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architecture at unife.

So I arrived in Ferrara about two weeks ago and have been slowly exploring the city. I’m living with 3 italian students – one from Sicily, one from Puglia and ove from Venice – in a wonderful but small house right in the center of the city. (i’m attaching a picture of the narrow street i live off of) The city is small for a “city” but is full of students and feels almost like a college town. There is a beautiful castle (complete with moat) and a brilliant white  cathedral right in the center of the city. The piazza between the two is always full of people and very lively until 3 am most nights. Also, becuase Ferrara is relatively small (130,000 people) and doesn’t have the fame of Rome, Venice or Florence there aren’t as many tourists or English speakers. This makes for a much more beneficial environment in which to learn Italian and actually feel integrated into he community.

Via Vegri, in Centro

As far as the architecture program – the building is an old palace that was converted into this school. It has huge rooms and windows, and is a really inspiring space to be in. As far as work, I’m still really unsure about what courses I am taking as the responsability for selection is all on the shoulders of the Middlebury student. Italian students at the school have fixed courses for 4 of their 5 years, but middlebury students are essentially given the option of picking any available single class in the first 3 (or 5 if you ask reeeallly nicely) years.  This is a really daunting task.  Today i went to the first year design studio to see what it was like.  It is actually composed of two classes, one traditional studio much like middlebury’s intro or intermediate studio, and one geometry class.  There seems to be a huge focus on geometry, partially to give a better understanding of early italian architecture (churches, monasteries etc.) and why certain shapes appear more often than others.  We’ll see how it unfolds.

Tomorrow i am going to go to a 2nd year studio as a point of comparison, and thursday i’m planning on going to an upper level urbanism class.  The program seems structured to the point that it might be worth just starting at the beginning, so that as the second semester approaches (at least for students staying the year) you will be completely prepared.  I think second semester of freshman year is very very CAD intensive and most upper lever classes depend on that – but i’ll know more by the end of the week.

Middlebury also has a required language/literature class for all Middlebury students in Ferrara.  So far it has been somewhat interesting as we are reading works about Ferrara or by authors who lived here.  It is looking like it will be in conflict with whatever classes i take at the architecture school (because they meet from 9am until 6 or 8pm on some days) but all of the professors seem understanding – so i’ll keep you posted about flexibility in scheduling as i learn more about arch classes.

I’m going to return to class picking.. drawing.. and italian poetry for the night, but i’ll keep you updated as the week unfolds.


time management

At ESA you don’t get to choose any of our courses until your 3rd or 4th year. Even then, the choice is mostly between studios (i.e. which professor you prefer) and maybe an either/or elective option. Since I was place with the 3rd semester/2nd year students, however, there are no alternatives. I’m not, however, taking the full load of courses which means that apart from the studio I get to pick and choose what I take. I chose to take the art class, and two more engineering based courses: “Methodology of Structures” and “Construction”. Surprisingly, there isn’t much overlap between the two. My reasoning was that art would be fun and that the two structures classes weren’t available to me at Middlebury. A year abroad is supposed to be different, right? The other options were a “Descriptive Geometry” course, an art history, an architecture history (they said the teacher was awful, otherwise…), “Methodology of the Project” and of course, English. There is also a computer class where we learn all the fancy architectural software programs. It meets on Saturday mornings (I know!) and although I’m not taking it for credit, I have been making it to school and following it since I so desperately need to be caught up to speed with all the fancy computer stuff we do here.

my schedule

The advantage of having a choice is

that there some classes that are painfully boring (so I hear), others that are unnecessarily hard (also hearsay) and still more that offer pretty much the same thing that I could get at middlebury (art history for example). The disadvantage is that I continue to be the ‘cas spéciale’ [read: outlier]. I’ve been getting a lot of “why weren’t you in class this morning?” from other students and while this is a helpful conversation starter as I slowly try to make the ever-elusive “real french friend” that they told me about in orientation, I always feel bad when I explain that I’m mostly just taking what I want.

Part of me would love to do it all, but since there’s still a class to take at the Centre Madeleine (Middlebury’s outpost in Paris) and cultural/language adjustments to make (and some traveling to do perhaps?) I know that it really isn’t a very good option. Plus, the atelier (studio) counts only as one class even though you meet for at least 12 hours a week (and pour your heart and soul into it). [note: Middlebury requires a minimum of about 14-15 hours a week of total class time, but if you’re following an architecture or science curriculum (with labs) they usually tell you to take 5 courses] A lot of what you see on this schedule is related to orientation activities, which in two days will be replaced by the course I’m taking at the Middlebury Center. I’m still overwhelmed but have finally gotten all of my paperwork handed in for the residency permit, opened a bank account, got a cell plan, a metro card etc. Now it’s just time to work…

I suppose a short explanation is in order. While this blog may serve several purposes, it has one simple subject; it is the record of Middlebury students spending their junior year abroad at architectural school. I have recently arrived in Paris where I am attending l’École Spéciale d’Architecture and Jesse will soon be heading over to Ferrara, Italy to attend the well-known architecture school at the University of Ferrara. We have both signed up for a full year of work/fun and are feeling excited/anxious about what lies ahead. We hope that this blog will be helpful to any students considering studying abroad with architecture and for everyone else, that it at least provides a little entertainment.

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