Saturday, January 10, 2015

This summer I had the opportunity to take a group of CAPLA students to Italy.  The students were graduate and undergraduate students from the Architecture and Sustainable Built Environment programs.

Our primary focus was the structural forms of arches, vaults and domes, looking at examples across history. We visited Etruscan tombs, Roman baths and stadia, vaulted mediaeval churches, domed Renaissance cathedrals, Baroque elliptical domes, pioneering 20th century works by Nervi, Scarpa as well as recent projects by Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid.

Mary Hardin, professor and associate dean at CAPLA, explained the aim of this course quite nicely, “In American architectural education, there has long been a tradition of taking ‘The Grand Tour’ through Europe to see firsthand the work of the Western master architects. One of our offered courses involves creating a travel journal filled with sketches done in situ, and with annotations based on the actual experience of being in those time-honored locations. I think it is a wonderful departure from the common practice of viewing photos of buildings in a classroom setting to encounter them in person and try to translate the physical experience into hand drawings. This effort is usually difficult for our students but helps them develop a stronger connection between their hand and their mind's eye.

Our trip was part of the U of A’s Arizona in Italy program based in Orvieto Italy. This long-running study abroad program was founded by Dr. David Soren, a Regents’ professor of Classics, and is ably run by Alba Frascarelli and Claudio Bizzarri, both archaeologists, expert tour guides and gracious hosts.   Orvieto is a walled hill town in Umbria midway between Rome and Florence.  Founded by the Etruscans, razed by the Romans and re-built in mediaeval times, the town has a rich and varied history.  Less hectic than Rome or Florence which are overrun with tourists in the summer, Orvieto was an ideal home base--perfect for excursions to Rome, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Siena, Tivoli, Pompeii, and other destinations.  Although there were many more places and buildings we wanted to visit, we probably could not have packed much more into our five week course.  Many students stayed after the class ended, extending their travels in Italy and throughout Europe.  

Our tools were pencils, paper and whatever drafting tools would fit in our carry-on bags. We worked by field sketching and hand drafting, a challenging but refreshing departure from our routine of computer modeling.

A secondary focus of our studies was the character of the urban fabric of the towns and cities we visited. We drew piazzas and streetscapes, sifting for distinctive patterns characteristic of different periods of growth of the city. What most captured our attention was the intensity of life in the streets and piazzas. Doing all of our shopping on foot; meeting friends at an outdoor café; buying fresh produce in the bi-weekly market in the piazza; more than our work in the classroom, the experience of living in a dense, walkable environment, was a visceral lesson—and one we will not soon forget.

-Wil Peterson, AIA, Lecturer at CAPLA


CAPLA students in Pompeii