A Student Blog by Jordan Laurila

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    I'm in architecture school because of a barrel vault.

    By Laurila
    Oct 3, '17 11:14 PM EST

    I’m in architecture school because of a barrel vault  

    A barrel vault is the simplest kind of vault, essentially just a series of arches placed one after another. It was originally built from stone, but the barrel vault that I’m referring to consists of concrete framing, stucco, and plaster, an entirely classical design rendered in a modern aesthetic. It was built by Joseph Amisano, a thoroughly Atlanta architect, as part of the firm: Toombs, Amisano and Wells. Completed in 1961, the building--a white box in a sea of red brick--hosts the landscape architecture school of the University of Georgia.

    At the time of experiencing it, I lacked the language to situate it in a historical moment. I couldn’t have said that the building is mostly modernist, that it is a box with glass curtain walls wrapped around much of it, but that it was built in the early stages of postmodernism, and so the building doesn’t neatly fall into the modernist category. On one half it, tucked away towards the back face of the building is the barrel vault, double story in height, smoothed out in a continuous and pure off-white color. It is absolutely monumental. Functionally, it is just a hallway for some lecture halls and a small library, but for just a hallway, it has the power to make a person stop. For just a hallway that connects the main atrium to a wood side exit, it is massively out of scale from the rest of the building. I had meandered into the building after an international relations class. Bored from what I had just learned in class, I stopped when I turned the corner to walk under the arch of this barrel vault.

    As someone who’s undergraduate degree is not in architecture, I’m commonly asked what compelled me to apply to a Masters program. What brought me to Taubman? Had I majored in landscape architecture, architecture, or almost any other related field, the reason would be evident. But I did a foreign language, and sometimes the connection is difficult to make, even for me.

    So, when someone asks me what led me to architecture school, there are a thousand reasons I could give. I took the plunge as a result of many small decisions and experiences. I could have equally written this post entirely about a door handle. There was this copper casted, curved door handle that had the perfect weight and heft to it. I could have waxed poetically about my legos as a child, or perhaps the first time I was stunned at the expanse of the landscape around me when at the top of a skyscraper for the first time. But as everything is clearer in hindsight, it makes the most sense for me to pinpoint my architectural interests with the time I first took in this oddly placed, monumental barrel vault.

    It happened to be the first time I noticed the effect of what happens when a built element lays itself bare in front of its passerbys. It happened to be the first time that I thought explicitly about how design--broadly defined--could be something more than cool, pretty, pleasant or boring, ugly, unpleasant. It was a small moment, but small moments are important.

    I am now a few months away from being halfway done with my three-year program. Taubman College, in way or another, has given me more small moments than I thought I wanted. This weird early-postmodern-but-still-vaguely-modern barrel vault proved to be the small moment number one for everything architecture-related.

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About this Blog

Details, impressions, and all those in between memories deserve a voice. It just so happens architecture school has given me a lot of those. I am a 3-Year Masters of Architecture student at Taubman College at the University of Michigan, and we'll see where this gets us.

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