Under the Tuscan Sun…

….I got a minor sunburn lol.  It was beautiful all week and the majority of the time we were speed walking to different architecturally significant places. My feet hurt but it was worth it. All of them were amazing.  Siena’s hills and neighborhoods and awesome medieval architecture was my favorite, but Florence was also cool (if I don’t say this Mandi will hurt me) although I liked Alberti’s Santa Maria Novella better than the Duomo (because the scary high gothic facade was made in the 19th cent and is completely fake.  The back is much better anyways).  Go Romanesque! In reality picking favorites is hard I basically liked everything.   Anyway, now I have 2 weeks of finals.  This means 2 exams this week, anther next week, one major group project due next friday, and studio due in exactly two weeks.  I wouldn’t worry too much though, the thought of this work is so incredibly terrifying that I immediately start procrastinating.  Hence this short post.

I’ll probably post something more substantial soon, starting with Fauksas because I’ve now seen three projects and can make a decent post.




Alternate title:  Why I worship Scarpa as a demi god.  (He’s much cooler than Hercules.)

Since in the last post spent a lot of time talking about why everything Scapa designs is amazing, detailed and pretty, I decided this next post I would start to introduce him to you.  Assuming I manage to blog about my entire venice trip there will be more posts about him, because we spent most of the trip visiting his buildings.  However in this post I’m only going to talk about one of his projects in Verona, for many reasons starting with I love it and ending with it is a good example of his theories.  If you think there are a lot of pictures keep in mind I took 397 in this building. Culling was very difficult.

Carlo Scarpa was an Italian architect (1906-1978) who mostly worked in the Venezia region.  He was not technically an architect since he refused to take the test to be licensed, although he went to school.  He was a countermovement to the more mainstream focus on progress, modernity and technology, and a complete eschewing of ornament (aka Corbusier).  He was influenced by the vernacular architecture of the region, and was interested in peeling away layers of history, being very honest about how and why he made the moves he did, and used material to provide ornamentation while still being modern.  (Hence I love him).

Fortress turned Palace turned Museum

This project he was hired to renovate a fortress palace, and display the collection of Medieval art.  It ended up more as an intervention, where he subtracts layers of material to expose the construction both old and new, while adding modern materials to destroy any symmetry.

Subtraction is always harder than addition, carving away is general more time consuming and expensive than building.  However it is generally worth it if it’s done right.  The thick walls of the fortress already lend it some elements of subtraction, demonstrated by Mag here:

Thick Walls

But Scarpa adds some more by pulling back material all over the place, exposing the bricks on a door or the ceiling beams, or pulling the floor away from a stair or the wall.

Stair detail Exposed steel beam Layered Floor

I especially love his treatment of the doors. Every from the other, and each one is different on each side. How they touch the floor is different too. What they have in common is awesomeness.  Most of my sketches from here are of doors.

Door side A Door side B

Much of the additive details are interruptions of the existing symmetry of doors and windows.

Window with asymetric steel frame insert Louis Kahn influence Asymetrical Additions

But not always.  He has some really cool freestanding window details, and the “jewel box” which has a skylight and is really cute.  I love the tile work, which is a pattern he would use again in other projects. He even went so far as to put a wall in the middle of the entrance door.  Every good modernest scorns symmetry for asymmetrical balance these days.

Cool window The Jewel Box Entrance

Its though another asymmetrical door, which is an arch that has a sliding rectangular door, that we enter the most famous space in the building.  In this courtyard area you can experience one statue like 100 different ways, reentering this outdoor space again and again as you travel through the museum.  It’s very cool.

Door to the coolest space ever Inside Outside Space Bridge

Looking Down On the Bridge

And as if the simple awesomeness of detail and construction and material all mixed up and then pulled apart again Scarpa invented and mastered in one lovely swoop there is another reason he has endeared himself to my – and I dare suggest everyone else in my class’s – heart.   He gave us an architectural playground.

What is an architectural playground?  So glad you asked.  It is anywhere a bunch of architecture students get to perform death defying stunts in order to get awesome pictures and generally amuse ourselves when left alone for any given amount of time.  They probably should stop doing that…  Oh and mom if your reading this, that’s most definitely not a sheer drop behind me. Or in front of me *crosses fingers*

This looks safe.... What are you doing down there? Yep totally safe. Mom don't look :)

Best seat in the house Ummm........don't ask Invisible bow for imaginary castle defending.

– Sarah

Today’s topic/rant/philosophical treatise is based on the walk I took last week with my teacher Anthony.  On this walk we learned about the early 19th century architecture in Italy who’s style was mostly no style.  Rather the architects at the time where searching desperately for a style, and seized upon the past.  What part of the past you may ask?  ALL OF IT.  Nothing was exempt, and it ranged from medieval to rococo to Venetian Gothic to every sort of classical decoration and all the ways people reinvented classical architecture ever.  Often at the same time!  *insert Spamalot line here*

Fake Gothic Church

The mosaic work, columns and tower all look right, but they were built after 1900.

House of the Masks Tower House of the Masks Arch

This is a very strange building. It is covered in every conceivable sort of roman decoration type things.Note the strange masks above the arch for example.

Fake Venecian Gothic

This seems to think its in Venice.  It’s missing a canal though.

Supervilan style

Anthony decided this was Gothem Supervillan style.  Its called the house of the spider because of the motif in the wondow above the door.

Fake Medieval Villa

Actually its medium density housing, not a Medieval villa.

The humble house

“parva, sed apta mihi, sed nulla obnoxia” reads the inscription “Small, but suitable for me, and not offensive” which is a piece of a longer famous inscription on another house.  Mandi described it as “bite sized” which is pretty much correct.

And its awesome, i totally love every strange bit of it.  And yet I feel shame as I do, because according to modern architectural thought (which I admit has a point in some ways) I as an architect am supposed to be looking for the style of my own time.  I blame this on Corbusier, who was all about progress because he was so annoyed at all the eclecticism/copying that the generation before him was doing (In case you don’t know, it’s an unwritten rule that architecture students have to hate everything from about the last generation.  I’m certainly no exception, I start having emotional outbursts when forced to look at 70’s architecture. It’s all awful.)  And as my teacher said today, any sort of historical copying is a lie and a romantic fantasy.  Well in this world of horror that we live in according to contemporary art (another rant for another day), I think we could do with a good dose of romantic fantasy. Now I’m not suggesting we should go all rococo gold gilding on our buildings.  First of all gold is out; silver is the new gold.  Platinum records and steel construction are things that define our age.  But this whole lack of ornament, minimalist stuff is getting to be a bit much.  I like ornament.  Ornament is the reason I like all the historical stuff.  “Don’t ask why!!!” exclaimed my teacher today, when asked why something looked the way it did on a fake medieval medium density housing attempt.  My response was “Because it’s pretty!” which he agreed with with more exclamations and sarcasm (we love him he’s hilarious).  In searching for a style they decided to try things the architect basically thought was pretty (except being an architect he probably used lofter adjectives).  Most of the rest of the world likes pretty, and only architects and designers despise the word. We put a lot of work in to get a banal word like pretty for our efforts, so I get our annoyance with it. But pretty is not a word you would apply to the geometric forms of modernity.  But a carved detail or some nice ornamentation might merit a deserving, not sarcastic, “pretty”. I like Scarpa over Corbusier.  I don’t want to live in a “machine for living”. I want to live somewhere that is willing to give and take a little, change over time, and give me something to look at.  Scarpa is good for that.  Corb is a little terrifying in his white planes and general rationality.  I feel like he reduces us to robots. I don’t hate him, he had many really good ideas and changed architecture dramatically, I just don’t take his word as law.  Which as just as well, since he’s almost a century old and soon copying him would be betraying him.  I’m supposed to be finding my own style.  And you bet your ass it’s gonna have some pretty details.

These next pictures are from the “House of the Owls” part of the property of the Torlonia family Villa (the main building was leased for 1 lira a year to Mussolini the entire time he ran the country, if the current head of the family could remain living in this house).  They have been the most hated family in rome since the first man a tailor suddenly made a lot of money, and he and his decedents have been vindictive and greedy ever since according to Anthony. Whatever its history, its adorable and eclectic and detailed and PRETTY and I want it!

Tower above the doorStairs outside

Balcony and arch

Architecturally it looks like the builder just kept adding new things on.  And in the process stuck in lots of cool details.

Owl ColumnWater feature

Look at this cool column motif of owls.  You can make out the claws on the base, right where the column ends.  And the pool has cool swirls of colored mosaic and little waterfalls.  The inside is also lovely and it has tons of arts and craft style details, like stained glass and goregous inlaid wood walls and floors.

Same stairs interior Inlaid Wood Panals

These next too are from the same room

Swallow decorationSwallow Room Stained Glass


….Hi.  Once again I really need to apoligize for ignoring this blog.  I say that a lot I know, but we are still very busy.  We were in  the Venezia region visiting Verona and Venice, then on spring break doing nothing even vaguely like work, and then came back and had a midcrit this past friday so we worked like maniacs for a week.  Now we’re writing essays that are due tomorrow afternoon and require lots of research and severely limited resources.  We were up at 8 for the sole perpose of beating everyone to the studio to get a monopoly on books.  But we really need to work on our time management and get back to writing regularly, but it is a slippery slope.  I’ll go find some sort of harness and ice climbing gear and work on it I promise.  I’ll even badger mandi about it!

Your long lost friend,


Studio: Midcrit part 1

Hello all.  Since I’m writing this blog (supposedly) and my family and friends are trying to read it and finding it not updated i figured i might as well show you why!  So this is the first solid iteration of my project.  It was supposed to be a midcrit (which is graded) except we’ve had like two desk crits which is not nearly enough to have a solid project generally speaking. I should probably explain what that meant.  (skip the next paragraph if you know what a crit is)

Crits (or “critiques” but we never call them that) are when you have people look at your work and give you criticism.  There are three main kinds in my life.  Desk crits are at your desk (duh) and is just your teacher.  They’re informal and they are to give you feed back at every step of your project, so you don’t get to far off a good track. You don’t generally get exact assigned work, you show them what you’ve been working on and discuss.  You should be using the drawing they want to see to design your project anyway.  That is what I generally have studio class for.  Pin ups are more formal, but ungraded.  They give you a chance to formalize your stuff and put it together neatly so you can see where the problems are.  Sometimes several students pin up at the same time and if the teacher ever stops talking (unlikely admittedly) you can get feedback from them too, which is generally great.  Real crits generally mean you go in front of a panel of judges (generally your teacher and whatever architects they can drag out of their studios and plant in front of you.  Often friends or colleges of your teacher, although once my teacher’s teacher came and gave us a midcrit. We liked him he told us great stories about our awesome but daunting manual rep teacher).  You general get two per project, once in the middle (midcrit) and once at the end (final crit).  Midcrits focus on how to drive your project forward, final crits are about what else you should have done and whether what you’ve got is successful.  Crits generally produce good metaphors, which i should totally discuss at another time before i get to off track.  Ok lecture done. Wait. Nevermind. You need background on my site.

So my site is called Celimontana because its on the bottom of one of the 7 hills of Rome named Celian. It is a triangle and it is a one or two minute walk from the Colosseum. (!!!!!)  It’s got a very long history, ranging from busy valley with a school for imperial pages and a temple to the deified emperor Claudius and a road named the Victus Capitis Africanae (there was a statue about how they conquered Africa around there somewhere.  The school was also named after it).  After Rome was sacked several zillion times and the aqueducts failed people moved to the river, it became a field for sheep and ruins perfect for stealing for palaces and churches and whatnot.  There were also several churches with attached monasteries.  Then rich people built huge villas all over the place to escape the city without going far.  So lots of big gardens and big walls keeping the rabble out so the very rich could play. And by rabble i probably mean the large armed bands of men running around, and other nobles private armies.  Anyway thus it remained (and here i get a little fuzzy i need more researching time) until 1900ish when someone (most likely Mussolini, who is responsable for most major urban changes at the time.  I don’t yet have proof though) decided the ancient road which had survived for millenia really should be straight and cut a different road (via Claudius) for cars and put a grid of buildings on most of it.  Except for my little triangular site, which was built up but now is a unexciting park.  And now I’m supposed to put mixed used and housing program on it!

I thoughtfully added pink dots when i sent the image to my mom. Totally forgot i did that!

I thoughtfully added pink dots when i sent the image to my mom. Totally forgot i did that!

Right so my main concept is to use the architcture to reinvent the road and to let the area rediscover the rich history that disappeared like so much else in the middle ages.  And to do so in a way that is not just another tourist site which locals ignore and avoid, but could also become a thriving community.  So I’m implementing a live/work strategy inter spaced with larger retail and housing areas in hopes of creating a diverse and flexible community.  What i really invision is different kind of workshops and  art studios and stores on the bottom with the owners living above, with the things they need to live close at hand, coffee shops, supermarket, different types of stores and parks for both kids and adults (and maybe even dogs), plus a nice piazza with a fountain.  Hopefully by being a varied and interesting area it would get tourists (and money from them) but without over running it.  That’s my vision anyway, I’m working on making it a (theoretical) reality.  Oh my so much text.  Here are the images.


The progression of my idea from research to an idea to a parti diagram

Aerial Site view

A really zoomed out view of the rooftop gardens (which need much more work)

Ground Floor Plan

Ground floor plan with diagramatic site context. My next step it to figure out what all those colors mean...

Floor Plans

The next three floors. Four will be typical and is completely incorrect there. Green outlines mean its going to be something, I just don't know what yet.


My units are complicated because they are best understood in section. I'll explain below.

Units:  The first units I designed are live/work based.  They are unit type A and have twp workshops on the bottom with the housing above.  One workshop has a small bedroom on the same floor and living space above, with a terrace formed the roof of the workspace below. The other side has a kitchen are on the second floor and the entire third floor is bedrooms and a living room area and the roof it a garden space.   Then i realized that putting 40 of these on the site would be ridiculous and started creating different size retail space, with different apartments above.  Type B uses the area of two workspaces as a medium size storefront with stairs to the second floor apartment outside.  The other side is two, 3 story, live work apartments.  Type C uses the entire ground floor as retail and second and third floors are apartments.  One of the first changes is going to be a shared stair for those apartments.  Type D is not designed yet but will be whatever type of apartment I place in the most north buildings higher floors which aren’t designed yet.

This post has been way more information than I expected, but this way you can actually follow my progress instead of saying “oh look pretty colors” and getting nothing out of it. You are of course free to do that, if everyone loved floor plans I wouldn’t have a major.  And I can only muster up so much interest in lots of other subjects, like anatomy or math or russian history or whatever, so I’d totally get it.  On the other hand if your reading my blog you must have mustered some, and since I personally love stories about Catherine the Great and love being a test subject for my medically inclined friends clearly anything can be found interesting for shortish bursts.  (Except math, numbers are not my thing. If they were I’d be an engineer and actually make money some time before I’m 50. If anyone knows a good way to get out of NU core Math 2 just go tell my adviser to sign me up! Well, actually fractals are pretty cool. See i’m proving my own sleep deprived point).

EDIT:  As of today I got myself (and my entire grade and perhaps everyone else) out of my Math 2 requirement.  I’m quite pleased with myself.  🙂


Hello. Sorry I’ve been doing so badly writing.  I love writing but it can get lost admit the rest of life unless you really make it a priority.  I learned that lesson writing fan fiction years ago. Those first few weeks were when i had no homework, let alone studio work.  I’m happy to report i really like where my stuff is going and since my crit just ended but I’m not supposed to leave studio I’m taking the enforced time to write you.  You can tell I love you all because my Kindle is next to my elbow but I’m still writing!  Anyway sorry and although i can’t promise it won’t happen again (I’m going to Venice next Tues) i can promise to try!

So, on to the real post.

Pompeii is amazing.  I was sad to find that they apparently close tons of stuff in the off season, and I was annoyed by my teachers attempts to force me to sketch everything when i wanted to be a Latin geek not and Architecture geek, and it was kinda rainy all day but none of that matters to me because its Pompeii.  You get to walk through a (admittedly rather destroyed) city, go into houses and shops and brothels and really understand what life could have been like back then.  So what if the walls are crumbling around you, the wall is there and you can really get the sense that long ago some 20 year old girl was probably walking past were you are standing going about her life.  It makes history real.


The first thing we do when we get there is sketch the basilica, or the law courts of the Forum.  I made a few halfhearted sketches and then started playing tourist.  So here are some pics of Mandi and Mag being good architecture students.  Note Mag is water coloring because she’s a show off (aka I’m crazy jealous of her talent), and Mandi likely has her markers out (although she also watercolors really well).

WatercoloringSketchingBeing artistic

I ran away from the artists to go find the Villa of the Mysterious, with various detours.  So I head back into the forum and start my journey.  On the way I saw all kinds of cool things, which is why this post is going to be crazy long due to pictures. Starting with the forum itself, note the looming volcano…

The Forum

First stop, a house.  Note the very typical layout with impluvium (pool) and hortus (garden) behind.  Roman houses in Pompeii focus inwards and are designed around large courtyards and large open spaces that generally have holes in the roofs (compluvium) to collect water into the impluvium.  The Italian climate is a wondrous thing, no?

Impluvium and Hortus

I go through a cool arch and down an ancient road to find…

Ancient road

A different house, with view into the atrium back to the garden and shrine to the Lares (household gods). And then another house, with a great pool and some columns


Finally after a whole bunch of other cool things were seen (but i can only upload so many pictures) I make it.  It’s a very well preserved building with lots of wall art that is going to be in the next post and cool columns and and pretty courtyard spaces.

Villa of the MysteriesCourtyard

About now I meet up with Mandi and Mag again and we head off to get lost several times (its not big, but the blocked off streets and we got herded in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go). Tourists....Relaxing
We saw some instraments of daily life that have survived both volcanoes and tourists.

Large stone potsGone through the mill

Mandi and I grabbed a sandwich and Mag went back to water coloring made more complicated by drizzle and friendly dogs (the site is a dog shelter).

A girl and her dogsNew friends

We visited the Palestra (gym/field) but couldn’t get to the theaters sadly.

At the (ancient) gym

However we did visit the amphitheater.  I don’t have the amazing shots of umbrella dueling, but i would never want to be a gladiator although I’m pretty good ; )

AmphitheaterWe who are about to die salute you

Next post is already planned, I just have to write it (honestly the tricky part is uploading the pictures).  It may even happen today or tomorrow if I don’t fall asleep. I hate almost over nighters don’t you?

Cause Sarah is pressuring me to post them and I’m taking a five minute break from studio stuff.