Brickwork Renovation Skills in Venice Remind me of Home

Renato at work in Venice on a restoration from the past

Whilst on holiday recently in Europe, I was in awe of the bricklaying skills that were used in buildings in its cities and towns.

Arches and corbelling*, to name just a couple of design features, are skills that many bricklayers today would find difficult or impossible to achieve.

Much of the bricklaying work I saw on my trip was renovation and remodelling of houses in the towns, using 2 course blocks.

Even though I searched for but couldn’t find “The Barber of Seville” I did find and speak with “The Bricklayer of Venice” one Renato, who was replacing a small section of brickwork from the 1500’s!   He told me he had more work than he could handle and that some, thankfully, required him to attempt to restore the brickwork to its original state.  He therefore needed skills that are now disappearing in the trade, even in Europe.

The situation is not that dissimilar in Australia, I told him, despite our more recent history.  Looking at the age of the work in Europe, it reminded me that trends do come and go.   Arches, for example, do come back into vogue, the cycle continues and it’s wise to stay in touch with as many bricklaying skills as we can.

Even if intricate arches and corbelling is not in demand right now, it could possibly be in the near future, as is evident in some of the historic renovation work being undertaken in Australia now on our buildings from the mid 1800’s.

While it is easy to say the trade no longer needs to learn some of these skills, without this training being continued, these skills will be lost completely, forever.  The clever bricklayer will seek out this type of work and keep himself and his apprentices trained up and ready for any opportunity.

Regular readers of this Blog column will also be aware of Peter Cartwright’s blog on his book on bricklaying sensations down through history, called ‘Classic Bricklaying around the World – it’s an amazing read.

*For the uninitiated reader, corbelling is where a bracket of brick projects from the face of a wall to support a cornice or arch.

Ian Fitzgerald
ABBTF WA Field Representative

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