Giorgio Torraca 1927 - 2010
27 September. On Saturday, 25 September 2010, we received the unexpected sad news of the passing of Dr Giorgio Torraca, former Deputy Director of ICCROM and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Rome, ‘La Sapienza’.
It was not so long ago that we would see him cheerfully riding his bicycle through the traffic of Rome. Giorgio Torraca was somewhat reserved but always kind, ready, and capable of collaborating with the different disciplines involved in the conservation of cultural heritage. He not only had a close relationship with the specialists of the Italian Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (ICR - now ISCR), but also with ICOM, IIC, the Getty, and UNESCO, as well as many renowned research and training institutions all over the world.
Trained as a chemist, he was employed as Scientific Assistant by the then Rome Centre (today’s ICCROM) from 1 August 1965, when Dr. Harold James Plenderleith was Director of the organization. His first task was to plan the equipping of a scientific laboratory to support conservation work at the Centre. Six years later, when Dr Paul Philippot, an art historian, was elected the new Director, the Council agreed to appoint Torraca as his Deputy, therefore maintaining a balance between culture and science. It was soon realized that a true scientific laboratory would have been beyond the reach of ICCROM’s resources. Thus, Torraca suggested the creation of a training laboratory, which could serve as a support for a variety of international courses, technical missions, as well as for small-scale research and the development of didactic materials.
Indeed, one of his main contributions to the international conservation world was to develop methods of teaching problems that were often scientifically complex to non-scientists. This was supported by his many initiatives and publications related to a variety of fields, such as the design of compatible mortars for the conservation of masonry, mosaics, and earthen materials, and the conservation of stone and early industrial heritage. Torraca was responsible for the development of the didactic format of the course on Scientific Principles of Conservation (SPC) at ICCROM, of which he was Director. He was also involved in the conception and organization of the international courses on stone conservation in Venice, and the conservation of wooden structures in Norway. One of his ideas was to develop a worldwide information system in conservation to exchange experiences between colleagues, at a time when internet connections were still a dream.
During his time at ICCROM, Torraca participated in a number of international projects starting with the UNESCO campaigns to safeguard the Nubian monuments, and the coordination of international recovery efforts after the floods of Florence and Venice in the 1960s. After his retirement from ICCROM in 1986, he continued to teach at the University of Rome and act as expert in a number of international projects. In his view, conservation science was something special and exciting; something that was not "pure science", but perhaps more pragmatic, involving complex humanistic factors in decisions about what to research and how.
In his recent contribution to Museum International's special issue on the History of ICCROM in September 2009 (N°243), Torraca wrote that meagre budgets should not be an excuse for not starting research projects. Indeed, he noted, as we who work in the international field know the context well, we should be the ones to recognize the problems and detect the right topics to be researched. “And because of this unique experience we actually know more about the aim that a research project in conservation should pursue than the wisest scientist in the grandest laboratory.”
22 October, 2010