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Exchange @ IUAV

A year in review.

Septembre 2019

II would like to further reflect on an academic year abroad spent at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura a Venezia (IUAV) in Venice, Italy.  My experience was nothing short of insightful, stunning and truly life-changing.

I arrived in the city just in time for the carnival celebration, an illustrious tradition which sees Venetians and visitors alike make, borrow or purchase traditional masques, brocaded costumes and towering wigs to take on to the streets and attend countless events in the city’s main campi and squares. One such gathering is the “Flight of the Angel” during which the reputedly most beautiful maiden, adorned with wings and a sumptuous dress, flies out of the belfry, above a crowd in delirium, amassed at the Piazza San Marco. Beholding such spectacle, only a few days after my arrival in the city of Doges, filled my imagination with images from the days of the Serenissima, when the city of Venice had no equals, unrivaled in its opulence, unparalleled in its baroque decadence. This was to set the tone for an incredible semester.

Through classes from various departments all taught in Italian, such as Renaissance Architecture, History of Contemporary Art, or a Studio of Architecture and Landscape, I was able not only to achieve fluency in Italian but also acquire a set of skills and knowledge that only Venice and Italy could provide me with. I learned as much from the great masters of Renaissance Architecture and Painting such as Palladio, Sanmichele, or Michelangelo for the purity and perfection of their works than from the celebrated Italian modernists such as Carlo Scarpa, Giancarlo di Carlo or Di Chirico for their great sensibility to the past, their endless search of form, and their poetry. My meanderings around Italian cities such as Siena, Urbino or Vicenza and my education in the university classrooms, immediately entered a Socratic dialogue, fed from each other, and forever enlightened me on the brilliance and sophistication of Italian Arts and culture.

Furthermore, a sizable proportion of my learning and course load at IUAV consisted in practical projects and workshops. In fact, my main architectural studio a 4-month long undertaking was focused around the city of Urbino, re-interpreting the city’s Renaissance and modernist past to re-invent its future. I proposed as a design concept a close read of the myth of Narcissus applied to the history of the city, written single-handedly by two strong figures, namely the Duke of Montefeltro in the 15th century and Di Carlo 500 years later, who shaped the city according to their own image. The result was a house design in Ca’ Romanino, in the hilly outskirts of Urbino, meant for its residents as an introspective journey, a house buried into the ground, looking inwards away from the surrounding landscapes, emulating Narcissus’ descent into the stream, lured by his own languorous reflection. 

Another meaningful undertaking over the course of my time in Venice came in the form of a site-specific installation for my visual arts laboratory. The latter had to establish a dialogue with a place in Venice that inspired us and triggered our senses be it historically architecturally, or socially. I decided to work around the concept of war crimes, resilience and the re-appropriation of memory in a former military zone of the Venetian lagoon, inviting the spectator to take a (metaphorical) bath and reflecting on the possibility of mentally reclaiming spaces and imbuing them with new meaning through the cleansing of their past. Last but not least, I had the immense privilege to take part in the annual W.A.Ve program (Workshop of Architecture in Venice), inviting architects from all over the world to brainstorm and design with a group of students around a specific theme. This year, the theme of the W.A.Ve was “Sustainable Venice” and I decided to work with the Spanish practice Paredes & Pedrosa whose proposal was to redesign the boarderscape of the city’s northern tip, to revitalize an otherwise marginal neighbourhood. Indeed, by transforming the interface between the land and the sea, the aim was to create a mixed-use area consisting of co-working spaces, public sports facilities and panoramic walk-ways. All the projects described above heightened my artistic sensibility and creativity and helped me engage with Venice in a deep and meaningful way, well beyond the experience of a simple visitor.

Last but not least the school of Architecture in Venice offered a learning environment inscribed in the pure Bauhaus tradition: a mix of architecture, visual arts, cinema, fashion and theater students, exchanging, learning and nourishing each other’s discipline. My interactions with students from various departments quickly turned into long lasting friendships and one more way to comprehend the city and its social and cultural dynamics.

My time in Venice ended with a summer holiday almost as important as the city’s Carnival: Redentore. At the end of the 16th century, after half of the Venetian population was decimated by the black plague, Andrea Palladio was summoned to design a church on the island of Giudecca to the immediate south of the city center, to thank the heavens for having spared the city from utter destruction. The Doge himself crossed the waters of the Giudecca canal from his palace on a series of boats to pay tribute at the church of the Redentore followed by celebrations to be forever remembered. Every year since, a floating bridge temporarily connects the city to the Giudecca, and thousands of people gather on boats and on the shores to watch grand fireworks illuminate the lagoon skies and feast together. Every detonation, every burst of color in the pitch black of the night, high above the city’s pointy belfries and onion domes, evoked the sweet memories from my last 6 months in Italy, the thousands of wishes come true, the thousands of dreams yet to be dreamt, an endless series of wonders… It was as though the city mirrored before my eyes, the scintillating stars of my inner yearnings.

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