Exchange period at the Department of Civil, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of Genoa
June of 2016, Genoa, Italy
During this exchange period I worked closely in a team headed by professors Sergio Lagomarsino and Serena Cattari, some of the most internationally acknowledged researchers on the field of civil and earthquake engineering. The main goal of this collaboration was to learn how to use the research version of the Tremuri software for the seismic vulnerability assessment of old masonry structures. Then, the idea is to apply the sensitivity analysis procedure developed by Cattari et al. (2015) within the PERPETUATE project, to a case study building in Seixal (Portugal).
Traineeship for the European Commission at the Joint Research Centre
from 16th September of 2015 to 16th February 2016 in Ispra, Italy
During this traineeship I was integrated in a team dealing with seismic risk assessment within the RESURBAN institutional project, working specifically on the colloection and review of a large number of fragility curves from current scientific literature. I contributed to the definition of a set of evaluation criteria and their application to the reviewed fragility curves. Furthermore I published a techincal report describing in detail the outcome from all the work carried out. The topic matches quite well the theme of my PhD thesis. During this period working at the European Laboratory for Structural Assessment I had the opportunity not only to interact with other trainees and staff of the Unit but also to attend several scientific presentations and training courses, namely the Italian level 3 language course (equivalent to the A2-1 level from the European Language Portfolio of the Association of Language Testers in Europe), in which I obtained an overall mark of 90%, and the General Health and Safety Training for Employees. It was also a time of intense and amazing cultural experiences. The friends and the living in traineeland, the Calcetto and Sci clubs helped me to be integrated and constantly involved in this huge family.
World Heritage Young Experts Forum 2015
from 17th to 30th of June 2015 in Koblenz and Bonn, Germany.
The Young Experts Forum 2015 was promoted by the German Commission for UNESCO and integrated as part of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee, as a result of the cooperation between the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, the State of Rhineland-Palatinate and the NGO European Heritage Volunteers. The Forum was part of the World Heritage Education Programme of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and was financed by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
Youth events are held within the framework of the World Heritage Education Programme and have been organised in conjunction to the World Heritage Committee since 2004. By changing the term of “Youth Forum” to “Young Experts Forum”, the organisers aimed to give the young people´s voices higher recognition. The term “Young Experts” implies that the participants, on the one hand, are seen as young people who receive profound input and, on the other hand, are recognised as experts making meaningful contributions to the discussions of World Heritage and sustainability.
As ”sustainability" is the key political goal for the 21st century, it is intended by the one hand that future generations should have the same chance of leading a fulfilled life as we have had, and by the other hand that the opportunity to live a good life must be more fairly distributed around the world for the people alive today. “Sustainable development combines economic progress with social justice and conservation of the natural environment. Sustainability cannot merely be decreed from on high – it must be learnt. Education for sustainable development instills the competencies that are required if we are to build our lives in a manner fit for the future.” [please click here if you want to know more about the role of World Heritage for a Sustainable Development]
World Heritage Sites are perfect model places where people can experience the importance of preserving something of the past by using it at the same time to shape the future – as long as World Heritage Sites are managed in a sustainable way. Therefore, as young experts, it is hereinafter our responsibility to be actively involved on the sustainable management of World Heritage sites. It is the responsibility of everybody – of society and especially the World Heritage Committee – to enable the Youth to get involved.
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley - Brief synthesis
The strategic location of the dramatic 65km stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley between Bingen, Rüdesheim und Koblenz as a transport artery and the prosperity that this engendered is reflected in its sixty small towns, the extensive terraced vineyards and the ruins of castles that once defended its trade.
The river breaks through the Rhenish Slate Mountains, connecting the broad floodplain of the Oberrheingraben with the lowland basin of the Lower Rhine. The property extends from the Bingen Gate (Binger Pforte), where the River Rhine flows into the deeply gorged, canyon section of the Rhine Valley, through the 15km long Bacharach valley, with smaller V-shaped side valleys, to Oberwesel where the transition from soft clay-slates to hard sandstone, results. In a series of narrows, the most famous of which is the Loreley, no more than 130m wide (and at 20m the deepest section of the Middle Rhine), and then up to the Lahnstein Gate (Lahnsteiner Pforte), where the river widens again into the Neuwied Valley. The property also includes the adjoining middle and upper Rhine terraces (Upper Valley) which bear witness to the course taken by the river in ancient times.
As a transport route, the Rhine has served as a link between the southern and northern halves of the continent since prehistoric times, enabling trade and cultural exchange, which in turn led to the establishment of settlements. Condensed into a very small area, these subsequently joined up to form chains of villages and small towns. For over a 1,000 years the steep valley sides have been terraced for vineyards.
The landscape is punctuated by some 40 hill top castles and fortresses erected over a period of around 1,000 years. Abandonment and later the wars of the 17th century left most as picturesque ruins. The later 18th century saw the growth of sensibility towards the beauties of nature, and the often dramatic physical scenery of the Middle Rhine Valley, coupled with the many ruined castles on prominent hilltops, made it appeal strongly to the Romantic movement, which in turn influenced the form of much 19th century restoration and reconstruction.
The Rhine is one of the world's great rivers and has witnessed many crucial events in human history. The stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley between Bingen and Koblenz is in many ways an exceptional expression of this long history. It is a cultural landscape that has been fashioned by humankind over many centuries and its present form and structure derive from human interventions conditioned by the cultural and political evolution of Western Europe. The geomorphology of the Middle Rhine Valley, moreover, is such that the river has over the centuries fostered a cultural landscape of great beauty which has strongly influenced artists of all kinds - poets, painters, and composers - over the past two centuries.
Personally this Forum was the most multicultural, passionate and enriching experience I ever had so far. I felt like I was not only immersed myself in another culture, but experiencing the culture of 31 different countries from all over the world at the same place and time. Moreover, my creativity levels have growth exponentially due to such intense and diversified programme. It is widely recognised that these kind of multicultural experiences enhances the openness and cognitive flexibility to make people more creative. I sincerely believe that I was part of a very creative group of young people, whose common denominators are the nonconformity, the willing to consider alternatives to the way things are currently done, and the capacity to analyse and interpret objects, people, and situations from multiple perspectives. Engaging with a new cultures allow us to get comfortable accepting that there are many different approaches to life, and also that happiness and self-fulfilment can be achieved with much less than the current patterns of modern societies.
During the Young Experts Forum we were invited to learn about and live the local culture of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley region, from which I must highlight the following activities and tours:
- Guided boat trip in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley from Bacharach to Koblenz;
- Guided tour at State Museum of Rhineland-Palatinate at Fortress Ehrenbreitstein;
- Guided tour through the former monastery in Oberwesel;
- Guided tour at Fortress Marksburg;
- Baking of German Bread at a German Bakery in the German inventory of the intangible cultural heritage;
- Field trip to the World Heritage site “Frontiers of the Roman Empire”, by Dr. Peter Henrich, archeologist, Ministry of Education, Science, Lifelong Learning and Culture: visit of the information centre “Römerwelt” in Rheinbrol; visit of authentic reflects of a Roman Fort in the forest in Holzhausen and visit of a replication of a Limes Castellum in Pohl;
- Farewell dinner at Castle Drachenfels, Bonn.
Opening Ceremony - June 18, 2015
The Opening Ceremony was held in the Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, in Koblenz, under the moderation of Katja Römer, Spokesperson of the German Commission for UNESCO. After the welcome address by the Rhineland-Palatinate World Heritage State Secretary, Ministry of Science, Education, Research and Culture, Walter Schumacher, a short film was shown entitled “Greetings from the German World Heritage sites”. This was followed by the welcome addresses by the President of the German Commission for UNESCO, Dr. Verena Metze-Mangold and by the Federal Foreign Office Representative Hans-Guenter Loeffler. Finally, the closing remarks were given by the Focal Point for UNESCO World Heritage Education, Carméla Quin.
Workshops & Presentations
The content of workshops and presentations that we had the privilege to attend during these two-weeks, listed below, had a very positive impact on us in terms of inspiration, motivation and education:
- Introductory Speech: “The World Heritage Convention and the 39th session of the WHC - Framework and Objectives of the Youth Forum” by Carméla Quin;
- Presentation of the Objectives of the Young Experts Forum by Claudia Brincks-Murmann, from the German Commission for UNESCO;
- Workshop: “Sustainability and World Heritage” by the German Secretariat for the UN-Decade “Education for Sustainable Development”;
- Presentation and discussion about sustainable management of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, conducted by Mr. Frank Puchtler, District Administrator of Rhein-Lahn and Dr. Stefanie Hahn, Ministry of Education, Science, Lifelong Learning and Culture of Rhineland-Palatinate State;
- Introduction to the “World Heritage Volunteer Programme” and to the procedure of the hands-on work by Bert Ludwig, European Heritage Volunteers;
- Hands-on work, Oberwesel, Loreley, Kaub and Bacharach;
- Participants’ presentation of an example of sustainable management of one World Heritage site in the participants’ countries;
- Preparation for World Heritage Committee Model - Presentation of aims, rules of procedure, Q&A, by Björn Warkalla, Planpolitik;
- Workshop with “kulturweit”-Alumni (voluntary service of the Federal Foreign office and the German Commission for UNESCO) to the topic of Youth involvement in World Heritage;
- Market place of ideas and projects to exchange and network. I'm delighted to inform you that our Young Experts group is currently working together on developing some of the projects that came out from this initiative. More to come soon;
- Reception at Old Town Hall of Bonn by the Lord Mayor of Bonn, Jürgen Nimptsch;
- Discussion about World Natural Heritage, led by Barbara Engels, German Focal Point for World Heritage Nature, at Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn. Communications of invited speakers: "Sustainable Development in Natural WH sites: Tourism in the trilateral WH WAdden Sea", by Anja Szczesinski, WWF Wattenmeer; "Primeval Beech forests of the Carpathians and Ancient Beech Forests of Germany", by Christ Danny Binda & Lisa Schaefer, Kellerwald National Park, Germany; "Marine World Heritage sites", by Jon Day, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and "Law for Protecting Natural Heritage: resources and tools", by Lydia Slobodian, IUCN Law Centre;
- World Heritage Committee Model - Simulation of World Heritage Committee Session;
- Presentation of the aims of the declaration by Carméla Quin, Focal Point for World Heritage Education;
- Reflection of topics and discussions of the Young Experts Forum, drafting of theses in Working Groups, drafting of the declaration and preparation of presentation;
- Official Closing Ceremony with awarding of the diploma by Mr. Kishore Rao, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, at the Old Town Hall of Bonn;
- Photo session with Prof. Maria Boehmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and President of the 39th Session of the World Heritage Committee, at the WCCB;
- Opening Ceremony of the 39th Session of the World Heritage Committee, at the WCCB (please check the video below of our Official Declaration presentation at this event - from 1:28:00 to 1:39:00);
- Official participation of the Young Experts as delegates in their national delegations;
Hands-on work, Oberwesel, Loreley, Kaub and Bacharach
The hand-on activities took place from June 20 to June 22 and were organised by the NGO European Heritage Volunteers in cooperation with the site management of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley World Heritage site. Participants were distributed in four different workshops, from A to D, according to their previous choices, as follows.
Workshop A - Preservation of the countryside through bush clearance mowing work in precious ecological areas. This group was divided into two smaller groups working at two distinct places nearby the small town of Oberwesel. While one group worked at a former vineyard located in a scenic significant place just in the middle of Oberwesel that has been abandoned for a long time, the other group worked at a slope approximately 2 km far from Oberwesel, directly located above the Rhine Valley, a place that is a precious ecological area in need of regular maintenance.
Workshop B - Restoration of scenic dry stone walls. This group worked on the restoration of dry shale masonry walls at the privileged location nearby the town of St. Goarshausen, famous as the "town of the Loreley". For those who are not familiar with it, Lorelei is the most famous place in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and played an important role in the 19th century, during the time of Romanticism. Our work was carried out at the former path between the town and the Loreley next to the Rhine river. These slopes are characterised by dry shale masonry walls that enabled their use as vineyards over the past centuries, which embellish the surrounding landscape. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, a significant part of the vineyards were infected by a vermin and had been used since back then for the cultivation of fruit trees. The poor accessibility of this very steep area has contributed to the abandonment of those farming or cultivation activities during recent years, and therefore, the knowledge about traditional techniques of construction and reconstruction of dry shale masonry walls got lost gradually. Hence, our mission was restoring these walls from the very foundation up to their original level, always under the crucial guidance of experienced local masters in dry stone techniques Mr. Helge Ehmann and Mr. Peter Ohlig. It is also expected that this initiative will contribute for promoting a future mid-term volunteer project for the step-by-step reconstruction of the complete dry stone masonry walls alongside the path between the Rhine and the Loreley, in order to comply with all the security requirements for re-opening this famous path in a few years.
Personally, this workshop was very educational taking into consideration my professional area. I learned more about these ancient and traditional techniques, which recall me to the famous quote “the more simple, the better”, because that’s how I see myself as a young civil engineer. Moreover, it was really impressive how those three local masters are committed to volunteering, they chose to spend their weekends up there in the hills preserving and taking care of our common heritage. Their sense of social responsibility was truly inspiring! We have experienced there the purest condition of living and respecting nature and our heritage, developing at the same time very important soft skills such as the sense of responsibility and cooperation, facilitating a good working environment and the communication between local non-English speakers, team spirit and the sharing of knowledge.
According to Mr. Ehmann’s words: “For us, you have been really an unforgettable group. We rarely had volunteers like you who formed a solid working team so quickly, assuming the responsibility for each other and the working team “stone by stone”. You have shown a great capacity and talent for building walls and, what might be equally important, the required patience. This and especially your personal approach I will treasure.”
Workshop C - Restoration of historical roof windows of a 18th century building. This workshop was carried out in the small town of Kaub, which has today less than one thousand inhabitants. Nevertheless, this town has played an important role during the past centuries as hometown of shipper families and housed unique facilities as the school for shippers' children. Even though Kaub still preserves its picturesque background, the town struggles today with the decreasing of population and therefore the abandonment of houses. One of the most important monuments of this town is the Bluecher Museum, a historical complex from the 18th century, which was partly abandoned under private ownership and is today being restored. The restoration of the first and second floors is already finished, and this complex is nowadays used as a museum. Although the roof structure was already repaired, roof (dormer) windows were not restored yet.
Workshop D - Construction research at the remains of a Gothic chapel from the 14th century. This group worked at the small town of Bacharach, on the opposite side of the Rhine Valley. The town is dominated by St. Werner's Chapel, a unique monument form the 14th century and a masterpiece of the Gothic style within this region, was abandoned for centuries but had been re-discovered during the time of the Romanticism in the 19th century. Participants worked together with architecture students from the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden and students of History of Arts of the Gutenberg University in Mainz, on the measurement and detail reporting on the conservation state of particular sectors of the ruins of this church.
Participants' presentation of an example of sustainable management of one World Heritage site in their countries
As participants' were asked to present one World Heritage site of their country focusing on the sustainable management, I have chosen the Cultural Landscape of Sintra as case study, as it involves both natural and cultural heritage and mainly because it is seen as a paragon of excellence in which regards its management model. With my presentation I aimed to give an impression of a world heritage site in Portugal and share the best practices of sustainable management, which content is summarised in the following paragraphs.
The Cultural Landscape of Sintra was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Cultural World Heritage List in 1995 and is inserted in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, between the westernmost point of Europe, Cape Roca, and the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. Parques de Sintra - Monte da Lua (PSML) is a publicly owned limited company responsible since 2000, to manage the most important natural and cultural values located in the area of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra and Queluz. The management of these properties involves their restoration, requalification, revitalisation, conservation, research, publicity and operation, opening them to public fruition and enhancing their touristic value. Among the vast heritage under management, both natural and cultural, I would like to emphasize the Moorish Castle, the Park and National Palace of Pena and the National Palace of Sintra.
Aware of its statutes and responsibilities, PSML undertakes its activities in an ethical fashion, demonstrating full social and environmental awareness and taking on the following commitments under the terms of Social Responsibility: fostering an inclusive working environment with the recruitment of staff and developing projects to improve means of access to persons experiencing mobility restrictions; cooperating for Educating and Rehabilitating Maladapted Citizens on the maintenance of its parks and gardens; through a protocol with the General Directorate of Prison Services, regularly hosting prisoners nearing the end of their sentences for employment by Parques of Sintra; controlling the environmental impact of its activities through encouraging the practices of recycling, reutilisation, reduction in energy consumption and recourse to renewable energies; making available sustainable mobility options as pedestrian footpaths; implementing processes that contribute towards reducing the carbon footprint of the company and its associates; preserving and restoring local biodiversity and raising visitor awareness about such needs and restoring and reintroducing traditional forestry management practices. Please take a look at the PSML official website where you will be allowed to entirely consult several information such as the management model itself, financial reports and accounts and even anti-corruption action plans. Moreover, below you can find the documentary focusing on the natural heritage of this World Heritage site, entitled "Sintra – The Mountain of the Moon", and the air drone view of the Park and National Palace of Pena.
World Heritage Committee Model - Simulation of the World Heritage Committee Session
This simulation game was about the Fonta Wildlife Reserve, an outstanding nature sanctuary listed as a World Heritage site and located in the fictitious African developing country of Fontania. By the on hand, poaching, industrial agriculture, mining and dam-building projects were identified as the main threats, by the advisory body (IUCN), calling into question the conservation of the site's Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). By the other hand, as a developing country with a very limited budget, Fontana was struggling to implement sustainable management plans. Operational budgets and staff are too limited to ensure effective anti-poaching measures and a comprehensive ecological monitoring system. According to our scenario, when international mining companies discovered vast mineral resources at the border of the site, it seemed like a welcome opportunity to boost the struggling Fontanian economy.
Thus, in this fictitious scenario we were faced with the frequent collision of interests between economic development and conservation: With reference to the credibility of the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, some State Parties refused a boundary modification and argued for putting the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger or even a delisting of the site in case the mining project will be continued. The challenges were posed: how can the integrity of the site be secured and how can the credibility of the Convention be guaranteed?
During this simulation I played the role of the Republic of India together with Ishimwe Marie-Aimée Ntawukuliryayo. The key objectives of this political player were: emphasise the importance of economic development and of the fight against poverty and argue for the developing countries' right to development and the principle of sovereignty as the central pillar and guiding principle of international relations; prevent any mentioning in the Decision of a possible inscription of the property in question on the List of World Heritage in Danger; demonstrate India's role as an active and responsible advocate of developing countries' interests; as Vice-chair, support the German chairperson in ensuring a smooth and effective running of the Committee session.
With this simulation I learned about the rules of procedure of the World Heritage Committee, the importance of informal consultations on the productivity of negotiations and how to write and present an opening statement. From the final outcome of this simulation, even though most of the key objectives have been accomplished, I should have played a more active role. The final Decision was achieved after voting for the most controversial point, putting or not the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. This should only be done when there is a consensus among the delegates, which was not the case, as the delegations in favour of listing the property as World Heritage in Danger failed to have 2/3 of votes.
Erasmus at the University of Naples Federico II
from September 2012 to February 2013, Naples, Italy
In 2012, under the Erasmus program, I studied in the University of Naples Federico II, in Italy, in order to learn about earthquake engineering and to gather the required knowledge to write my master dissertation, which resulted as a partnership between both universities. Professor Antonio Formisano, as joint supervisor of my dissertation, has played a fundamental role during this period spent in Naples, teaching me the basis of those new concepts and issues regarding earthquake engineering and numerical modelling.
Erasmus at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
from February to August 2010, Florianopolis, Brazil
In 2010, under the mobility grant conceded by the Santander Totta bank, it was given me the opportunity to study for 6 months in the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), in Florianopolis (Brazil), ranked as one of the best universities in South America.