As part of my teaching for the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Rome Program in Architecture this year I have worked hard to bring as many voices as possible into the (virtual) classroom. My small group of students, working from home (in California for the most part) are already feeling isolated during these difficult times and listening to me for hours on end isn’t going to solve that.
I have done whatever possible to “bring them to Rome.” First person video explorations, exercises in which they explore and draw the city using maps, street view, satellite view, etc. Some of this is documented on the video Virtual Exchange.
A city is made of its people though, so I would have liked to have spent more time interviewing local residents. I brought them to Studium Urbis for a lesson about the Banchi Trivium, their design site, with my friend Allan Ceen. I intended to meet with many other locals but only got so far as the shop next door to my studio. But the intention was to do much more.
What I was able to do, instead, was bring architects from all Rome and beyond to speak asynchronously about some key questions with which the students have been grappling.
- Should we — and if so how — build in Rome’s historic center today?
- Our project posits the possibility for shared civic space; do you think contemporary society still needs this?
- Social justice and equity is a professed aim of many designers, but is it really possible to achieve through architecture?
- Is it more important that a building be sustainable, meaningful, or beautiful?
The participants who answered my invitation range from friends and colleagues Scott Schimgen (Professor, Scott Schlimgen, Architect, and Director of Academic Initiatives Abroad) to Luca Zevi, Architect and President of Tevereterno, to successful American architects Stephen Kieran (KieranTimberlake), Nader Tehrani (NADAA), and Andrea Leers (Leers-Weinzapfel Associates). I spoke with a number of Italian architects of course, including Cino Zucchi, Mario Cucinella, and Maria Claudia Clemente. And the list goes on.
In addition, we have a fantastic roster of critics joining the final studio reviews: Frank Barkow, Gabriel Feld, Cinzia Abbate, Pia Schneider, Charles Rose, Judith Di Maio, just to name a few.
Despite all the limitations and headaches of remote communication, where (outside a few prestigious ivy league schools) do we get such talent to contribute to a discussion? I felt immensely privileged listening to the reflections of so many astute colleagues.