People & Places

“I see no other place suited well enough to host a program like SAHC”

12 January, 2023 5 min reading
Margherita Rago

“I see no other place suited well enough to host a program like SAHC”

The moment I arrived in Guimarães, I didn’t at all perceive what is usually referred to as a “cultural shock”, as I was already familiar with Portugal and its warm and hospitable lifestyle. I immediately felt at home, so it didn’t take me long to settle in and enjoy my experience to the fullest.


Let’s start by saying that Guimarães is the most beautiful medieval town you’ll ever see. With its maze of narrow streets and picturesque squares, you will be immediately captivated by it. Guimarães has very well preserved its illustrious past as the “cradle of Portugal”, as well as its granite traditional houses, massive castle, and luxurious ducal palace. Certainly, a must-see for any heritage enthusiast. Although it is a small town, it is livened up by student life and its traditional folkloric events that animate the city throughout the year. Being able to get around on foot, either to go to university or to have a stroll at night, is a luxury not many cities can offer.


Also, whenever one wants to be overwhelmed by the vibrant city lights or the beauty of the ocean, Porto and the coast are less than an hour by train. For all these reasons, I see no other place suited well enough to host a program like SAHC, which welcomes heritage preservation passionates from all over the world and who most likely will settle in very easily. Today, I live in a very sunny but very noisy Los Angeles, and I very much hold dear the calm but steady pace of Guimarães.



The level of the coursework carried out during the Master’s is second to none. If you like a good challenge, SAHC provides that elegantly. Seven months of coursework covering the most exciting topics in the architectural restoration and seismic retrofitting field, all culminating in a practical dissertation work individually carried out in a city of choice between Guimarães itself, Prague, Padova, and Barcelona. I chose Barcelona and developed a dissertation on a marvelous topic: the seismic vulnerability assessment of brick masonry aggregates in the historical Eixample district.



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During the coursework, gradually but quickly, I was absorbed by the SAHC lectures given by some of the best specialists in the field. I was greatly involved and challenged as the level of difficulty and detail of the topics increased. The entire year was punctuated by exciting site visits and group activities, which also contributed to establishing and solidifying a natural camaraderie between my fellow classmates and myself. This I will say: not one day has passed during my SAHC experience that was not full of laughter. I have bonded with my colleagues in a way that I know is going to endure and overcome the obstacles of time.



Surely, the course has proven to be overwhelming at times. SAHC is more similar to a full-time job than an average course – it requires great concentration, endurance, and lots of patience. But the feeling of satisfaction when delivering a well-prepared assignment or an engaging presentation is well worth it.


Most of all, succeeding in the task of preparing an entire dissertation in less than four months really makes one reach the top of the mountain, turn around and think: have I really climbed all the way up here? Yes, you most definitely have. Let’s not forget, SAHC also gave me the privilege to travel and fully embrace the culture of two amazing countries, Portugal and Spain. I found myself going from the misty northern hills of the Minho region to the glitter and glam of Modernist Barcelona, always with my laptop firmly in my backpack, walking from one beautiful library to another.



After SAHC, I became a tiny expert in writing academic reports, carrying out high-level research, dealing with group work, and understanding buildings as I’d never done before. And then, I learned the most important lesson of all – overcoming your obstacles solely with the tools you have at your disposal, in the amount of time you are given – which is usually not a lot. To my surprise, I discovered to be way more resourceful than I ever gave myself credit for. Truly, there’s more to this Master’s than just learning about heritage preservation – and doing it properly. SAHC provides students with a new mindset altogether. Indeed, it gave me new tools to shape and change my way of thinking and seeing the world. Coming from a purely architectural background, I was literally immersed in a universe I had never known before, made of equations, models, software, and abstruse symbols (architects will understand). Truth be told, I was terrified in the beginning! But I am now unafraid of dealing with a structural model and a proud user of Excel. Maybe one day I’ll even get into programming, who knows – here’s a sentence I thought I’d never say.


Today, I am working as a Graduate Intern with the Earthen Architecture Initiative at the Getty Conservation Institute, and I am enjoying my experience greatly. Up until now, it has been a dream and a privilege to discover the heritage world through the lens of an important institution such as the Getty. Without even realizing it, I found myself more prepared than ever to embrace this new journey, thanks to the tools provided to me by SAHC. Looking back to a year ago, the number of things I learned and the goals I have achieved are extraordinary. I recommend the SACH Master’s without a doubt to any heritage geek out there – no one will understand you more than a fellow SAHCster. Be sure to bring your favorite mug and your coffee with you, the four walls of the SAHC room are going to become your new home away from home. And you’re going to love it.



SEE ALSO: “SAHC seemed like a dream”