Exploring Liguria's stone heritage
Although the Liguria region of Italy is not as storied as the historic stoneworking centers of Verona and Carrara, the area is home to a wide variety of stone architecture as well as a number of innovative stone producers. This past November, the Italian Trade Commission showcased Liguria’s stone industry to a delegation of international architects, including professionals from the U.S., the Netherlands, France, Brazil and the U.K.
The program included tours of the slate district of Lavagna, where material is quarried for architectural applications as well as billiard tables and blackboards. (In fact, the word “blackboard” in Italian is Lavagna, while the word for slate is Ardesia.) Architects also had the opportunity to visit two different quarries for Rosso Levanto and Verde Levanto marble, along with an ultra-modern tile-processing plant. They also studied the historic stone architecture of the Liguria region.
The goal of the Urban Lab is to improve the city’s overall infrastructure with improvements that respect Genoa’s different environments of the neighboring sea and mountains. This includes urban renewal of spaces that are inland from the port as well as improving Genoa’s connection to the rest of Italy and Europe through improved railways.
It is expected that as Genoa’s revitalization progresses, natural stone will play a role in the areas of new construction, such as mixed-use high-rise projects. Stone restoration will also be critical as the city’s palazzos - many of which are in disrepair - are upgraded for modern-day functions.
The resulting exhibition included materials such as Rosso Levanto and White Carrara marble - as well as slate - being utilized for objects such as modern lamps, bookends, serving trays and other decorative items. One of the most intricate projects was an ornate lamp designed by Des Setsu and Shinobu Ito and fabricated by Technotiles S.p.A., a large-scale stone producer in the Liguria region. The stone pieces for the lamp, which was made from White Carrara marble, was formed using a waterjet. Moreover, a combination of Plexiglas and marble provides light diffusion, and Technotiles had to devise an adhesive formula that would work effectively with both materials.
Following the tour of the exhibition, stone industry leaders from the region gave a joint press conference with members of the Italian Trade Commission, and the architects also had a chance to meet with the various suppliers who were involved in the project.
The following articles offer a detailed look at the program.
The palazzos and churches of LiguriaCentered in Genoa and radiating out to the countryside, the Liguria region features a notable range of classic architecture, and much of it includes natural stone as a signature element. As part of their education on Liguria’s stone materials, the architects were given a tour of many palazzos and churches within Genoa as well as outside the city.
The tour opened up at the Palazzo Ducale (Palace of the Doges) in Genoa, the first parts of which were built between 1251 and 1275.
The building is among the first examples of neoclassical work in Italy, and it features a range of materials from the Liguria region, including Rosso Levano and Rosso Verde marble. Stone materials were also brought in from the Tuscany region as well as Siena. Meanwhile, the columns at the building’s main entrance and courtyard are comprised of White Carrara marble. Much of the stone used for the building was transported to Genoa via the sea.
The building is now a government-owned facility and the site of political conferences. It also hosts a range of cultural initiatives for the people of Genoa.
Originally founded in the fifth or sixth century AD, the building that now houses the San Lorenzo Cathedral in Genoa was started in 1307 and continued in various forms until the end of the 17th century. It was designed in a French Gothic style, and it features alternating horizontal bands of dark and light stonework - an element that is common among many notable structures in the Liguria region.
About 40 minutes outside of the city of Genoa lies the Lavagna slate district, and while much of the region is rural in nature, classic styles of architecture can still be found - particularly among its churches. One example of this is the Basilica di San Salvatore dei Fieschi - more commonly known simply as the Basilica dei Fieschi - located in the city of Cognorno.
The exterior also utilizes White Carrara marble, which was used for cladding as well as some of the columns.
The Basilica dei Fieschi remains a centerpiece of the region’s culture, and its courtyard is the site of an annual neo-medieval event known as the “Torta dei Fieschi,” which takes place every August 14. The celebration is a recreation of the festivities that surrounded the wedding of Count Opizo Fieschi, older brother of Sinibaldo Fieschi, who would become Pope Innocent IV and initiate the building of the basilica in 1245.
Processing slate since 1925The Lavagna slate region features a range of producers - including long-tenured craftsmen as well as plants equipped with the most modern technology. Among the first exporters of Italian slate on a broad scale, Ardesia Biggio srl has been in operation since 1925.
Like most slate producers in the Lavagna region, Ardesia Biggio’s quarries are located underground, and one site is located adjacent to its main processing plant. The coloration of the company’s slate tends towards pure black, with a slight hint of gray, and the goal is to process slate that is as consistent as possible.
Before shipping, slabs are packaged in plastic and wooden frames as needed. In addition to slab production, Ardesia operates a second factory for slate roofing, paving and architectural elements.
An innovator in slate productionLocated in the Fontanabuona Valley, Ardesia Mangini Angela & Donatella snc produces first-quality Italian slate, and it reports that it has been exploiting its own quarries for generations. It processes a broad range of products, including slabs, paving, cladding, countertops, architectural pieces, roofing and other elements. Lately, it has also been developing some new finishes and textures, such as “Black Gold,” which includes gold leaf as part of the finished product; and “Black Crocodile,” which has a uniquely detailed surface that resembles the skin of a crocodile.
The company processes approximately 32,000 square feet of material per month, about half of which is exported.
Working slate with advanced technologyArdesia Cueno Angiolino & C. made a name for itself in the slate sector for being one of the first companies to use modern equipment for slate extraction and processing. The strategy to be on the cutting edge of technology has stayed with the company over the years, and it utilizes a broad range of advanced machinery from Italy in its operation.
The company has been in the marketplace for more than 40 years, and its current factory, which is situated inland from Lavagna is more than 85,000 square feet in size.
Meanwhile, tiles are produced on an automated line from Socomac.
Additional Photos from Working slate with advanced technology
Operating an historic quarry siteApproaching Ditta Esmar srl’s current site for Rosso Levano marble in Bonassola (La Spezia Province), there is evidence of several quarries that were established during the Roman Period. And the company’s owners proudly point out these areas as evidence of the material’s importance over the years.
“It is one of the traditional stones of Italy, and it was a material for kings,” explained Catarina Rezzano of Ditta Esmar, who operates the company along with her husband. Vitorio. “It is now a family passion for us.”
A diamond wire saw from Pellegrini is a key piece of equipment during stone extraction, and blocks are completely squared. Heavy equipment such as a Caterpillar 215 backhoe is also used to clear waste and maneuver materials. Meanwhile, blocks are lifted from the quarry using a derrick crane.
Seeking pure Rosso LevantoAt Levante Marmi srl’s site for Rosso Levanto marble in Deiva Marina (La Spezia Province), the company is committed to finding the purest material possible. Its current location in the quarry is yielding blocks with a consistent red color, and it can continue quarrying 130 feet deeper from its present position - giving Levante Marmi confidence that it will be extracting high-quality material well into the future.
Waste stone is used for a variety of applications, including “river-washed” stones for landscape designs. It also maintains a retail operation with small stone handicrafts.
Making a science of stone productionThe tile production plant at Technotiles S.p.A. of Vezzano Ligure (La Spezia Province) is immediately striking for its level of automation and efficiency. But upon closer inspection, the facility houses a range of equipment not typically found in a stone production plant, such as an automatic unit to electronically classify finished tiles based on algorithms.
In addition to striving for perfect tile production, Technotiles has also partnered with prominent architects on a variety of initiatives. The latest of these is a collaboration with Foster + Partners where certain stone materials are grouped with complementary elements of glass, mirrors and other design elements in sample kits to offer inspiration to designers and homeowners. “We aren’t endorsing a particular stone, but rather we want to inspire the end user with different systems and concepts,” Venturini explained. “You start with stone and other materials, and the added value is the design. We seek to do this every year, and our last collaboration was with Francesco Lucchese for backlit onyx.”
“It was not easy to develop,” Venturini said. “We had to formulate the proper glue that would work with the stone and with the Plexiglas, and maintain a holding capacity of 5 kilograms per square centimeter. We also determined that we needed the stone to be at least 1 cm thick, or you would lose the depth of the stone.”