Brandon Davis Rome

September 2018

 

Hello! My name is Brandon Davis and I am a junior Sorin Scholar. I’m an Architecture major and Poverty Studies minor, currently abroad until May 2019 in Rome, Italy in the architecture program’s Rome Studies Year. I wouldn’t necessarily equate the architects’ abroad experience to many other programs, given the intensity and the depth of rich architecture we have to study here in Rome. While I may not be taking as many weekend trips as some of my peers, I can say wholeheartedly that the rigor of this program is making me a much better designer, thinker, and Italian speaker!

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Notre Dame’s program is rooted in the study of classicism. Italy, and more specifically Rome, is widely agreed to be the birthplace of classical motifs and orderings, giving life to many columnar orders, pediments, ornamentation, residential plans, and civic traditions that we still see reverberating in Western architecture today. The Eternal City was the playground for many architects of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Baroque movement, and the Classical Urbanism of today. Being able to live a true ten-minute walk from some of the most acclaimed works of art and sculpture such as the Colosseum, the Vatican, San Carlino alle Quattre Fontane, the Pantheon, and countless other breathtaking structures has widened my perspective and appreciation for antiquity. I always felt a resistance to Notre Dame’s program and its reluctance to teach any kind of modern or contemporary theory, seeing as how that is the landscape of the job market they’ll later release us into. However, this first month has provided me plenty of “lightbulb moments,” realizing that becoming a truly great designer would be impossible if one did not study the works of the greats. In fact, it’s quite arrogant to dismiss the innovations of Ancient and Renaissance architects. Just because a building was erected over five-hundred years ago does not automatically designate it as less-efficient than the industrialized architecture we mostly inhabit today. Learning of the natural, passive cooling and heating techniques of masonry construction, or the maximization of space in such tight urban layouts by means of a palazzo style plan has fully engrossed me in the study of antiquity and bringing me to realize the gaps that exist in contemporary


Additionally, I have continued my study of the Italian language. I am in the conversational class offered in the Rome

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Global Gateway, which I would highly recommend! The content is extremely relevant, mostly covering the key phrases that we need to function normally in Rome and preparing us for conversation with actual Italians. While my conversations with locals have not been graceful or above the comprehension of a 3-year old Italian boy, it has beenconstruction. Keep in mind I’m saying this just a mere month into the program!

 

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As for continuing research, I have begun extracurricular study under Prof. Ettore Mazzola on the history and current climate of social housing in Rome. It has been fascinating to contrast my summer internship experience (affordable housing development in New York City) with what I am learning here. Interestingly, social housing that was constructed during Rome’s population boom in the mid-seventeenth century was actually constructed to such a high degree of quality that they now have a market value just as high, if not higher in some neighborhoods, as typical private residential apartments here in Rome. The durability of the materials used in the initial construction made it so maintenance and upkeep is almost nonexistent for these buildings. By doing it right the first time, the architect ensured that the transfer of ownership of these apartments would never compromise the comfort and livability for the disadvantaged occupying them. No property manager could pocket the difference by not regularly servicing the building.the most surreal experience to struggle through it and ultimately be understood. In fact, Italy is a great place to immerse yourself in the language, no matter how proficient you are, as the Italian culture praises the efforts of non-native speakers (in contrast to other countries, such as France where you’re laughed at for insufficient French). I am looking forward to the end of the semester, as my final for my Italian class will be presenting and defending my semester-long design project, a mixed-income palazzo-style apartment building in the heart of Rome.


Again, being only one month in seems unbelievable. I have eight more months of intensive work here in Rome, and I am nothing but invigorated to keep growing and learning in this città bella.


October 2018

 

Another month down, but yet it feels like mere days have been flying by. This month went by so quickly for the architecture majors in Rome as we had Fall Break, immediately followed by a weeklong studio field trip to the Veneto region in northern Italy. Travelling for two consecutive weeks definitely gave me the “backpacking” experience I’ve been waiting for, and it is really humbling to think of all that I saw in such a short time.

 

Over Fall Break, I visited Athens, Greece with my mom! It almost felt like a classical architecture rite of passage to make the journey to the Acropolis, finally seeing one of the most famous architectural precedents with my own two eyes. I was surprised to see the rest of Athens, built of almost entirely brutalist architecture. Brutalist architecture is very heavy, concrete, geometric design originating from the German Bauhaus movement, which in my opinion is not beautiful in any way. Our tour guide informed us that after the Greco-Turkish war, ending in 1922, a population exchange occurred between the two countries, thus swelling the populations in their most metropolitan areas. Athens’ pre-war neighborhoods were designed in a very beautiful Greek Revival style, but had high maintenance costs and floorplans which could fit few occupants. To accommodate the growing population, the government ordered a citywide renewal, demolishing thousands of acres of traditional housing. The product of the “rebuilding” is the Athens of today, a brutalist grid where the only flourishes of color are the countless graffiti tags on nearly every wall. While I am not at all a fan of the city’s aesthetic demeanor, it was absolutely captivating as an architecture student to observe and theorize the architecture everywhere I went.

 

Then came Amsterdam. Amsterdam has got to be my favorite city thus far, for the rows of perfectly ornamented townhouses, the walkability of the entire city, the seamless public transportation, and the city’s regard for social housing. My post-graduation dream job is to work in the social housing field, hopefully in a large city with dynamic populations. What I found so intriguing about Amsterdam, is that I couldn’t tell an apartment building was occupied by those with subsidized rent, or a designated short-term homeless shelter. The high regard for traditional design in the city center was evident. In the U.S., public housing is not only obvious, but it’s an eyesore. Poor quality of construction paired with little to no maintenance will render a building a health hazard within 10 years. In Amsterdam, the transition from high to low income areas was so seamless, you really couldn’t gauge a person’s wealth from whatever porch they were walking down from, and I found that to be a really inspiring way of designing for the disadvantaged. Amsterdam is definitely on my list of places that will need a Round Two before going stateside again in May.

 

My October capped off with a weeklong field trip to the Veneto region, essentially a guided architecture tour by our professors. There we visited the works of some architecture’s greatest, such as Palladio, Scamozzi, Battista, and Longhene. Yet again, it was pretty surreal to actually see in person the architecture which I’ve studied for years prior. The sense of familiarity you experience as you’re first approaching the building quickly turns into the forming of an entirely different opinion and appreciation for the structure. There is so much more to architecture than studying the formal plans and perspective views of it from the internet. Truly, to just walk through architecture and experience the three-dimensional feel of the space will always be more powerful than studying from a book or images. My favorite building in all of Veneto is the Villa Rotonda by Palladio. Palladio was best known for transforming the typical villa type by merging it with the language of a Greek temple. Although uncommon to see a monumental triangular pediment supported by ten-foot columns in any homes today, we can still observe Palladian influence in many Craftsman, Victorian, and Greek Revival suburban homes, particularly on the East Coast. Many porches employ a scaled down columnar arcade to support a small, decorated roof over the porch, an invention first done in Vicenza, Italy which translated into typical American residential vernacular.

 

November may come off as a dull month in comparison, as it is time to lock down and turn out an entire palazzo for our final studio project of the semester. I’m working on a mixed-income apartment palazzo, with floorplans ranging from 45 to 150 square meters. I’m excited to become personally involved with a design purpose that I’m so passionate about, so stay tuned!