Recently, I had the opportunity to join a delegation of architects from North America on a tour of some basalt and travertine quarries in the Latium Region of Italy. The trip was sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, and offered the architects Continuing Education Credits.

While a trip to Italy may sound luxurious - and I won't deny that it included delicious Italian cuisine, wine and warm hospitality - these architects went to work. There were several long days where we visited an average of four companies each day. At each stop, the architects learned about stone characteristics, quarrying and fabricating techniques, various finishes and stoneworking machinery. They were also educated on how to write better specifications for stone and how to work directly with stone producers to get the material they desire.

This group of professionals demonstrated a thirst for knowledge and seemed genuinely impressed with the Italian operations that they visited. Of course, they also showed appreciation for their group leaders, who did a remarkable job of organizing this trip and upholding the high level of educational value. There are many opportunities such as this available to architects who are interested in furthering their education and learning more about the natural stone and tile industries. Sometimes it is just a matter of exploring what is out there. The Italian Trade Commission also sponsors a similar trip for architects to the historic stoneworking region of Verona, Italy, each fall - coinciding with Marmomacc, a major international stone exhibition.

Trade fairs such as this are another great way for architects to be introduced to new stone and tile materials. They also provide a forum where these professionals can speak with stone producers and tile manufacturers directly, and really get a feel for the performance of the products as well as their aesthetic qualities.

Here in the U.S., Coverings, a large exhibition of stone and tile, will be held from April 4 to 7 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. For those who are interested in learning more about the stone and tile industries and what they can offer to design, this is an ideal environment to do so. And in addition to the exhibition hall, an extensive seminar program is also offered.

The trade shows and educational tours that I have mentioned are just a few among the numerous resources that are available to architects. Stone and tile producers are continually upgrading their products and marketing to the North American market. They are eager to build a working relationship with architects. Learning what opportunities are available is the first step in making this happen.

Jennifer Adams