Monday, September 28, 2009

Yale: Drawing Rome

Back in the 1980s, it was not uncommon for archaeologists to rub shoulders with established architects at the American Academy in Rome, both groups intimately invested in the city's history. At the height of postmodernism (the exciting intellectual discourse rather than the empty stylistic catch-phrase), studying Rome was vital. Robert Venturi, Leon Krier, Colin Rowe, Michael Graves, and other architectural celebrities saw Rome as the premier laboratory by which the reigns of modernism could be challenged.

Since the 1980s, Rome seems to have lost its importance in architectural discourse. Whether due to intense formalism or deconstructivist iconoclasm, even the Rome Prize Fellows did not seem to appreciate the city's architectural past. Many could really have been anywhere. The Academy in Rome simply offered good real estate and prestige.

All these thoughts came to mind, by chance, when I discovered an exhibit at Yale's School of Architecture. Although not very well signed, "Rome: Continuity and Change" is a spectacular exhibit, and in my mind, much more important than The Green House at the official gallery of the school (see yesterday's posting). While looking through The Green House, my eye caught a black-and-white plan of Rome one level above (reminding me of the famous Nolli map). Navigating through the somewhat complicated Rudolph building (great in section but not so great in navigation), I found myself walking around the offices of the Art History department (Gwathmey addition) and around the offices of Architecture Department. Before I knew it, I was outside the offices of studio faculty like Peter Eisenman (who was, of course, not there). Up on the walls of this corridor, one can see the most intriguing drawings representing (in the true sense of the word) monuments of Rome. On two tables further down, one can also flip through the sketchbooks that produced the analytical drawings on the walls.

Rome: Continuity and Change, was a studio directed by Stephen Harby (Charles Moore, UCLA) and Alexander Purves (Davis Brody Associates). In May/June 2009, thirty Yale architecture students traveled to Rome to understand the city through intensive drawing. The results are wonderful, inspiring to both architectural historians and architects. I strongly recommend this to anyone traveling through New Haven this Fall. It's a shame the show was not advertised. It would have also been great if it could travel to other venues.

The Yale Alumni Magazine (July/August 2009) describes the studio as follows: "Thirty students midway through their training spent four weeks in Rome from May 12 to June 12 for the school's annual intensive workshop, 'Rome: Continuity and Change,' in which they studied examples from the entire history of architecture, from antiquity to the present. Archeologists and historians of Rome presented in-depth lectures and on-site guided tours. 'The seminar examines historical continuity and change as well as the ways in which and the reasons why some elements and approaches were maintained over time and others abandoned,' wrote Professor Emeritus Alexander Purves '58, '65MArch, in a summary of the workshop experience. Purves and lecturer Stephen Harby led the trip. The students' experience during the workshop has been described as 'draw, draw, draw,' as they focus on buildings, landscapes, and gardens, both within and outside the city. 'The course is guided by the conviction that an essential part of an architect's formation is the first-hand experience of a broad range of buildings and places of all periods and styles,' Purves wrote. But they also took time to enjoy lectures, concerts, and urban life in general in Rome."

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States