Category: Study Abroad (page 3 of 4)

Umbria Trip

Hillside dwellings

Last weekend was full of travel. Last Thursday to Friday (Feb 4-5) we had a short overnight class trip to Perugia, Umbria, followed by a three day weekend for travel on our own. I headed up to Norway with three others and it was a blast, but I’ll talk about that in my next post.

We left Rome around 8am on Thursday aboard a double decker charter bus, which was kind of fun. It was my first time out of the city since arriving about a month ago, so I was looking forward to seeing the countryside and just somewhere else besides Rome.

Palazzo Farnese in CaprarolaOn the way to Perugia we made a few side stops along the way. First in the small hill town of Bagnaia to visit Villa Lanta (16th century) with an elaborate formal garden with fountain and water features flowing down the hill above the town. We stayed there for a little over an hour to explore and do some sketching. Our second stop was at Palazzo Farnese (photo to left), an enormous 16th century mansion in a very rural town Caprarola. Similar to Villa Lanta, it sat above overlooking much of the small town. On the short walk from the bus we had majestic views of the deep valleys and hillside dwellings (photo at top). We only went through one floor of the Palazzo, which were all elaborately decorated with frescos painted on just about every wall and ceiling surface. Then we made a quick stop nearby for food tasting of a few different local foods, wines, and naturally carbonated water.

The next leg of the bus trip was longer, going through very hilly and forested areas. The road had very sharp turns, switching back and forth up and down terrain. The countryside was beautiful and a nice change of scenery from the dense grittiness of Rome. Despite winter, much of the ground was still mostly green.

_DSC0123.JPGWe arrived in Perugia around 5:30pm, just as it was getting dark. Outside of town there were occasional small industrial buildings along the highway. Entering the city was actually quite sudden. I was surprised by the size and modernity of the newer areas, with more towers, glass and steel than can be found in Rome. But this certainly did not characterize all of Perugia, which originated as a medieval fortress atop a hill. The old historic center remains a vibrant place, connected to the newer city below by MiniMetro, an automated people mover system, as well as an extensive escalator corridor going up the hill.

A wide pedestrian street Corso Vannucci at the top is flanked by several tiny “streets” that crawl up and down the terrain, winding around agglomerations of buildings. Unlike most of the medieval streets in Rome, the majority of these were completely inaccessible except on foot, many only a meter or so wide. A lot were also built over, either partially or completely, making the typical meaning of street even more inapplicable. They were very foreign, especially since they are all still functioning, providing access to operating businesses and residences. The multidimensional, multilayered urbanism here simply cannot be found in America.

StreetHilltop Perugia was very posh with several stylish outlets along Corso Vannucci. It was very clean compared to Rome and the small side streets were very well lit. The paving material was also a lighter stone and brick compared to the standard dark gray cobblestone used most everywhere in Rome.

Our hotel (Hotel Priori) was just off Corso Vannucci on one of these side streets. That evening we had a group dinner with all students and professors at All Mangiar bene (translates: “All Eating Well”) located down one of the side vias. It was a multi course Italian dinner with two appetizers, soup, spaghetti, salad, turkey dish, pork chops and sausage; followed by dessert, coffee, and a lemon liquor. Needless to say, it was intense and very filling. A brick arched ceiling characterized the dinning room, with only a few small windows at one end, giving it a very medieval, almost dungeon-like vibe.

The following day on Friday was left for exploration and sketching. I walked down the hill first to find the train station with a few friends who needed to catch a bus there later to get to their own weekend travels. I then wandered around the modern city around and took the MiniMetro back up to the top. It was drizzly, gloomy and cold that day so everyone was pretty much ready to leave when we the bus came back around 3pm. The bus trip back to Rome was pretty uneventful with one quick stop at an AutoGrill truck stop. Back in Rome it was pouring rain, not making for a fun way back to the apartment. We were dropped back off at the Piramide Metro station where we had met the bus on Thursday, despite driving right by the apartment where the majority of us live. Waiting ten minutes in the pouring rain for a local bus to come was no fun at all, but hey, its Rome.

Perugia was a nice short trip outside of Rome and neat to see a smaller Italian city. See photos here.

General Update + Weekend

It’s been a week since my last post about Rome – nothing too significant has happened. Last Wednesday for Arch 528 (Italian design) we visited Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Museum which currently has an exhibit on Italian industrial design. In lecture beforehand we discussed how many everyday consumer products came about through integrating designers into production. Quite interesting.

Friday in the morning was the weekly urban history walk – we stayed fairly close to studio in the Field of Mars area and visited the Crypta Balbi Museum. Our professor / guide Linda emphasized how this area in Rome has essentially been continuously inhabited since the beginning, contrary to common belief that Rome was near deserted during the middle ages. Rome did lose political significance in the Roman Empire with Constantine making a new capital Constantinople (Istanbul), but the city itself still remained largely intact.

Saturday I did a little bit of shopping on Via del Corso before the national saldi (sale) ends. On Sunday Jamin and I went to church and met more interesting folks during coffee following the service. We talked to Peter and Carmella from Australia, a friendly older couple that work on organizing Bible fellowships. Peter asked me how big my church was at home, having heard of the large new churches we have in America. Afterwards Jamin and I went out for lunch with Sooba at his favorite Chinese restaurant. It was quite good and inexpensive too.

This week now is a bit of a transition point in the semester. The Italian language course concluded today with a final exam, and Monday was our last former drawing session. Today we had an introduction to studio and a tour of the Jewish Ghetto area (our neighborhood by studio) with a guide from the Jewish Museum of Rome, located at the synagog. This area has an incredible and dynamic history from ancient Rome up through the 20th century. We have already learned much about this area from urban history (Jan’s lectures) as well as the Italian design course. For studio we are doing four short week-long projects, focusing on this area through the four elements (earth, wind, fire, water), to be followed by a larger final project.

On Thursday and Friday we have a class trip to Perugia, followed by a three day weekend. I am going with three others up to Norway. We are flying to Oslo early Saturday morning, taking “the best train ride in Europe” to Bergen on Sunday, flying back to Oslo Monday morning, and back to Rome Monday night. It should be a fun week of traveling – I’m looking forward to seeing more of Italy outside of Rome and especially excited for Norway.

Rain in Rome

Trajan's Market story board sketch

The past couple of days have been pretty rainy in Rome, making plans to sketch outside for class difficult. Monday we walked in the rain to the Pantheon, about a 5-10 minute walk from studio to sketch for about half hour before the profs decided to return. Today my studio went to Trajan’s Market to draw (inside) quick “story board sketches” with a series of vignettes showing movement through the space. I rather enjoyed this exercise, but would be more valuable outside to illustrate movement through a particular urban space. Tomorrow we meet at Termini Station in the afternoon to draw people in motion.

This afternoon we had the last of three lectures from historian Jan Gadeyne about the development and redevelopment of Rome. It is interesting to realize that Rome today is not what it has always been – most places have been built over older structures or modified from them. Only recently (past century or so) has preservation become so strict, arguably turning the city in to a museum. My friend Jamin is working on a guest post that will go into more detail. In the meantime, check out Jan’s appearance on the History Channel documentary ROME Engineering an Empire.

Frugal Architecture

This past week I, along with ten or so other classmates, participated in the For a Frugal Approach in Architecture International Symposium and Design Workshop, sponsored by the Bruno Zevi Foundation. The focus was frugality in architecture, specifically for post-disaster emergency housing. The symposium started on Thursday (Jan 21) with a day of lectures from a number of international leaders in the field, including Nina Maritz (Namibia), Jorge Mario Jauregui (Brazil), Giorgio Goffi (taly), Sarah Wigglesworth (UK), Eko Prawoto (Indonesia), and Danny Wick from Auburn’s Rural Studio in Alabama.

It was held at the Citta’ dell’Altra Economia (“City of the Other Economy”), a part of an old slaughterhouse complex converted into exhibition and meeting space “for the promotion of the economy” related to agriculture, trade, and renewable energy, etc. It was a neat conversion but for this event the space was a bit too small (not enough seats) and did not seem to be heated. Logistics of the event was interesting since every speaker had to be followed by a translation between Italian and English. It also started at least half an hour late and presenters tended to go over their allotted time amounts – but punctuality certainly doesn’t seem to be common in Italy. Admittedly the whole day seemed to drag on, but I particularly enjoyed Giorgio Goffi’s work, and Danny Wick’s presentation on the Rural Studio was especially interesting.

On Friday we met at the Faculty of Architecture (department of architecture) at Sapienza University in Rome for the design workshop. American students from Northeastern University and Roger Williams University also participated. We were each paired with an Italian student to design a proposal for an emergency housing unit for the Abruzzo region near L’Aquila in response to the April 2009 earthquake there. We began at 9am and had until 7pm to finish, which ended up being extended to 8. The night before I had familiarized myself with the Abruzzo area and the extent of the disaster. My partner Marcella came with a basic design layout and some thoughts on materials, so we just built off of that. The language barrier was at times challenging (we referred to Google Translate on occasion) but she spoke English pretty well so it wasn’t really a problem.

We decided on a fairly simple L-shape with a half courtyard space in the SW corner. Each adjacent dwelling was set back halfway from the previous to permit ample direct sunlight to the courtyard windows for solar heat gain in the winter. For the east and west walls we decided to use thick stone walls (available from building rubble) to create thermal masses that could absorb solar heat during the day to be redistributed during the cooler night. There were some issues we didn’t get clarified and were not optimal for environmental conditions. My partner told me most of their curriculum is design-based and didn’t really have classes on building tectonics or passive design for environmental controls. It was a nice realization of how much I have actually learned at Iowa State about not only design, but also how buildings go together and how to harmonize them with environmental conditions.

Some of the architects who spoke the day before came for a while and walked around to check on the progress. Nina Maritz talked to us earlier on when we were still clarifying specifics of materials and orientation. Later one Giorgio Goffi stopped by, but only spoke in Italian. He had suggested considering our L-shape as a starting point and how they could be used to create a variety of different sizes and forms. This was not a bad idea, but it made it more difficult to clarify specific decisions regarding solar orientation, tectonics, and of course organization. We attempted to show both ideas – the variation that Goffi suggested, and the more specific possibility of one L. However the new abstract L variety got rid of the original relationship between adjacent units, making several material and orientation decisions less significant. In the end we sort of ran out of time and had a less than stellar presentation – we both agreed it was not good graphically and did not represent our ideas well. But we discussed a lot of interesting strategies during the day, so it was a really good learning experience.

The program wrapped up Saturday morning with visual presentation of the proposals and discussion from the panel of speakers. Unfortunately it was extremely unorganized with slides out of order and starting half hour to an hour later than scheduled. The discussion was interesting and informative, but like many professors and experts, almost everyone had to get the last word in, even if it was simply to agree with and over reiterate someone else’s point. Following the discussion orderves and champagne was served in a small courtyard next to the auditorium, so all was good.

Overall “Frugal Architecture” was exhausting, but a great experience. Getting insight into architectural education in Italy and the different perspectives and approaches the students bring was extremely valuable. It was also a terrific opportunity to challenge my own communication skills and knowledge of architectural and environmental systems.



I sketched this out during drawing class yesterday while sitting on the Ponte Sant Angelo bridge. Facing south, the end corner building at the very left is actually where the church I have been attending is located. I generally do not consider myself a good drawer, but am quite pleased with this one and look forward to sketching more and improving. I drew it in my pocket sketchbook so it is actually quite small, about 3.5 x 5.5 inches. I prefer small scale sketching because accuracy is easier and can be done fairly quickly.

History of Contemporary Rome

Today we had another intriguing lecture for ARCH 528 as well as a walking tour discussing the contemporary history of Rome in connection with the modern republic of Italy. Rome became the capital of the unified Italy on December 20, 1870, likely chosen for its symbolic history as a center of power and government. At the time Rome was not much larger than the original ancient city and had somewhat of an agrarian economy. Expansion and transformation from a sleepy town to once again major urban center occurred very rapidly. Modernization had to be quick so many existing buildings were taken over for government use and to house various ministries.

The biggest issue was housing to accommodate the extraordinary growth. Rome was a city of employees, not industry, but construction of course boomed. Surrounding landowners – monasteries and aristocrats – were now developers and there was a building fever. New buildings were eclectic with historical references on facades. A typical new building – becoming common across Europe – was four or five stories tall with all commercial space at ground level. Above on the first floor were located larger, luxurious apartments for the wealthy, and the upper floors became shorter and smaller for the lower classes. This is very interesting, seeming to be the beginning of planned large-scale mixed-use buildings. In general the ancient part of the city was and is still mixed with residential and commerce, but it was much more organic and reactionary.

So much of the city of Rome is not of ancient or even medieval times, but of the 19th and even early 20th centuries. To accommodate automobiles, some new arteries were cut through historic areas. Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II was cut through the dense Field of Mars area (in the thick of ancient Rome). Unlike new straight arteries, this one winds through to minimize destruction and curve around the most important buildings. Otherwise many building facades were cut back. This is still not a particularly wide street by any means, but is certainly an important traffic corridor through the middle of the city. To the east it connects to a new street, Via Nazione which was modeled after radical new radial avenues in Paris that accommodated not only traffic, but various infrastructures as well.

And finally, close to home (studio) in the Jewish Ghetto, major changes also occurred. With striking parallels to the United States’ urban renewal of the 1960s and 70s, whole areas were deemed unfit and demolished to build brand new. A large part of the ghetto, which had been extraordinarily dense was removed and laid over with a modern grid – including the new synagog. The whole area replaces resulted in only four blocks so the juxtaposition against the remaining ancient urban fabric is quite unusual. (See blue blocks on map above.) At one place you can stand in between the ancient ruins of the Portico d’Ottavia, tiny medieval buildings, and large scale block-sized buildings in simplified Renaissance style facades.

While walking around we used Nolli‘s 1748 figure ground map laid over what exists today to understand the great extent to which some places have been altered. Above the map diagram shows the Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II artery cutting through the center of Rome (horizontal red line) as well as Via Arenula (north-south) which turns into Via di Trastevere south of the river crossing. It of course terminates at Vittorio, but there was a plan to extend it even further north and split along either side of the Pantheon (located just a few blocks north, off the map). In that proposal, the Pantheon was deemed important enough to preserve, but of course dozens of buildings around it did not have that esteem. Thankfully this extension did not occur.

Additionally on our walking tour, we visited the Palazzo D’Esposizione museum, located on Via Nazione, completed in 1882, so the new state could show its interest in art and culture. There was a new, essentially all glass addition on the back containing a cafe and restaurant. We stopped here first before visiting the gallery, which was seemingly entirely separated (we actually had to go outside and reenter the front of the building). Currently there is a large exhibit with the works of Alexander Calder, who is best known for his mobiles and large (often red) stainless steel sculptures. A group of school children tried to make one of the large mobiles move by blowing at it from afar. How fun.

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

Mon, Jan 18 – Tonight was my turn to make dinner again. Last week I made lasagna, so this week I decided to make chicken parmesan. I checked a recipe earlier today and stopped by Standa on the way home from class to pick up chicken breast, flour (for breading), and a few other needed ingredients. I loosely followed this recipe from, but simply used a jar of tomato sauce instead of the combination with tomato puree called for in the recipe, and added chunks of cherry tomatoes. (Eating in Italy is actually teaching me to like some vegetables – but still not lettuce!)

Frying the chicken was somewhat trial and error. At first there was not much of a fried breading so I attempted to add more flour and thicken the crisp while already in the skillet. This eventually just lead to an unappealing sediment of flour glob in the pan. The second batch (I could only fit three of six pieces on the skillet at once) I tried to batter a bit thicker to start but the build up of old flour in the pan was not ideal. All turned out well and the chicken tasted good and had some crisp, but was not thickly breaded as intended.

I then poured the sauce over the chicken in a baking dish, generously topped with fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan and baked for about an hour – nice because it gave me plenty of time to clean up all the dishes and utensils I had dirtied during preparation. The finished dish was another culinary success and tasted great. The small group meal sharing has worked out really well so far – I get a great meal almost every evening, don’t have to cook often, and save money too.

The dish tonight was split among six people, but I still have one piece of chicken leftover for my lunch tomorrow. The photo above is it right out of the oven. The side of pasta was compliments of Jackson. Now I have about a week to figure out my next meal to cook. Any suggestions?

Weekend in Rome

Tiber River

It was a nice weekend in Rome. On Saturday (Jan 16) I spent much of the day walking with two friends since it was sunny and warm. We walked up the hills near our neighborhood Trastevere, with fantastic views of the city, en route to the Vatican. Piazza San Pietro (Saint Peter’s) was busy with people, but due to the immensity of the space, it was not crowded. To go inside, the line for security took a mere ten minutes or so. Entering the basilica I was immediately taken aback by the enormity of the space. Directly inside to the right was Michelangelo’s Pietá statue. Walking further in to the crossing, you experience the fullness of the space that is incredible. It is uplifting and inspiring. I took few photos, fully realizing they would turn out well, but I sketched a small part at the crossing. I want to return and sketch more inside and out in the piazza.

Today, Sunday, I went to church again with Jamin, and enjoyed coffee and greetings afterwords. On the way back we crossed the river and walked back through Trastevere. Today was somewhat gloomy outside, not like the nice weather Saturday, so I spent the rest of the day at the apartment doing some reading for class and part of a sketching assignment, as did most of my apartment fellows.

The Pope was at the synagogue right across the river near our studio today for an historic visit. I did not make it over to see any of the spectacle, but I heard from a friend streets were blocked off and access was restricted with a block or so perimeter with strict security. The are had been buzzing with activity since the middle of last week getting ready for the special visit.

New photos from Saturday here.

Beyond Trastevere


Yesterday evening (Friday, Jan 15) I decided to explore beyond my neighborhood of Trastevere (photo above) in a direction I hadn’t gone very far yet. I had purchased five single ride bus tickets (BIT) earlier at the tabacchi so decided to ride the tram line 8 out to the endpoint at Cosatello and go from there. Throughout my explorations I discovered some more neat pedestrian-friendly and happening streets outside of the central city antiquity, and also picked up a few things about the transit system.

The tram ride to Cosatello took about ten minutes or so. As visible on the map, once away from the heart of Trastevere near the river, the urban pattern becomes much more gridded and regular. The area is of course much newer than central Rome but besides a few main thoroughfares, the streets maintain a human scale and the buildings are mixed-use, in many cases more visibly active than many buildings in the older parts of the city. Typical apartment buildings there are five to six stories and stucco with muted colors. Facades are generally plane, but made lively by inhabitants. Autos are much more dominant on the streets, which are certainly more “friendly” to cars. The tram past a Ford dealership, though still extremely tiny by American standards and fully contained within a building. Car lots are non existent here. There were also some larger gas stations along the main roads as well. A lot of places, especially closer to the center of the city, tiny filling stations are located along the side of the roadway and cars simply pull over. I’ve noticed all of them seem to have attendants so perhaps self service is either not customary or legal.

Once I reached the tram endpoint I backtracked a few blocks until I came to Via Edoardo Jenner, a pleasant street characterized by apartment blocks with specialty shops at sidewalk level. I stopped at one complex of four apartment buildings that had a nice entry courtyard in the middle to sketch. As I continued further down the street it turned into a much more active retail district. After a number of blocks the concentration of retail terminated at a piazza so I turned the corner and went a few blocks to another major thoroughfare Viale dei Colli Portuensi.

This street was much wider than the one with the tram, with several lanes and generous setbacks. The scale of buildings were similar, but most were not attached to each other on the sides. In one sense it felt very suburban, but at the same time most ground floors of buildings were active by shops, restaurants, and commercial entities. Aside from the architecture, it somewhat reminded me of the wide avenues in some newer areas in the District of Columbia. In fact I notice a lot of parallels in different parts of Rome to certain attributes of various American cities I’ve visited.

View ROME 5 – Beyond Trastevere in a larger map

Navigating Bus Stops
I originally did not intend to venture to far away from the tram and until one point, even when I had gone quite far, was planning to simply turn around and return along the same route. But once I had been walking quite a distance I decided to simply follow the major thoroughfares I came upon and make a big loop back to tram. You can see my large loop on the map. My turn on to Via Portuense was by a narrow sidewalk along an off ramp. When I reached the next major intersection I began second guessing my direction. However after pondering a map at a bus stop sign for a moment and looking at the route information provided on the sign, I was able to use the bus stop signs to confirm I was heading in the right direction.

For each route serving a particular bus stop, the sign lists every street it goes on and how many stops on that particular street. I noticed the majority of routes at the stops I was passing had final destinations at Stazione Trastevere. At one point I walked too far past a street I needed to turn on, but realized about a block past when there were no more routes listed for Trastevere. Eventually I simply stopped at waited for one of the Trastevere buses – took route 774 – to get back to the tram. Of course once I got on the bus I discovered the tram was only about a block further away.

It was an enjoyable exploration outside of central Rome, but nonetheless a bit tiring. By using the bus stops to confirm my direction, I was able to better understand all the information on the sides and now the system seems much more legible to me. For someone with a broad knowledge of street names in Rome, it’d be quite easy navigating the system simply using the information provided at stops. Unfortunately the Roma ATAC website is not quite as thorough, particularly for buses, which is why it was less clear to me at first. Of course, knowing where you want to go is critical for getting around by transit, which was my main inhibition at first – simply not knowing anywhere to go outside of central Rome. I look forward to exploring more of the Rome metro via transit.

> Photos: (005) Beyond Trastevere
> Photos: (004) Friday urban history walk at Forum and Colosseum.

Musings in Roma

Palazzo Cenci, Roma

It’s been a week since I arrived in Rome now. The past few days since classes began have been fairly routine. We’ve been drawing a couple hours each day – a quick review of the basics of blind contour, negative space and figure drawing – which has actually been quite delightful. My studio meets in a small room in the back of the studio at Palazzo Cenci (photo above) with access to a small terrace. The desk I sit at looks out a side window facing another building facade with many layers of time, materials, and levels. Occasionally pigeons touch down on decorative ledge in the brickwork. Next week we begin drawing out in the city at various sites.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we had an introductory lecture to a weekly seminar course on Italian design spanning art, architecture, and urban – very intriguing. That afternoon we also had an introductory lecture of Roman urban history by Jan Gadeyne, an accomplished historian, who will be giving the first three lectures. In addition to this course will be weekly Friday walks in the city, first of which will be tomorrow.

Today I had a few hours free between drawing in the morning and Italian in the afternoon; I took a walk north of studio past the Pantheon destined for Richard Meier’s very contemporary Ara Pacis Museum. On the way I seemed to discover a large, trendy retail district with several upscale stores as well as recognizable chains …even a Disney Store. The scale of most specialty stores here is so different than in America, several being no larger than a few hundred square feet. During the month of January (Gennaio) every store has large sales (saldi) so one of my tasks this weekend is to do some shopping. See new photos from today’s exploration here.

This evening I went up to Viale di Trastevere (the tram street) to buy a sketchbook for tomorrow’s history walk. I decided to walk further down the street. After a few blocks there was a noticeable shift from more traditional Roman architecture to a good mix with larger scale early 20th century modernism. This made sense as much of Trastevere sits outside the two original city wall boundaries, making this area relatively new for the city of Rome. It was interesting to see how these modern designs have aged and been adapted.

Most were apartment buildings with commercial spaces along the sidewalk. Aesthetically I can’t say any of them were particularly attractive, they are still occupied and respectable locations. Some of the drab, redundant facades have been enhanced with shrubbery and plantings at windows and along balconies. The juxtaposition of these large scale exhibits of modernist residential architecture in the ancient city of Rome is fascinating. Entirely different scales and styles, though likely similar densities. This is something I would like to study more during my time living in Rome.

That is all for tonight. Tomorrow’s history walk includes the ancient Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum. I’m staying in the city for the weekend and looking forward to more exploring. The Pope is evidently coming to the synagog (a block from Palazzo Cenci – our studio) on Sunday so the are is buzzing to get ready for the big event and security is beginning to be increased as well. It should be quite the spectacle.

Also my friend Dana started blogging tonight about Rome as well. He has a good first post concerning the scale of Rome streets and blocks that can be very deceiving when looking at on a map. It is worth a read here.

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