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Category Archive for 'the classroom'

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!!

Bus 68

oh yes mr. pei

oh yes mr. pei

As happens with all blogs that I involve myself with, I fall behind… way behind. So although I started writing this quite a while ago (september 16th they tell me), I will finally finish it now.

It was my first week of real class. I had more or less made some course choices (mostly around scheduling availabilities) and found myself in a more comfortable situation after a LONG day of studio (9am-6:30pm no joke): the dark lecture hall.

The course was “Methodologie des Structures” (same in English) and was set up like an architectural history class ‘cept it was all about the engineering side of things. At this point, I’ve actually already finished the course and taken the final (more on that later). In his opening spiel however, my professor started describing a project he had worked on when he was just starting out as an engineer, you know, something small, unheard of… like I.M Pei’s addition to the Louvre.

I think I can pretty safely say that most professionals in the field of architecture would agree that Mr. Pei’s intervention was successful. At the very least, I’ll put my neck out there and say that it rocks. Anyway, I was entranced with his description of the structural system that held together the delicate pyramids of glass. The smaller inverted pyramid proved to be the most interesting, and apparently is even an example of failed maintenance despite it’s distinguished status.

The best came after class though. Tired from a long 12 hour day of courses, I got on my bus, Bus 68 that quite conveniently goes from right in front of ESA to a couple hundred meters away from my apartment, and began my pleasant, yet lengthy, journey home. About halfway back, having just crossed the Seine, I found myself a pane of glass away from 673 very famous panes of glass. The glass pyramids that had just dazzled me from the projector were right in front of my very eyes. Writing this now, after having become a little more accustomed to the splendors of Paris (and the route of Bus 68) it seems almost silly, but I was bewitched that night. They shimmered and sparkled in the fading light, an unearthly sight. The next day I decided to take my time and walked home following bus 68’s route, through the Latin quarter, across le Pont des Arts (a ped bridge, the bus crosses either Carrousel or Royal), through the Louvre courtyards (where I snapped the above photo) and back up l’Avenue de l’Opera past Garnier’s masterpiece to home.

I won’t lie to you and say that Paris is a perfect city or that my time here has been spent primarily sitting in cafes sipping cafe and looking fabulous, but I will say that it does have a little ‘je ne sais quoi’. Also, although not surprisingly, it’s an excellent city for studying architecture, historic and contemporary. It’s hard to complain when you see all these masterpieces on the bus ride home.

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…

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