Julia Pesola Rome


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Greetings from Rome! My name is Julia and I am in my third year of studying architecture at Notre Dame. When I think back to why I chose ND, one of the main reasons that comes to mind is the incredibly unique classical architecture program. Although Notre Dame’s architecture program is only one of the few in the US with a classical curriculum, I think what really sets the School of Architecture apart is its incredible Rome program! The Rome program is something I have dreamed about since day one of deciding to attend Notre Dame, and I am so excited to finally be here in the Eternal City!

It’s hard to believe that I am already a month into the Rome program! Time is going by as quickly and effortlessly as grains of sand slipping through an hourglass. I came to Rome with an open mind, not really knowing what to expect, and I am glad because any expectations that I would have had could not have possibly conceived of what an incredible this is. As a native New Yorker, I can be kind of picky when it comes to other cities; New York has always been the best in my mind. However, Rome has already found a way into my heart in a manner that I wouldn’t have expected.

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Being taught about classical architecture and history in the US is one thing, but getting to be outside for class every day and actually experience the architecture is completely different level of learning. What I really love about this year so far in school is how hands-on all of the classes are. Instead of reading a book and seeing pictures about the Roman Forum or the Palatine Hill, we actually get to go to these places during class and learn on the spot! Not only is this form of learning fun, but I feel like something has clicked in my brain and I’m really starting to understand what all my professors have been telling me about architecture for the past two years!

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For our most recent studio project, we documented urban conditions in an area in Rome. For class, we got to walk around the neighborhood while sketching and analyzing how the nature of the built environment effects so many aspects of life. This has brought my understanding of urbanism to a deeper level then a lecture probably ever could have. I feel like I also have been learning really valuable skills in terms of documenting urban fabric and buildings on site, which will be extremely useful as I start to delve into the world of independent research more on my own.  

Rome hasn’t just been an educational experience in terms of architecture. Living in Rome has given be a newfound appreciation for not only Italian art and architecture, but also the language and culture. In preparation for Rome, all architecture students have to take a year of Italian, but I have continued taking Italian in Rome and have really fallen in love with the language! Every day offers me many opportunities to practice my conversational skills with native speakers as I traverse through the city. My Italian professor explained to me the difference between foreign language acquisition and second language acquisition. For example, foreign language acquisition would have been me last year learning Italian in the US, while second language acquisition is exemplified by my life now, where I am in Italy learning Italian and am constantly exposed to the language. I feel like second language acquisition is much easier, and I feel like my Italian comprehension and conversation is improving quickly. Practicing Italian while buying a gelato or a coffee is a lot of fun and makes me more passionate about learning the language! I also want to try and pick up a minor in Italian if I can manage to fit it in with my already crazy class schedule.

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Finally, I want to conclude by saying that I am loving Rome so much that I am thinking of staying here this summer! I feel like that sentiment is a pretty good expression of how great this first month has been. There is something magical about Rome; this city has so many layers of history and a rich architectural and cultural heritage that keeps leaving me wanting more. I am truly excited for the year ahead of me!


It’s hard to believe that the month of October is already over, as the Mediterranean climate of Italy has ensured that it’s still nice and warm in Rome! This month has flown by in part due to the business of midterm week, but also because I’ve been traveling for almost half of October. The first two weeks of October went by in a blur of drafting and water-coloring during the infamous architecture “deadline week.” However, this deadline week was far more pleasant than usual because our big studio project was a group project, so there was substantially less work per person, which was a relief. I really enjoyed this past project. My group and I had to propose an urban intervention in an area of Rome that we had previously analyzed. This urban design project was a bit different from the usual architecture project where you have to design a sole building, so this change of thinking about the grand scheme of things was fun and refreshing. The project went smoothly and was finished the second week of October marking the end of midterm week. With the of midterms came Fall Break, which I was especially excited for as I had planned a trip throughout England with my mom!

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Traveling throughout Europe is substantially easier when you’re already living here! Flights are all relatively short and inexpensive if you plan ahead. Immediately after my final class ended on Friday of midterm week, I was on a plane flying to London! I didn’t spend much time in London as our trip was mainly focused on the South of England, but while there, my mom and I went to the Warner Bros Studio and got a tour of their Harry Potter exhibit! This wasn’t the most educational tour but was incredibly fun and really amazing as I have always been a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and movies! I am actually currently reading the Harry Potter series in Italian as a means of practicing the language, so I guess my love for the books can be academically helpful at times!

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After London, we traveled to Oxford, which was really exciting because I distinctly remember learning about the University’s design and some of their more important buildings such as the Radcliffe Camera in my architectural history classes! In addition, we traveled to Salisbury, and visited Stonehenge. Stonehenge is always one of the first pieces of architecture discussed in architectural history as it dates back about 5,500 years, so it was truly incredible being able to see this monument in person for the first time. Traveling while being an architecture student is always a great experience because a lot of the times, you have learned about specific structures or the type of architecture in the area, which I think really enriches the experience and allows you to think critically about what you are seeing and experiencing. After Salisbury, we headed to Bath, got to tour the Roman Baths (and tasted the bath water!) and eventually parted ways, as I headed back to Rome.

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My return to Rome was for less than 24 hours, as on Sunday morning at 8am, all of the archies met at the train station to begin our week-long class trip throughout the Veneto Region. These trips are an incredibly fun way of learning about architecture and also getting to know Italy a bit better. However, these trips aren’t all fun and games; even though we are traveling, it is technically class time for up to 12 hours  a day! We don’t just look at buildings, but often are taking quick analytical sketches and notes in our as we are walking around the city and our professors are explaining what we are looking at. The first day we traveled to Bologna, and that was followed by Mantua and Verona. Mantua was home to the famous Mannerist architect Giulio Romano, a class favorite, and it was really exciting to see his playful use of classical architecture, specifically in Palazzo Te. Verona was really lovely, and my favorite part about our time spent there, was eating dinner while sitting in the main piazza with my friends and watching all of the Italian night life! From Verona, we traveled to Vicenza, and basically got a tour of all of Palladio’s greatest hits. The most well-known being Villa Rotunda, which we had to draw for an assignment for our drawing class. This was incredibly hard! As the sun set and the temperature dropped, we all scrambled to finish our drawings of this iconic building to varying degrees of success.

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Our last stop on the last day of October was Venice, which is truly a magical city. I thought Rome’s public transportation was bad but trying to take the waterbus into Venice with our whole architecture class plus luggage was a whole different level of chaos! This intense educational trip ended on a calm note. On the last day of the trip, my friend Natalie and I wandered around Venice on our own and found a quiet place near a canal to watercolor. It started raining on us, so we propped up umbrellas overhead and continued to watercolor, much to the amusement of passersby. Overall, October was like a warm fall breeze taking me all over the world. This warm breeze was interrupted by a crisp, cool November wind, that will carry along to more adventures! My next stop: Paris!


The Christmas season has officially begun with the end of November! All of Rome is currently lit up with festive Christmas lights adorning all of the shops and restaurants. This is the real indicator that it’s winter, as the weather is comparable to the fall of South Bend and is quite pleasant unlike the winter-weather that I am accustomed to. My month of November has been really consumed by my final design project for the semester. For studio, we had to design a mixed-use residential building in the style of a palazzo. Unlike South Bend, Rome has hundreds of palazzi, so it wasn’t hard to find inspiration and precedent for my design.

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In the beginning stages of design, we toured Rome for class looking at different palazzi and how they adapted their design to the often constricting sites in Rome. This was a great way to get the creative process started. After looking at ample examples, we then got to work brainstorming ideas for our individual sites. Sketching is an integral part of the design process and my initial drawings are always something I refer back to when I get stuck on a design problem. I have included a picture of one of my sketchbook pages to illustrate the rough beginnings of this design phase.  

The middle of November went by in the blink of an eye, as everyone was trying to finalize their ideas and get most of their drawings done before Thanksgiving. With four free days for the Thanksgiving holiday, everyone was planning on traveling and was therefore trying to get in a good spot with their project before leaving. I was really excited for Thanksgiving as my friend Dominic and I had planned a trip to Paris! We rented a loft in the Le Marais neighborhood and booked flights for this Thanksgiving adventure!

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Paris blew all of my expectations out of the water. It was truly a magical city. I would liken Paris to a cleaner version of New York, which is crazy because I’ve always heard that Paris is very dirty, but it was actually quite clean and lovely. After weeks of intense focus on architecture, architecture, and more architecture, my weekend excursion was meant to be a detox from studying buildings and site-seeing. However, that’s not actually how my trip went. The architecture and urban design of Paris is too enchanting to not look at! But in the spirit of my architectural detox, I didn’t work on my studio project at all during my weekend trip, which was a welcome respite. Our trip was spent wandering around the city with no aim, just trying to experience and take in the feel of the city as much as possible. We ate many crepes and buttery croissants (a nice change from the sweet cornetti of Rome) and went in and out of the many picturesque shops.

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Dominic and I visited the Louvre and got free admission with our Italian permesso di sogiorno, which said that we are residents of the EU! The Louvre was incredible. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend in it because it was overwhelmingly large. I think I could spend a week in the Louvre and still not have seen everything. I’ll just have to plan another trip to Paris and visit the Louvre again!

With the end of November comes December. I am especially looking forward to the winter holiday, to not only get a break from studio, but because my family will be joining me in Rome for Christmas and I’m very excited! We have three weeks off for break, and for the first week, I will be travelling around Greece with some of my family members, and then I return to Rome for the last two weeks of break where the rest of my family will be joining us. We have rented an apartment in Rome, and it will be most of my family’s first time in Italy! I will be serving as the translator and tour guide of the group, and I am excited to be able to share all of my newfound expertise and architectural knowledge about the city and its history with them. Until then, I am hoping for this upcoming deadline week to be not so painful, and that my final review will go well. After that, I can focus on finals, and then I’ll be celebrating the holidays with my family! Wish me luck until then!