GCI News
Giorgio Torraca
Conservation image

Giorgio Torraca, brilliant chemist and pioneer of conservation science, died on September 25, 2010, at the age of eighty-three after a brief and unexpected illness. An extraordinary teacher and generous mentor to generations of conservation professionals, he profoundly infuenced the field of heritage conservation through his research, writing, and especially his creative, practical, and interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. He played an important role in the professional lives of many at the GCI and, in recent years, collaborated with the Institute on a number of projects, including research on injection grouts for the conservation of architectural surfaces, scientific support for the Herculaneum Conservation Project, and the publication of his teaching notes in English.

Born in Padua, Giorgio Torraca received his degree in chemistry from the University of Rome in 1950 and his master's degree at the Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve University) in Ohio in 1953. He undertook postgraduate work in engineering at Rome University until 1958 and during this time became a consultant to the Instituto Centrale del Restauro. In this milieu, surrounded by some of the most innovative thinkers in the conservation field, he developed a lifelong passion for the application of science to the understanding and conservation of the world's cultural heritage.

After a brief period in the materials laboratories of an industrial electronics company, Dr. Torraca was invited by Harold Plenderleith to join ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), an appointment that, in his own words, "changed my hobby into a job." Over the next twenty years, first as assistant scientist (1965–71) and then as ICCROM's vice-director (1971–86), he dramatically influenced the teaching and practice of conservation. His capacity to explain complex scientific concepts to nonscientists was unparalleled, and his deceptively simple publications, such as Solubility and Solvents for Conservation Problems (1975) and Porous Building Materials (1981), remain classics in the field that have been translated into many languages. His research also significantly influenced international technical standards—most notably as regards noncementitious mortars and flexible grouts for the conservation of decorated architectural surfaces.

Leaving ICCROM in 1986, he continued to teach at the University of Rome "La Sapienza" and to provide scientific advice on important international conservation projects through ARCOTECH Studio Associates—a multidisciplinary practice of architects, engineers, and chemists—that he established to focus on the study and restoration of monuments. In this period, from 1992, he was consultant to the Vatican Museum on the conservation of the Sistine Chapel, was a member of the committee for the stabilization of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (2004–9), and, from 2005 until his death, provided scientific support to the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

Giorgio Torraca was undoubtedly a giant in the conservation field. A humble and kind man with a dry wit and an insatiable curiosity, he consistently challenged assumptions and developed innovative solutions to complex problems. He was a gifted scientist but also a humanist with a profound appreciation for all aspects of life. He leaves behind an exceptional body of work and will be greatly missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.