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    Taubman College Spring Travel Course Experience: Nordic Countries, 2014

    By dtran125
    Nov 26, '14 6:00 PM EST

    The Taubman College Spring Travel Course Experience is an interview series with students who have participated in the course and want to share their experiences with other students.

    Light in architecture has always been a captivating and necessary endeavor in architectural investigation.  The extreme changes in the seasons and daylight in the Nordic countries, such as Finland and Norway, have led to some of the most unique and intriguing architecture dealing with natural lighting. The use of light smooth surfaces help counterbalance the long winters, while great efforts were put into the architecture to heighten natural lighting during the limited summer seasons. The spring travel course to the Nordic Countries with Peter MacKeith closely examined the various details and atmospheric quality that light has on architecture.

    Peter MacKeith is the Dean at UA’s Fay Jones School of Architecture.  He served as Associate Dean of the Sam Fox School from its inauguration in 2006 until June, 2013. During that time he was a Professor of Architecture, and Adjunct Associate Curator of Architecture and Design at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis.

    David Shellabarger and Diana Tsai, both in their second year of the M.ARCH (three year) degree, agreed to share some of their experiences on their Nordic adventures.

    What about the Nordic trip that appealed to you the most?

    David: I wanted to go to Europe and there were a lot of well-known architecture from those Countries- that was a big draw for me.

    Diana: Yeah, I really wanted to go to Europe and I was also interested in the Nordic countries.

    Did you have to do a bit of research before you went on the trip?

    David: We met with Peter a few times to talk about certain topics and background research, as well as doing some research on the firms we were going to visit and people we were going to speak to.

    What did you do while you were there?

    David: We did a lot of guided walking tours, Peter is deceptively fast, so we saw a lot in the amount of time we were there. We would stop to do sketches but the majority of the time was visiting different firms and seeing various buildings and talking to different people.

    So you didn’t necessarily have one particular project while you were there?

    Diana: We did, we had to keep a sketchbook that folds out into one linear panel mapping the places we’ve been.

    David: Yeah, and we also had to interview principals and designers of all the firms we visited and keep a record of that. Peter would ask us the day before on what kinds of questions we would ask and prepared us for the interviews.  At one point we’re planning to have an exhibition of our sketchbooks.

    Diana: Yeah because it kind of tells a story of how we experienced the trip architecturally.

    David: We also had to create a timeline of the buildings and places we visited.  The ongoing theme of the course was what made a particular work distinctly Nordic and we would have to distinguish our own interpretation of what it is in an essay.

    It seems you did a lot of interviews on your trip, what did you learn from being able to speak to so many designers?

    Diana: It was really insightful; it was easier to reference certain buildings because we spoke to the designer or the firm that designed it. I’m taking sustainable right now and a lot of the buildings that are being referenced in the class, we visited. So it was really nice to actually experience the building first hand.

    David: Yeah we saw a ton of great buildings, and Peter knows so many people and knows so much about the architecture there.

    Was this the first time for the two of you in Europe?

    Diana: For me yes.

    Was there anything surprising about it?

    Diana: It is so clean! And they don’t have any public bathrooms; you have to pay, so bring change when you’re walking around.

    David: I’ve been to Europe before, but not the Nordic countries particularly. I was surprised how many people spoke English and how well they spoke it too.

    What would be your advice for students who are interested in this particular course?

    Both: DOOO ITTTT!

    Diana: Yeah, take lots of pictures and do lots of sketching!

    David: Yeah, definitely practice your sketching skills.

    Would you say that you the course helped you with your sketching abilities?

    Diana: Not necessarily sketching skills but learning about Nordic architecture specifically.

    David: There are a lot of fine details in Nordic architecture and these are things you completely miss in just photographs. But when you see it in person, you learn to appreciate how the details come together in a particular building.

    Diana: I agree, I mean that craftsmanship of the architecture there is unbelievable.

    What was the highlight of the trip for you?

    Diana: I actually liked that there were only three of us and Peter. I think it would have been much different if there were a lot of people.

    David: Yeah, it made traveling a lot easier. We definitely want more people to go, but because it was a small group we got to really know Peter and it made changing plans easier. But if there were more people, it would have been fun in a different way.

    Diana: The bike tour was a lot of fun!

    David: Oh yeah, that was great! I think Peer’s connection is a highlight. He knows so many people and we met so many designers who are really interesting and well known, and also high up in their firm. They had a lot of insight and wisdom to share. Sometimes not necessarily about architecture, but about their life and career path which is really fascinating.

    Since you saw quite a number of inspiring architecture, which would you say is your favorite?

    David: My favorite was the Bagsværd church by Jørn Utzon outside of Copenhagen.

    Diana: I loved the Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. It’s this amazing church built on a rock and I just fell in love. I think the amazing thing about Nordic architecture is that they really focus on the atmosphere. You walk into their churches and it’s just pure wow, their lighting is amazing!

    Do you think the trip has changed how you view architecture and how you design?

    David: Yeah, before I was more interested in the form of architecture and its analysis, but I think I’m now more interested and aware of the urban landscape and how the city works. Especially in Copenhagen and seeing how walkable the city is and how architecture has a role in that is great; you just don’t see that in the U.S.

    Diana: Yeah I’m definitely more aware of the urban landscape and details in my design.

    Are there any final thoughts from the trip you would like to share for those who are interested in the Nordic trip?

    BOTH: DO IT!!!!

    Diana: Peter is fantastic. If there is a secret Arcade Fire show in Stockholm, you have to go.

    David: Yeah, any “secret” shows, you must go! Don’t go to the bars in Oslo though, just not a good idea.  Eat meatballs in Sweden!

    Diana: And the ice –cream!

    David: Definitely explore on your own if you get a chance, even if you are tired.

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