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SU Florence School of Architecture hosts international student workshop in Medieval city in Tuscany

March 22, 2010

Brenda Cooke

Imagine living in a city center where plots of empty land still represent buildings that were destroyed during the Second World War—a kind of living, spatial wound that won’t let you forget. What kind of urban structures would you propose to not only fill those spaces, but to also heal those wounds? This was the brief for 33 architecture students, from four universities in three countries, participating last week in the intensive, six-day Florence Architecture Workshop, hosted by the SU Florence School of Architecture.

The focus of the third edition of the Florence Architecture Workshop was the historical center of San Miniato, a Medieval city set on hills in the Tuscan countryside west of Florence—a setting combining both urban and natural landscapes. The workshop was organized by Elizabeth Kamell, (SUF School of Architecture), Fabrizio Arrigoni, Antonello Boschi, Andrea Bulleri, (Università di Pisa) and Andrea Ponsi (Kent State Florence Program). Participating students were from the SUF School of Architecture (16), the Università degli Studi di Firenze (5), the Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile dell’Università di Pisa (4), and the Technische Universiteit in Delft (8). This is the first phase of a two-part workshop—the second phase will take place in September. SUF Architecture is offering workshop participants studio space, a lecture hall and jury space.

Students worked together, in small, mixed-nationality groups, exchanging ideas on issues of common architectural and urban importance—in this case, the reclamation of abandoned, but historically significant, open space. Randall Korman, associate dean at SU School of Architecture, participated as a visiting critic. Notes Korman: “The San Miniato al Tedesco workshop is a wonderful event on several levels. Foremost is the opportunity for our students to interact with those from the universities of Florence, Pisa and Delft. Each group approaches the project with a particular set of architectural and cultural biases that require a collaborative approach to design. This effort is enhanced by the participation of faculty members from each of the institutions, who serve as roving critics. The afternoon table-top critiques are rich and varied. Also of great value is the fact that the projects are rooted in a set of ‘real-world’ issues confronting the town of San Miniato that includes among others, the need to be forward looking while also respecting the patrimony of the historic context. The challenge to the students has been to find that balance point between pure invention and responsible accommodation of functional needs. The result is an exceptional experience that will resonate with everyone for some time to come.”

The seminar began with a lecture on the town of San Miniato, followed by a site visit to the town with a welcome by the mayor. Students worked hard in the allotted time frame to develop ideas into projects, facing head-on the challenge of communicating with other students in English and Italian. “Excitement among the students could be felt from the first day of the workshop,” says Boschi, adding that he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of bilingual communication.

Students were excited about the opportunities the workshop presented. “The opportunity to design abroad within a cross-cultural setting has proved to be an invaluable experience, one that will have a profound impact on my education,” says SU student Edward Dudley.

“The different nationalities involved mean different opinions on designing, which make it more complicated—but more interesting,” says Marnix de Jong from the University of Delft. ”The pace is dynamic, and decisions need to be made very fast. We are learning a lot more than we would on any one individual project.”

For all the cultural differences in play, Lorenzo Paoli from the University of Florence says communication flowed “through the common language of architecture.”

Students presented Powerpoints of their projects on Saturday, March 20, in the SUF Gallery, with a monetary prize awarded to the winning team.

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