This two-week course in Italy will offer students experience in preservation, restoration, and adaptive re-use of historic vernacular masonry buildings in the Piedmont region. The site is the abandoned village of Ghesc, near Domodossola. Students will analyze and document existing structures and devise strategies and designs for the re-use of selected buildings while maintaining their historic features. Studio design time will be supplemented with hands-on construction on projects within the village. Field trips off-site, guided by an architectural historian, will be scheduled to supplement the main work of the course.

This course, taught in English, is open to students of all ages with an interest in architecture, historic preservation and masonry construction. Our purpose is to promote an appreciation of building methods and designs particular to this region, and to imagine how these buildings can be put back into use for another 500 years. Preservation and adaptive re-use of buildings capable of lasting for centuries is the essence of sustainability.  The construction project will give students exposure to masonry and timber construction techniques, working under the instruction of local masons and Yestermorrow instructors. Studio time will allow students to individually explore strategies for re-use of these buildings. Great food and exquisite views of the surrounding Alps are a bonus of the course.  Food and lodging are included in the tuition price.


Here are sketches of the site map and Ghesc.

For additional information click here.

For additional video from a 2010 field trip to a stone cutting quarry, see


Willowbank Field School Program

The Willowbank School of Restoration Arts also offers a program, in conjunction with the Canova Association, in Ghesc. The village, with its unusual stone buildings including stone-tiled roofs and remains of beautiful medieval frescoes, will be a laboratory for 15 days as students acquire documentation skills, study design options, and implement the partial rebuilding of one of the stone structures. Field trips, case studies, and participation as guests in the 2014 Canova International Architect Encounter will augment the 2.5 week course.
Course Dates for 2014:  TBD
For more information about this related program, click here.

  • Competency Level: All Levels
  • Sterling College credits: 5 Continuing Education Units ($650 additional)
  • AIA credits: 133 HSW Learning Units

Course Objectives

The course objective is to increase each student's expertise in construction, historic preservation and design, while allowing them to enjoy and appreciate this amazing region of northern Italy and learn about its history and culture. It is not necessary for students to start from any pre-determined level of expertise. The course can accommodate all levels.

Course Format

  • The first day will be devoted to arrival and settling in, We will have an orientation in the evening. The next two weeks will be devoted in almost equal parts to Construction work on site at Ghesc, studio work on individual projects, and field trips to sites of interest in the area. The exact schedule will be flexible to accommodate weather.
  • Construction work: On site students will work with local masons and builders, learning the techniques of construction particular to these buildings. Of interest is the solid masonry construction that is almost unheard of in modern construction, as well as the unusual stone roofing technique that is found in few parts of the world.
  • Studio work: Each student will design an adaptive re-use solution for one of the buildings in Ghesc. These designs will be schematic to design development level, but will employ an understanding of masonry construction technique developed during the course. Although some drawings exist for the existing structures, confirmation of measurements through on site measurement may be necessary. Our studio facilities will be rudimentary. Design work will be done freehand with the aid of drafting tools supplied by Yestermorrow on portable drawing boards.
  • Field Trips: Field trips may vary but will most likely include: a) a walking tour of nearby villages similar to Ghesc,with Paolo Volorio, to familiarize you with the typical architecture of the area. b) a visit to the megalithic structures at Varchingnolo, c) a tour of Ornavasso, one of the local marble quarries, d) a tour of Salecchio, a Walser village high in the mountains (wood architecture, similar to Swiss construction), e) a visit to Croppomarcio with Paola Crespini, highlighting her thesis work on the village and f) a visit to Milano architectural sites with Paolo Volorio (the Duomo, Palazzo Silva).
  • Evenings you will mostly be on your own, to go to town, read, or work on your project.
    Saturdays will be days off for students to use as they wish. Although you may stay at Villa Raghezzi, you will be responsible for your own food on days off. The final day will be devoted to departure and farewells.

For additional information click here.

Here are sketches of the site map and Ghesc.

Start Date: July 16, 2014
Duration: 14 Days
Tuition: $2400
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