By Mattie Bailey
Five University of Arkansas students in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design were recognized earlier this semester for their design work through the eighth annual Hnedak Bobo Group International Design Competition. This is the first of three installments that explore their design projects and their study abroad experiences in Rome and Mexico.
Laura Cochran, a fifth-year architecture student from Kansas City, Missouri, was among the students who studied at the University of Arkansas Rome Center last year. During both the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters, the theme for the Rome Center studio was the Aurelian Wall, as students focused on urban analysis, interpretation, documentation, synthesis and intervention. The Aurelian Wall was a defensive wall of imperial Rome, with its construction begun in third century A.D. It was about 12.5 miles long, 13 feet thick and 24 feet high. In fifth century A.D., the height was raised to 35 feet, and 380 towers were added.
The instructors at the Rome Center asked design students to explore a specific section of the Aurelian Walls in teams. Each team analyzed the wall, wall fragment or ruin and recorded the transformations that occurred through the centuries. This investigation yielded sketches, diagrams, collages and other visual forms of data to be used in the design investigation. In doing this, students analyzed current urban conditions, identified the multiple social and cultural overlays on the site, and studied the principles of organization that order and give meaning to the whole.
Students also studied the wall as a physical and material object. The students were asked to determine in what ways the wall might occupy, define, divide or create space. These answers were studied and analyzed in the context of the neighborhoods through which the wall passes. Students studied the history of the street patterns, figure and ground conditions that exist, and the sectional relationships between the wall and the context.
For their final part of the project, the individual design project, students were asked to use their investigations as the basis for imagining and designing a response to the neighborhood that engaged the “idea” of the wall as an architectural element important and relevant in the city of Rome today. The individual projects were evaluated on comprehension of the site’s issues/opportunities; depth of the inventory with respect to the proposed analytical strategy; level of development of the analytical content; coherence of the individual design proposal within the team’s analysis; and clarity in the representation, quality of drawings and development of the idea.
Cochran recalls attending the Hnedak Bobo design competition awards ceremony during her third year of architecture school. She said that she “knew after seeing the work, I wanted to be a part of the competition.”
Cochran, who received an Award of Excellence for her work in this year’s competition, spent about eight weeks on the individual phase of work in Rome.
“Studying abroad was amazing,” Cochran said. “I was there for four months, I can truly say I miss and think about Rome every single day. I cannot wait to go back and walk the streets of Trastevere again.”
Her project introduced a new wall to the ancient Aurelian Walls that surround the city of Rome. She said this new wall is added as an extension of the old, bridging Porta Pinciana and Villa Medici. The new structure creates an enclosed triangular site and becomes a modern sculpture garden. The proposed wall mimics the existing wall in its scale and its reinterpretation of the tower, while keeping an identity of its own with its use of modern materials, she said.
The surrounding Villa Borghese provided the inspiration for the program of the project, Cochran said. Villa Borghese is one of the largest gardens in Rome, and it contains beautiful gardens and museums. This “new wall” creates vertical circulation along the ancient walls onto the Villa Borghese grounds. A modern sculpture garden seemed to be the perfect transition along the way, she said.
The Architecture of the City class strongly encouraged sketching, Cochran said, which also inspired the project.
“I wanted to take advantage of being in this ancient city and experiencing it just as architecture students had hundreds of years ago,” she said. “I favored hand drawing over computer work. I brought my sketchbook with me everywhere I went whether I was sketching at the bar across the street, along the river or at our apartment, I was constantly drawing what was around me.”
Cochran said that planners in Rome are in a tricky position in that they have to consider when and how do they preserve the ancient city while continuing to modernize it in a respectful way. She wanted her project to respect and take inspiration from the ancient walls.
“The new wall is not only meant to create space along the walls, but reinforce what is existing,” she said.
Cochran learned much from her study abroad experience abroad – “not only about architecture, but about different cultures, travel and discovering things for yourself. I feel fortunate that our school requires such an experience.”