Kansas State University (Bo)

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Jan '11 - Feb '12

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    First Steps

    By Bo
    Jan 26, '11 12:24 PM EST

    Buonasera a tutti!

    After a month and a half of general laziness and sloth, followed by a furious week of packing and portfolio-creation, and culminating in 17 hours of airplanes and two meals of airplane food, sono qui!

    The reality of being in Italy is a bit surreal, and the picturesque landscape and town make it even more so. Jet lag has been mild (incredible meals and the after-lunch siestas have helped) and the study center is starting to feel like home. It's been an interesting feeling of liminality as we transition into our new surroundings, with the understanding that we will be here for the next three months. Not speaking the language in any kind of fluid or even recognizable form in addition to having not fully grasped the local culture and traditions leaves one feeling vulnerable, but the city has been warm and welcoming thus far.

    Home base for the semester is Santa Chiara, a converted convent located in the hill city of Castiglion Fiorentino, in the Arezzo region of Tuscany. Nearby cities of note include Cortona and Arezzo. The three cities (Cast. Fior., Arezzo, and Cortona) were the setting for the 1997 Roberto Begnini film "Life is Beautiful." The center is relatively large: containing living quarters, a large dining room, offices, and studios. There are around 80 students that will be living at the center this semester from Kansas State, University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas A&M, and Colorado State University.

    Introduction to our classes and studio for the semester will begin tomorrow, and I will post on those when I know more.

    Studio this semester will be composed of an individual independent study proposal sited within the region. At this point, the proposals are relatively vague and we will work to reify our proposals in the next week or so.

    My proposal deals with the decentralization of an event (and more specifically, event venues) into a series of pavilions spread throughout a city in such a way that it allows a specific narrative about the city's relationship to that event to emerge. If that sounds vauge, it is at this point. More specifically: in June of every year, the city of Florence hosts the men's fashion event "Pitti Uomo" as a showcase for emerging brands. I plan to design a series of pavilions and linkages between them in a way that allows the participants to draw upon the history of the city and provide a backdrop for their work. The first half of the semester will be spent mapping the city to determine the best circulation for the event (including small urban interventions to facilitate the flow), and the second half will be spent working on the pavilions -- or pavilion, based on time (possibly the primary venue).

    The pace and quality of life in Castiglion is so vastly different than my last three and a half years of college, and I plan to embrace this change (it honestly is a major part of the cultural immersion). It's required a different mindset: at school we are taught to be workaholics, to sacrifice relationships, leisure time, sleep, and health for our projects. We are brainwashed into total submission to our discipline in order to allow us to create the best work we can. Since I arrived, I've spent some time thinking about two distinct conversations I've had in the past year.

    The first was my third year, first semester, in Torgeir Norheim's studio. Our second project for the semester, a non-denominational worship center, was sited in Stavanger, Norway, Torgeir's hometown. Our studio spent two class periods engaging in a round table discussion about the cultural mores of the Norwegians in order to provide a background to our work. Torgeir explained to us that in Norway, as a result of its enormous national wealth (from offshore oil reserves) and high quality of life, many of the citizens have become overly content, losing desire to progress forward. He explained that as an architect, he always felt as if he was fighting against centuries of inertia. That the country's blessings had led it to fall asleep.

    I discussed this conversation with my high school friend Taylor this last summer. Taylor is a deeply moral and committed environmental studies major and has spent a considerable amount of time around the world at environmental conferences and engaging in humanitarian work. In response to the discussion, he pointedly asked if there was a problem with being overly content. Norway still engages the international community and is a leader in peaceful diplomacy (most notably Middle East peace talks). Is it wrong, he asked, that they have little desire to create high art or architecture if they are happy?

    It's been a question I have wrestled with, and a debate that has been reignited in my mind as I have experienced the high quality of life that the residents here experience. There is an immense amount of cultural and regional pride and community. I talked to a woman who was born in the town and, after a few years in London and Florence, moved back because the pace and chaos of the city was too intense. This led to some questions: Is it worth it to give up aspirations and the ability to create "high architecture" in order to live a sustainable and enjoyable life? Would I be eschewing some kind of moral responsibility I have to create the most powerful and important work that I can? Or is that an argument that I've created to justify some need for recognition or propaganda that I've believed?

    It's a difficult argument. I don't know how well I've explained it, but I'd be interested to hear people's opinions.

    Gelato count: 0 (Sad, I know)
    Exercise count: 0

    Currently reading: "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz
    Italian movie reccomendation: "Life is Beautiful" directed by Roberto Begnini


    • Shannon Wiebe

      My studio group last year did a two week tour of Italy – I would have loved to have stayed longer. A few of us took a scooter ride into Tuscany and had an amazing picnic on a hill in a walled town that sounds like a smaller version of Castiglion Fiorentino. Enjoy the siestas and gelato! Maybe you'll find the answer to your question once you've experienced life there a while longer.

      Jan 26, 11 11:46 pm

      scattered pavilions in a lost utopia...

      thought you might be interested.

      Jan 27, 11 1:46 am

      I know this post is a year old - but I appreciate you writing it and allowing me to relive those first few days when I arrived in Castiglion. It was 1998 and Roberto's movie was a big hit - anyway just wanted to say thanks and encourage you to revisit Castiglion sooner than later.

      My wife and I are taking our 8 year old daughter on a 3 week trip through Italy in april and plan on stopping in to visit with Torgier at the study center. Good luck with wrapping up your final symester (don't forget to enjoy that as well) I look forward to reading more of your posts.


      Feb 10, 12 2:05 pm

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A first-person account of the interior life of the College of Architecture, Planning, and Design at Kansas State University. This blog seeks to bring you the latest architecture news from the fabled Little Apple -- Manhattan, Kansas.

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