The in-field projects in this year's study fell into two types: data collection and contextual studies. The in-field contextual studies can be further categorized into experiential and directed studies. The examples of two projects you will find linked here are of this last type.
The majority of our activity in the field is supporting and preparing the studio and
factory visits and the designer interviews conducted. The evidence of this primary activity
can be seen in the "Current Research" area of this site. Students carefully prepared each
interview and researched the firm and designers before arriving, generating meaningful
and directed lines of question. On leaving an office we often were rushing to the other
side of town to conduct the next one in a single day. But as much as possible that day,
and definitely in the evenings after the studio interviews, the students huddled around
so many laptops and hard-drives deconstructing the content that it was amazing the
electrics in our apartments held up! This process was discursive and led to a progressive
refining of our methodology.
The second group of activities built on the work we completed in our four week
intensive course in Vancouver prior to departure for Italy. This type of field-work
falls into two sub-groups: directed and experiential.
ALL of our visits to cultural sites were not "directed".
The only way to really learn from a place like St. Peter's basilica or the
Tempietto or the Etruscans tombs at Tarquinia is to be quiet and listen, and
leave the outside world in the piazza in front. You must work at this skill. It is
easy to be nonplussed if you bring your cultural baggage in with you, as so many
tourists seem to do. In visiting cultural sites in Italy you must also be very
strategic, and be prepared to come again as the time of day, the light, the shadow,
the number of people in a space can profoundly affect any experience. This year, for
example, we returned three times to the Pantheon in Rome to get it right. I have been
to the Pantheon when the rains pours in through the oculus overhead, and I've seen it
cause students to weep upon entering. If it DOESN'T have that affect, you have come at
the wrong time and MUST return. You MUST return if you care to know this place, or any.
On our third try we left on the first train into the center and arrived at the giant
doors 30 minutes before opening. Enough time to get an espresso, make it a doppio
espresso, and be the first in line, and then to have the temple to ourselves for the
first half hour.
Bramante's Tempietto at noon loses its power due to the light and too many people
packed into that little courtyard. But this year we got it right, arriving mid-morning
to one of our most transcendent experiences of our six weeks in Italy. Any cultural
site in Florence after ten a.m.? Forget it until closer to closing when suddenly the
Uffizi lineup is gone and you can have the Fillipo Lippi's to yourself. The only
"direction" to these studies then, is working at caring to get the experience right.
These are studies that "just get into you". They build a deep understanding and
appreciation of who the Italian people are. As did the group dinners we shared all
over the country but particularly at our friend Paolo's Trattoria Dardano in Cortona,
at Alessandro's Hostaria del Ceccotino in Pitigliano. It is unforgettable visiting
the 1,000 year old Gattavechi family's
wine cellar in Montepulciano, and tasting their glorious Vino Nobile. Most students coming to
Italy will not know a Pinot Grigio from a Sangiovese. But by the time they leave they'll
never forget the taste of the Montalcino Brunello on the side of the road in a small
picnic with Pienza pecorino cheese, ash and all. You MUST eat well in Italy to know
Italians. Surprisingly, it is easy to not eat well in Italy these days. All of these
are important experiences toward contextually understanding a subject and having something to say
about it. Then when we get into the more directed work, the students are coming from a
more mature position. These studies by and large remain in the hearts and minds of the
students; except for the photographic images in the Captured Moments section of this
site, you can't see them here. They are not easily quantifiable or manifested, and nor
should they be.
The second type of in-field studies we engage in you can see here in the following
links. There were two major contextual research projects this year in-field: Urban
Ethnographic Project One: Piazza Studies, and Urban Ethnographic Project Two: Urban Edges.
These projects are intended to focus the looking after a period of mostly experiential
reflecting. It is important to get the students beginning to articulate what they are
seeing and to be able to go into any urban or aesthetic situation and evaluate its merits,
strengths, and then to be able to compare one to another.
In Italy this is enormously important because there is SO MUCH to look at and so
much arguing for your attention. And not all of it is "good" (see costumed "centurions"
hawking their wares outside of the Colosseum, for example). Two of the course texts now
come into play to accomplish this important task: Venturi's seminal text "Learning From
Las Vegas" and Peter F. Smith's "Dynamics of Delight". The first text provides a method
(form analysis matrices) for analyzing, organizing and communicating data collected, and
the second text provides the means for making some judgment of the complex urbanism
through its "aesthetic checklist". The students read the two texts in–field, in fact,
writing their examination of the "Delight" text in the Campo di Siena, a main subject
in Smith's book. To me this is one of the glories of study abroad, in which they read
about the great square and then the next day view it, study it and test their comprehension
of the book's content in it. It is my belief that once you have made sense of a city, a chair, an
exhibition design, a website is easier to understand because they are much less dynamic. The next part is
then analyzing several ethnographic situations that have commonalities but subtle
differences. We do this in Tuscany by going over the next hill: each town is a world onto
Over the course of one extremely intense work-week we visit a dozen Tuscan hill towns
to study their streets and piazzas, the small patterns: how people sit, where, at what
times, what changes? How is the piazza indicative as a mixing space of a particular
culture? How does the city support social patterns? We work to apply and extend the
methods from the two texts. Each day we spend either one day at one hill town or spent
the day in several hill towns. We drove the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany by bussini
to: Chuisi, Siena, Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Pienza, Bagno Vignono, Montalcino, Cortona,
and Montepulciano. Besides studying the forms of the urban and architectural delights
of the towns, we learned about the relationship of time to quality in Italian culture
through their every day activities such as: wine making, passeggiata, monastic time
measures such as Gregorian Chants, market time, siestas. After one week, before we left
our Dolciano home-base, in teams of 3, the students took our studies of the hill towns
and presented it to the group to share the knowledge of how form analysis may be used
in a powerful way to identify daily patterns. This led to a deeper understanding of
the rhythms of Italian life and the embeddedness of time and quality. We spent seven
days in the Italian country learning and looking closer in Urban Ethnographic Project One,
and then it was time to move onto Firenze to take the study of urban patterns to the next
level, in the greatest of the Tuscan civic-scapes.
After several days taking in the awesome array of works of the Florentine masters,
and avoiding tourists and tourism at all costs, we had a rigourous tour of contemporary
modern Firenze lead by SACI Professor Dr. Alessandro Vignozzi. He lead us around the
outer edges of Firenze where contemporary urban interventions are beginning to rise from
the old Renaissance architectural layout. We saw a Firenze -beyond the tourists- that
needs to reinvigorate itself for its citizens so that it may flourish, once again, as
the powerful city that it used to be. In coming years we hope that our perspectives on
this subject, working with Dr. Vignozzi will add an objective view that might contribute
to the future of Florence. A great responsibility and honor indeed. The second of our
Directed In-Field Projects, Urban Ethnographic Project Two : Urban Edges was meant to
go beyond the surface tourism, the sad effects of the Disney-fication of Italian cities
like Venice and Florence.
We questioned how Florence will again become an innovation center at its core and not
just its manufacturing plants in the suburbs periphery — life for Firenze beyond Sesto Fiorentina,
what's working, what's not — without romanticizing the subject or making Florence into a
perpetual Merchant-Ivory tableau. For example, we studied with Dr.Vignozzi the new Stazione
Leopolda Exhibition Center, and the controversial soon-to-be-central location for the
"alta–velocita", high–speed/ high capacity Italian contribution to the European high speed
rail network, among other significant new developments in urban Florence. Professor
Vignozzi, began with the group a deep conversation about the culture of "edge cities":
what develops at the peripheries of old and re-forming urban patterns over time. This
thesis formed the basis of our Firenze in-field project presented in two parts at the
SACI Santa Maria Novella design studios in central-downtown-Firenze. The project lasted
10 days and studied at a high level of form analysis the contemporary social patterns of
Firenze: an extension of the analysis we applied to the Tuscan hill towns.
Again, as in the transcendent moment at Rome's Tempietto, and the ability to examine
the Campo di Siena, the project was handed out in Brunelleschi's perfect gem-like
Cloister in the Santa Croce complex: a place where generations of the first modern
scholars walked before us. Thinkly deeply about the world, in one of the first spaces
where modern scholars did so was meant to be an inspiration to the students, in a space
that was quiet, small, refined, and contained. A perfect metaphor for successful
constraint-driven design. Our project was to be that metaphor, condensed and refined.
It was to be a very metaphorical project about what makes Florence a delightful city
where people come back year after year to visit, but which is, like Venice, buckling under
the weight of its tourist economy.
The results of these two analysis projects are in this section.