Torano, in the hills above Carrara, Italy.

As the NIAUSI Fellow of last year, M J Anderson researched the placement of the architectural niche as it provides intimate emotional content to the fabric of village life. The unique aspect of the niche, largely left out of American architecture and modern buildings, is a neighborhood cultural icon that truly incorporates the human spirit into the architectural texture of a place.

“My long term project in regard to the niche is to reintroduce this architectural form into future "percent for art" building projects in the Northwest and to develop my work in such a way as to be in tune with the spacial context and intimacy of expression that is possible in this form of public artwork.”

Stone sculpture above fountain by Anderson
Stone sculpture
above fountain
by Anderson

Her research on the fellowship has already influenced her sculptural work, which has always been a blend of contemporary sensibilities within the context of antiquity. Currently she is at work on a commission for the Church of the Resurrection in Solon, Ohio. This piece will be one of the first religious depictions of the three Marys.

Join us November 18th for a presentation by Anderson of her fellowship research and current work.

Visit her website for more examples of Anderson's artful stone carving.


Civita di Bagnoregio: Una città da salvare

Contrary to the familiar epitaph for Civita often quoted in tourist books of "a city that is dying," is a new motto: a city that survives!

In 1990 ENEA, the former Italian nuclear energy commission, made a geological study of the slopes below the bluffs of Civita. Numerous probes were installed to measure any shifting of earth and these readings have been continuously monitored. In 1997 the civil protection ministry funded a $600.000 experimental project.

Two deep concrete lined pits were constructed inside the endangered bluff. Using micro pile technology, reinforced concrete tie-backs were installed anchoring the unstable mass to the solid material under Civita.

Drilling at Civita to shore up walls
Drilling at Civita
to shore up walls

This selected course of action had the following restrictions: to safeguard the stability of the walls adjacent the intervention; to maintain the appearance of the landscape as tribute to the artistic and historical value of the town, and lastly, to extend the benefits of the procedure to the "Canon Grande" area.

This restoration project is on budget, addresses imminent concerns, and anticipates future needs.


Event: Public Presentation on November 18th

Please join us for an evening of short presentations by last year's fellow and residents. Featured will be slide shows and descriptions of the work they completed while in Civita di Bagnoregio. M J Anderson will share the results of her research and current sculptural commissions. Cory Crocker will present his study of the sustainability of Italian hilltowns. Maryann Peters will elaborate on her interest in how imagery influences spaces, including the fresco traditions of Italy.

The event will be on Thursday, November 18th beginning at 6:00pm, at the headquarters of NBBJ Architects in Pioneer Square. Refreshments will be served and there will be a cash bar with proceeds going to NIAUSI. As a NIAUSI Newsletter subscriber you will receive an email with more details later. We look forward to seeing you.

NBBJ is located at 111 S Jackson Street (Pioneer Square), Seattle.



Call for Equipment Donations
NIAUSI's first goal for the Civita Institute is to develop an electronic library by digitizing the extensive collection of images, maps, sketches and studies of Italian hilltowns, and particularly of Civita di Bagnoregio. We need specific computer and photographic equipment to accomplish this task, such as computers, scanners, cameras, printers and related peripherals. If you have any suggestions or know of potential donors please contact us via email. Donations to our non-profit organization are tax-deductible.

Student Work Study Position
NIAUSI and the Civita Institute are currently advertising a student work study position to help with the archiving project. The position will be hosted at the University of Washington campuses with financial support by from the State of Washington. Please share this notice with students who may be interested in applying for the position. They may contact the UW Work Study Office or send us an email with their resume and academic goals. Applicants must be eligible for financial aid.

Guest Editors: Iole Alessandrini and Cory Crocker
©2004 NIAUSI, c/o Current, 629 Western Avenue, Seattle WA 98104 |