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Category Archive for 'getting used to it all'

So I know it’s been over a month since I’ve posted – but now that i’m feeling more settled I can give a much better report on life at the Architecture School in Ferrara. I’m taking classes in first and second year, but have friends in 3rd and 4th so I’m starting to get the full picture and understand exactly what the typical Italian Architecture program is like.

My first year class is a drawing/design studio – called “corso integrato di disegno” which is very very basic, but provides some interesting starting points for students who haven’t taken that many arch classes before. It’s broken up into 3 components, history, geometry and lab – some of which are significantly more enjoyable than others. History is on average a 2 hour segment once a week that goes over drawing basics, the history of the art form and famous architects who’ve contributed something significant to the movement. Geometry is less interesting and seems to be the least favorite part for all of the 130 students. It started out with sacred geometry problems, like proportions of cloisters and the significance of the golden ratio – but has since moved to mathematical projections of objects in various ways. It’s interesting, but not terribly easy to understand in italian. Also on average a 2 hour segment once a week. The third piece at 4 hours once a week is lab. So far we have been drawing outside in the piazza and working to redraw the plans for Mies Van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth house. Lab should be the most time consuming, but also teach the most valuable lessons about drawing plans, sections, elevations and perspective renderings. Its all done by hand – and some without a ruler – but it’s good eye training and the class, like I said, teaches some really valuable lessons for those people who’ve never done this. In all honesty I wish I’d taken a more advanced class (having done most of these exercises in the past) but acknowledge that it is good practice at least. It’s also good to be in class with freshman, who are eager to make friends and meet everyone. Much friendlier at the beginning than other older students who’ve made close friends in past years.

My second year class is “urbanistica” which basically goes over the history of the evolution of cities. It’s absolutely wonderful – and by far my favorite class here. It’s a long loooong time to sit still (as it’s two 4 hour lectures per week) but we always get a 10, no 15, no 30 minute coffee and cigarette break at some point during the 4 hours. Classes are usually based around a theme (like post WWII reconstruction) or dedicated entirely to one or two cities – the best of these being Ferrara. It was absolutely wonderful to sit and learn about Ferrara from the late 600s until today and then step outside and walk past all of the same monuments. The prof is really passionate and very very accepting of foreign students – of which there are many in the class. He also invites tons of guest lecturers to speak, giving a new perspective (and often a new dialect). Coursework consists of a semester long project in groups (everything is in groups) in which we study the evolution of a nearby city and produce a book explaining it. There is also ONE oral exam at the end of the semester (in january really) that relies on knowing the material of 3 books really really well. The books are fascinating, but reading in italian takes a little more effort. Yeah..

FAF Building
Overall – I’ve had some hard weeks and some wonderful ones. Some classes are awful some are wonderful – but in general I am really glad to be here. The program is huge, and wont coddle you the way american ones might, but the information and point of view is unique and certainly worth hearing. I’ve made friends with tons and tones of italians, and exchange (erasmus) students. Generally the exchange students will be great friends to have because they too are going to the same difficulty with comprehension and also know very very few people. The italians are more cliquey but all thing its the coolest thing that you come from the states and chose to come here – to Ferrara – really!?

Le Mura

I’m going to leave you all with some nice pictures of the architecture school and the medieval wall around the city. The first (above) is taken from the top of the wall looking back at the building, and the second is the opposite direction looking out over the grassy field and the bike path.
The facoltà is really fortunate to be situated where it is in such a picturesque spot!!

classes have begun

  1. the steps @ ESA
the steps @ ESA

so… i started writing this post a looong time ago, and while it’s been sitting on the to-do list for quite some time, the crunch of still getting used to it all and piling schoolwork on top of it has been a lot. so what i’m going to do is get you up to speed with a spurt of short posts over the next couple days. the good news is that since you’re hearing about the trying first weeks as i reflect back on them instead of as i live them, you’ll be subjected to less b*tching and moaning.

vive la rentrée!

we give apples, the French give CHOCOLATE
we give apples, the French give CHOCOLATE!

Since my plane landed at Charles de Gaulle last Monday, I’ve been keeping pretty busy as I try to adjust to a new life and get all the important details sorted out. The day after I landed, on Tuesday, I had an appointment at ESA to sort out the last things officially. I didn’t really know what to expect (and to be honest was expecting the worst where they would take one look at my portfolio and send me out the door) but  luckily it ended up just being a pretty short meeting with Marie-Helene, the international student coordinator, and Marie-Helene, the dean of sorts, to place me into semester three. That means that I will be with students in their second year of school who have taken two studio courses in two semesters, which seems to correspond well to the two studios (130 Intro & 330 Intermediate) at Middlebury.

The next day was a short orientation for “Exchange Students” that was really more confusing than helpful. The reason is that as a Middlebury student at ESA, I am NOT an exchange student. Those kids are from Architecture schools around the globe that have partnered with ESA to, well, exchange students. Also, these students are typically in year three or four (or five) of their architectural education which means they are all placed in semesters 5, 6, 7… you get the picture.

Thursday was “la rentrée” for ESA (aka first day of school), which here in France seems to be quite a big deal for some reason (see above). When I showed up to school that day in a simple skinny jeans/t-shirt combination, I was a little embarrassed since most people seemed to be dressed up. Of course I had worn dresses the two previous days… For me, this day was my first sneak peak into real French Scholastic Culture. Needless to say, I was mildly horrified. As administrators and professors explained seemingly important information to a few-hundred students, there were at least 100 separate conversations in the room. When the noise got to the point where you could no longer decipher the words being spoken into the microphone, they would sternly demand silence and the relative quiet would last for most of five seconds. In the end, I figured that I shouldn’t be too concerned with missing some information since no one else was hearing it either and what I did hear (exciting lectures, a week of a school-wide workshop, study tours…) seemed pretty fabulous.

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