Last days in Italy

Hello! This post concludes my travels to Italy and completes the first part of this blog. It has been a wonderful adventure, with many new discoveries and experiences. I am grateful for all the trips and the chance to see for myself a different culture, and am content with moving on to new adventures. Italy was a blast!

20150425_130115My last week began with a final visit to my friends in Bologna. The father drove me to Ravenna. We were limited in time, so he showed me the major sites and squares of the picturesque city. Reminiscent of Siena or Ferrara, Ravenna had a complex and dense center of small streets and small squares, all held together by the city wall with major monuments scattered at the edge. On the left: the main church in Ravenna, San Vitale, shared the hexagonal characteristics of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, but on a much smaller scale. My favorite of the trip was the tomb to Dante. Thus Ravenna was a good end to my travels: I had arrived in Florence and immediately stumbled upon his statue near Santa Croce, now I was leaving having seen his tomb.

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Very reminiscent of Venice, I would say. The small squares, the columns, the organization. The photo of the square above (without the columns) could also be compared to Santa Croce in Florence or the smaller market in Rome.20150425_133348 20150425_133457

Above: two photos of the tomb of Dante.

The Monday before had been an hour long trip to Fiesole. The city perches on the hills north of Florence, overlooking both sides of the Arno and the whole Florentine Valley. Our class visited the Villa Medici, a retreat for the famous but often disliked family that ruled the city below. While students presented, I sat on the brick walls of the complex and sketched. A beautiful view expanded from east to west – the sun in early evening orbit casting shadows on the Duomo and greater Florence.20150413_153310 20150413_16274520150510_182244

Above: the photo actually includes a page from Como on the left, 4 days before Fiesole.

The night before I left is called the “white night” in Florence. It is the eve of the European labor day, May 1st. My host mother told me about previous years’ celebrations being worthy of Mardi Gras in the states. 2012, reportedly, had featured ballerinas dancing on tightropes (or suspended from the air, this wasn’t too clear) in major piazze and streets, along with music, masks, and merrymaking. 2015 had a couple of events that we decided to skip, some music – including a heavier rock band performing on the same street as a merengue/flamenco mix (what? why?) band. My host other and I ended up at the Synagogue in Florence, which I had not previously visited. A beautiful building, it was surrounded by a high wall with Italian military police at the entrance. This was confusing at first (the three policemen carried semi-automatics and loaded sidearms), but made more sense in context of Italy being a Catholic state. Inside the church, beautiful detailing decorated the walls and apses. It is always interesting to note the similarities between a Jewish temple and a Catholic church, and then to contrast that with the temples of Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. The former are elaborate and grand, with lots of detailing and gold… the latter are quieter (still big – much bigger than most Catholic architecture), with blank walls and a focus on light, bronze, and stone. The synagogue concluded my adventures in Florence.

Below: the Synagogue and the Duomo from the Oblate library roof, a confusing mess of circulation.

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The next morning I left for Pisa. I had gotten tickets to London with RyanAir, which turned out to be a great choice! I only had to pay for one bag, a train, and a bus, making the total cost ~60 Euro. Even with the hassle of having to go to Pisa, this was a great way to travel for a student! Moreover, I had the chance to stop in a city I had not seen before and go see the famous tower. After a 15 minute walk from the station via the main route to the tower, I sat on the grass in front of the Duomo and sketched it, the Tower, and the people holding it up. There were a lot of Russians and Senegalese, the former posing for 15min+ in front of the attraction, the later trying to sell stuff to the Russian-speaking guests. I was content with sitting in the sun on the bright green grass of spring and enjoying the scene and the activity.

20150501_150958My walk back followed the same path – the side street that approaches the tower, the main street back to the station, the two major squares on either side of the river on that street, all this ending at the station. The city presented itself, thus, as almost a smaller version of Siena or a cut-out piece of Rome – major spaces strung together on one narrow band of circulation, bends in this circulation cutting off straight views of the major monuments. So if Ravenna was a necklace of beads with many strings, Pisa only had one.


20150501_141027One of the squares, down that road is the station.

I hiked to the airport. It struck me as surreal – the low rising plane of the building against the low-rising hills, surrounded by buildings that got progressively less modern as one walked away from it. But it was nice to have completed the first leg of the journey. I was thinking of England.

I must say, with the Italy part of the trip over, that the adventure was worth it. Now that I am in Scotland, I cannot get enough of the beauty of these lands, and I find myself liking the highlands more than I did Italy. But my semester-long trip definitely had its highlights, and I would certainly do it again if I could. Everything from Modena to Ferrara to Siena and Bologna left an impression on me with its food, culture, and art. Rome was amazing to be in, surrounded by the history of ages and the power of empires built upon empires. I saw Vesuvius and walked over Pompeii, which captivated me with its amphitheaters and broken cobble streets, its graveyards and towers. And the last days in Verona, Vicenza, and Venice – filled with sun and water and green – were a gift from Nature. I am glad I did this, traveled more than I could have and challenged myself to draw and see and discover. It will be wonderful to come back again.

Below: sunsets from the last week in Florence. Villa Rossa, piazza Donatello.

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Last days in Italy

Como: High Architecture


ARC571 Field Studies concluded with a day-trip to Como. The picturesque city, home to George Clooney, sits on a beautiful lake and serves as a popular vacation destination for Italians.

Our reason for visiting was different, however. Como was the working city of Giuseppe Terragni, much like Mantova was for Alberti or Vicenza for Paladio. Terragni worked 1930-1940 and was the head architect for a rationalist movement of architecture in Italy during fascism. Few of his works stand, many are theoretical, and those that never made it past paper are considered some of the best in our field. Ironically, me asking my Italian friends or host mother about Terragni has always drawn blank stares and caused confusion. Fascist-era architecture is not popular with today’s Italy; neither, however, is modernism. Click on pictures to enlarge.

20150410_161040The funny thing with modernism: our interest in it rarely reflects the function of the architecture, and often conflicts with what locals and users have to say about it. Outside Giuliano-Frigerio, the height of our Como trip, a resident or local Italian accosted professor Luca. People, he said, did not fully enjoy the masterpiece of architecture because it leaked or squeaked or didn’t perform (I do not know what he actually said). After he left, our professors debriefed us. People, they said, rarely appreciate true works of art or architecture because these are too complex to be understood by the common mind.

I find this strange. What either side said made sense, but the middle-ground of the argument did not. If we, architects, were to build for the good of the everyday consumer, why disregard their comments on the performance of architecture? Should not there be a feedback loop of some sort, like in any good business? The architecture professor’s answer to that is quoting our work as “high art” and requiring high levels of interest for comprehension. I have nothing against Terragni or Giuliano-Frigerio – I would even say that this is one of my favorite buildings of all time – but does not the inhabitant have a vote in the improvement of their dwelling?

The comment on high art I have slowly come to understand. Drawing in art galleries, I often find people spending illogically unequal amounts of time on paintings, sometimes giving more attention to the most peculiar works whilst ignoring others. I do that myself – study works that make my soul sing, my mind deliberate, or my eyes wander. But, if this is the case, high art seems to be an entirely different circle of works for every person. Some people walk by Canova sculptures and Leighton oils (left) like I do past Morandi and van Doesburg “masterpieces”. And if there is no general definition for high art, then, by default, there really is no such thing as “high art”.

The Bath of Psyche, Frederick Leighton, Tate Britian.
Construction de l ‘ espace, Temps III, Theo van Doesburg.

Thus, maybe, the discrepancy of views in architecture schools and the reason to their inefficiency. If more time were spent teaching technique and less propagating a specific style of architecture, or way to view the world, maybe tensions would flare less and results improve. I end this train of thoughts by re-stating that I have come to appreciate different architectures and arts, I simply wish people not feverishly argue their favorite art as the best and only, and that, eventually, a sense of beauty be re-awakened in today’s mankind.

I love Terragni. Our first stop, Casa del Fascio, was built and is still used as a government institution. Its political agenda aside, the project is a beautiful work of geometry and rhythm, an exercise in changing spaces, volumes, and voids. Below, the first photo is of a museum near the actual building, where trees grew on top of an open steel-joist roofing system.




The drawing top left is of the Duomo of Como, across from the Casa del Fascio. I drew it first on the site as a quick exercise before drawing squares.20150510_182220 20150510_182209

The actual building is white, highly orthogonal, and, spatially, reminded me of a tesseract in motion. A 7 side grid system folded in to create a 3 side grid system or a 9 square grid. A similar process repeated in elevations and sections, with one side on each grid blocked out (maintained opposite during rotation). This is mathematics more than architecture, but it is nice to see it in action. One can think of a flower bud opening in the morning to receive the first rays of sunlight to have the same motion as a folding tesseract.

Next, we visited the apartment block Giuliano-Frigerio. The last of Terragni’s standing projects, this was an intricate design of four synchronous facades (rather than the usual one) with a complex three-dimensional shifting system allowing for fresh air to circulate tightly packed blocks of space. Thus, every user theoretically had access to fresh air, light, and views. The intricate detailing of the facades might remind one of a car-chassis, the mechanics of the inside – a complex quartz watch.

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Note the vertical glass cutting out a sliver to allow the horizontal glass to pass through. Puzzle pieces meeting in thin air.
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Our last stop was the Asilo, an elementary school designed with a circulation system as its generator. Our professor mostly complained about the school being in use – children’s drawings and toys all over the place. This related well to my thoughts about architecture, resident, and high art that the Italian man had unintentionally brought up earlier.

20150410_170436 20150410_170943I only photographed the buildings and views around the Asilo as I found them more interesting than the project. The sun was setting and closing out a good day of drawing.

Como: High Architecture

Libraries, Churches, Monasteries, and Wineries

The week after Venice was a strange week in that it lapped over Easter. Easter, being a National holiday in Catholic Italy, also included the Friday and Monday before and after it, making all four days chaotic for planning and travel. Therefore, our trips this weekend were varied by theme and location, nevertheless coming together to form a coherent narrative.

Friday morning began with a visit to a modernist church by Michelozzo. The Autostrada, named thus due to its location betwixt highways outside of Florence, was built in memory of the people who died building those highways. Though the reasoning and history might be confusing, the point of the architecture was clear: the building broke away from the norm and spoke the tongue of innovation. Most notable, upon entering anyway, was the way cement and steel were executed to look like wood. Also of note were the secondary circulations and pathways that lead to the baptistery and back. Michelozzo seemed fascinated with the labyrinth, rather than the maze: looking for oneself rather than for an end or a God. Hence, the crossing of religion and rationalism.

Below: lots of photos and drawings of the church… none of which really do it any justice. I am not a fan of modernism or the movement that Michelozzo belongs to, but, much like a forest, very little justice can be done to the space and feel of it with any mode of representation. So I do what I can.

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0_ssn036 0_ssn037Light, air, and sculpture. The drawing at the top left is already of Certosa di Galluzzo.


We followed the church with a visit to a monastery, one where “modernism”, they say, took root. Le Corbusier visited Certosa di Galluzzo while on his first trip around Italy and Greece, and its simple architecture and the lifestyle it proposed inspired the housing projects Le Corbusier would later envision. Honestly, I can barely make the connection, but if other architects see reason to, so be it. What I know for certain, though: the monastery is considering closing its doors due to the sheer amount of people coming to see the “unit” of living, thereby disturbing the monks of solitude.

A beautiful space, the garden was the center from which individual “houses” were entered. Clean walls and shaded colonnades played out well in the afternoon sun. It was nice to sit there and enjoy the air whilst drawing. The sketches below depict the individual houses as related to the garden, their sections and programmatic elements. We were almost asked to think of the spaces as cubist compositions…




The winery closed out the day, and it was wonderful to watch the sun set against contemporary “sexy” architecture.


Antinori is famous for its wines, and our tour guide showed us how these are made in their “special” winery headquarters, explained different grapes, and finished with a wine-tasting session in a floating box overlooking the vats. The aura of the place was the best thing about it – hand-chosen materials, fresh air, and the nature of the valley that surrounded it. Also interesting was a spiral stair symmetric over only one diagonal, rather than perfectly vertical, axis.

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20150403_150446The last photo above was taken from the same vantage point as one exactly a year prior by a friend of mine. The only thing that changed was the man, the sky and the sun :)

The next day, a rainy Saturday, found us on the steps of San Lorenzo in Florence. We entered the monastery of that church in order to explore the Laurentian Library, an interesting space designed by Michelangelo and featuring his staircase. After some technical and administrative difficulties, we were inside, drawing. The space was reminiscent of the New Sacristy, below us, where the striation of elements and parts of space was evident to an architectural eye. I was content drawing what I wanted to, delineating compositions and geometric elements that caught my eye. It was not really a sketching day for me, but sometimes it is nice to just draw and not think. We finished that day with a visit to the church itself, as seen in the last page.

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Libraries, Churches, Monasteries, and Wineries


Venice greeted travel-weary students with rain. The train station came out upon the grand canal, immediately enveloping us with the atmosphere of the city. A hurried and erratic walk through the city eventually placed us at our hotel. Thus, my first impression of Venice was almost a grand entry from train station to San Marco, except that it was hurried and rainy. The city, however, is beautiful in the rain and the first walk unforgettable.


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We sketched a lot. Ate a lot of ice cream. The first day showed little signs of sun, but it was only an interlude before the paradise that came with the morning.

The video here shows Piazza San Marco from the church’s parapet. I take these videos on my trips mostly for myself. The quality is not great, but at least it saves a moment of the day, and therefore, the memories before and after that moment. San Marco is a beautiful church, Byzantine style, with many domed and half-domed voids bleeding into one another. Most fascinating was a rotating prayer wall at the main altar of the church. Detailed figures were carved on one side, patterning on the other.

Below, sketches from Venice:


San Giorgio Maggiore

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Carlo Scarpa’s museum, a fascinating collection of details and architectural solutions to gallery on the water. The building was testimony to Scarpa’s interest in the East, his love of detail, and his mastery of stairs. Or, in the least, the stairs that descend into the rising water here are very famous amidst architects. We saw copies of these stairs in other Venetian architecture and in a presentation by a Venetian architect later this semester.

We only had one evening to spend in Venice. Jack, Logan, and I found great food near Campo San Maurizio and spent an evening together remembering good times and laughing away. The night settled and they headed off to find the filming location of an Indiana Jones movie; I headed back to our hotel a street north of San Marco. The night was warm and moonlit, and I remember thinking about the passing of time over these endless streets and canals. So much has been written and painted of Venice… her palazzi and decor served as inspiration to so many. We save cities like these like one would a jewel… time polishes it away, slowly crumbling memories of an empire of man.


The church in the above photo is Santa Maria della Salute. The church on the southernmost isthmus was interesting in its octagonal construction: basically, a normal church with a diagonal cross thrown against it. This resulted in unique interstitial resolutions that are almost generated by the necessity of this geometry. In the drawing below, I try to pull out one of these in the bottom left. The moment happens because two concentric octagons can inscribe squares between them only if pie shapes result between the squares. In three dimensions, however, the curve of one wall creates two arches meeting at a point or smaller distance on the inner hexagon… the drawing contrasts this to what happens when a cube grows on itself. In non-architectural terms, architecture is the design of everything between the form of inside air and that of the outside.


And, to close out, some images of sunsets. Venice is a wonderful place for sunsets. No wonder it has garnered fame as the city of romance and love.


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As an afterthought, it is interesting to note just how much Venice has and has not changed since it was immortalized by Canaletto. His amazing works shows a clean, majestic city bustling with little black boats, spires shining in the sunlight. All this just a ripple in the fabric of time…

Canaletto, The Upper Reaches. Across from the black dome now stands the train station, where my journey began.


Alberti and Palladio

mantova (19)A quiet town, Mantova prides itself on housing the works of Leon Battista Alberti. When we visited, the church of San Sebastiano even exhibited large-scale models of many Alberti works. Most impressive for me was the central church of Mantova – larger than her Duomo, Sant’Andrea was a series of replicated barrel vaults that became one another and bled onto the front facade.

The day was beautiful. The sun was out, spring was settling in. All day I witnessed powerful moments of light, bringing out sculptures and details inside churches and on facades. Each of the three churches that day, not including San Sebastiano, added its own thought on the matter. The unnamed church we visited in the morning, however, left the greatest impression on me (photo on left).

Right after exploring San Sebastiano and its crypt, I walked into the court of Casa Mantegna – a circle opening out into a square and unto the heavens. An interesting curve of shadow happened on these transitions, one that changed and bent as the sun crossed her sky. The second floors of the building morphed around this court, with many residual spaces attesting to its unique shape. These floors also hosted an exhibit of a Czech artist depicting soldiers from the Great War, both in action and returning home. The desaturated colors and mixed feelings of pride and sorrow contrasted well with the lazy day outside.

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Also in Mantova, the Palazzo del Te sits on the south of the peninsula. A mannerist work of the height of Giulio Romano’s career, the palace surprises both architecturally and thematically. Designed as a place of (overt) leisure, its sunny walls and courts hide rooms filled paintings much more explicit than any other of their time.

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Mannerism is interesting, I’ve been told, because of how it denies reality in architecture. Much like a Modest Proposal, it seems. But where Swift had me convinced that his word was truth, Romano did not impress anything more than a sense of humor. From what I knew, I had expected more bite than smile. At least the building played a good interlude between grass and sky.


Above: Sant’Andrea, Te. Below: Setting sun leaves its mark on the Duomo of Mantova. 

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20150321_103624The next day was dedicated to Palladio, the master of the villa. We saw, in order, Villa Emo, Villa Barbaro, and Villa Capra “La Rotonda”, with a Scarpa cemetery thrown in between. The day was full of drawing reverse and actual spaces, and discovering hidden secrets of the sublime villas.

Right: Standing at the front facade of Emo looking back.

0_ssn027Barbaro offered an amazing transitional space, entered inceremonially from either of two sides, where one had to wear slippers as to not damage the floor. These doubled as frictionless material for gliding and pirouetting about the villa. At the back ends, Palladio seemingly ran out of room: we discovered fake perspectives converting rectangular rooms into larger, oval-like spaces. Hence, I argued, the “inverse” space of Barbaro needed to show bigger, overlapping spaces, rather than simple block-by-block processions.

Villa Emo was home to herd of bunnies. They ran (amusingly fast) from side to side of Emo’s enormous lawns, chasing each other in the folly of spring. Drowsy students gave more attention almost to them than to the semi-abandoned villa; its back walls green gray and dilapidated with the passing of time. I like that facade better – the back facade – where Palladio’s use of brick rather than white fit in with the theme of the country, and where the villa was more home than object. Emo “locks into” its surroundings, locating its axes to match with a mountain in the distance. My professor compared its lawns to a chessboard, the villa he claimed to be “a castle” on said board. I saw it as the kingpiece, its wings the soldiers facing both ways on two chessboards… Why one would place a rook alone on a board remains unclear.

20150321_131329At this point, we visited a Scarpa cemetery. It… did not really fit in with the theme of the day and remained in my mind as more of an attraction than serious architecture. An almost playful nature of the space, ill-befitting of a cemetery, culminated with doors swinging out of doors and glass panels rigging up with “advanced” machinery. As objects in a field, the elements were cute. I would not want to be buried under them.
20150321_153036Villa Capra is considered Paladio’s greatest work. It is… supernatural, almost. The architecture achieves a level of sublime perfection that it almost seems to no longer exist. One stands in the middle room and experiences the light, the air, the paintings on the wall (amazing works of art depicting Greek mythology. The light and shadow on them was the culmination of light and shadow on statuary and colonnades outside). Click image to make bigger. 

Sketches below: Top left page is Barbaro, the rest Rotonda. 



We left when the villa closed, and the owner came out and spoke with professor Luca. He told us about other, inaccessible rooms in the villa, and related bits of history. Apparently, his grandfather, upon buying the villa for cheap (when it was in disrepair and abandoned), immediately joined into the armed conflict of the first World War. Austrian lands, the present owner said, could be seen from Rotonda’s east wing… and thus she needed to be protected. These and other stories were a nice end to a good day full of beautiful buildings.

Now that I am in London, I have learned of a Palladian revival in England, one where English architects of the time strove to copy elements of Palladian villas to use in the English countryside. In the Victoria Albert Museum, after looking at a copy of the famous Rotonda drawings, I got confused by a series of drawings and models depicting an English villa I took to be Malcontenta. It was just that: the Palladio work with a couple of added stairs. Fascinating.

The next post will cover Venice. Thanks for looking!

Alberti and Palladio

Verona and Vicenza

The last time I posted was after Spring Break, almost two months ago. So here come a flurry of posts on places I have visited between returning then and sitting now in a flat in London. Enjoy!

Vicenza, Mantova, and Verona, each located close to the other, make the list of must-see cities in Italy. We found them in the bloom of springtime – and, as logic dictates, the northern the city the later the voyage. Buildings, moreover, are meant to be framed in green.

We visited Vicenza and Verona first, and then Venice a week later. The next post covers Palladio and Alberti, which we saw the days between the first two. Thematically, this makes much more sense. All images get bigger when you click on them.
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The city of Vicenza could probably be renamed “Palladiana” without much protest from its citizens. The tourist section breathes of Palladio, much like neighboring Mantova sings of Alberti. For each Italian city an Italian architect, I guess. At least Ravenna takes pride in Dante.

1 vicenza (9)Mostly quiet at night, Vicenza is calm also during the day, unlike the bigger cities we had visited. My adventures in Vicenza included discovering good food – antica Casa Malvasia was amazing! they even had tea!, finding really good ice cream, and attempting to go out. From what I have learned, Vicenza is also the heart of a Texas Two-Step revival in Italy… the villas and sunlight definitely fit the mood!

Above, elements from Teatro Olympico, Palladio project. It features a false perspective and abundant statuary with a Baroque feel of motion. The space was convincing, I tried to take a video… cannot tell if it came out alright. The drawings on the right are of Chericati, the building in the first photo in the post.

Kindly ignore the piece from the Well-Tempered Clavier… didn’t think of anything else to get rid of the noise.

The next two pages are sketches of models of Palladian villas, Barbaro and Malcontenta. 0_ssn0230_ssn024

The last one was especially fun to draw. The left page tries to have two plans, a section, a sectional perspective, and a top-down inverted 3-point perspective of the volume of air inside Malcontenta. And shadows. I like the page more as an art piece than anything, though. I could see a poster for, say, a computer parts company come out of it.

1 vicenza (14)The museum was amazing – models and drawings for many works of Palladio. The next day, however, we saw three of the actual villas… more to be said in the next post.

< Architects at the museum.


verona (17)The four day trip ended with a day in Verona, the city most known for the story of Romeo and Juliet. Yes, we did see the famous balcony… though no one seemed to care much. The city itself, however, is beautiful in the sunlight. It felt bigger than Siena, but was still small enough to take deep breaths. You could even see the Alps far away! (below, click for large)

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The pages below: Mostly facade analyses, I focused on rhythms and organization. Many find it intriguing that a contemporary Scarpa building can have the same ideas as an older facade by Sanmicheli; art, however, is a never-ending spiral towards space – and every step builds upon its predecessor. Today’s architecture, when trying to defy that, still treads the same old path. Good architecture, anyway. Geometry may not be a tool, but it certainly is a key.

0_ssn030We visited a Scarpa project in an old castle, Castelvecchio, where I got overly fascinated with the art on dispaly. Such detailed works, such beauty of the Baroque… Giovani Galli, Claudio Ridolfi, Luca Ferari, Luca Giordano, Mattia Preti works were up in the last rooms of the castle. No photos, unfortunately…

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0_ssn031verona (21)The day concluded with a visit to a monastery, where we were to take a perspective of a dome. The sun left beautiful stark shadows against everything… and the air was soft and chilled under the rays of sunlight. That last photo, I think, captures the essence of monastic life, albeit imperfectly. Solitude and sunlight.

Verona and Vicenza

Bargello and Accademia

Upon arriving to Italy, I told myself I would find time to sketch in sculpture galleries every week. So far, I have only held myself true to my word twice – a visit to the Accademia and, this week, to the Bargello. Between all the architecture drawing and travel, though, this is quite an achievement…

At the end of the Italy trips, I will post all sculpture drawings under one header. Till then, here is a preview…Bartolini 1

Bartolini pre-cast build for a sculpture, Accademia. 1.5 hours.

Always loved Bartolini sculptures – any pre-works for sculptures of this time period, for that matter. The figures are real, not idealized, and tend to tell a story through movement rather than symbolism. Many sculptures display emotion powerfully or give a gesture that easily translates to a couple of real words. Vienna, for this reason, was paradise for me. Francavilla 1Francavilla’s Jason (Argonaut, with Golden Fleece). Bargello, 2 hours.

The Bargello had more mundane items than I imagined. Donatello sculptures were crowded into one room and 5-7 rooms were filled with dishes, ceramics, fabrics and what-not. I found Jason at the top flight of stairs leading to the second floor galleries. He stood conveniently near a chair, allowing me to draw sitting rather than standing. Even though I have never liked the story of the Argonauts (it always seemed a regurgitation of older Greek and Roman stories), the statue was beautiful. One could tell that Jason was not kidding when he killed the Chimera (poor anorexic looking thing. I sketched it in at the bottom). These were a fun 2 hours!

More drawing and sketching can be found on my deviantArt.

Thanks for looking!

Bargello and Accademia

On Orthodoxy

Under a grey Latvian sky, Jungendstihl townhouses crowd in a fabric of Neoclassicist German streetscapes. Clean streets with few people lead waveringly into a cut and gridded center framed by tudor-esque parks. Oaks mingle with birches under winter’s last burdened breath, a lacework of branches screening buildings and stones and towers. The small town of Riga sleeps awake, in a melancholy dream of purest romanticism.

Latvia, having been under the rule of every nation around her, is a country that is predominantly nothing. The population is equally Lutheran, Catholic, and Orthodox, and these churches stand dot the city randomly, often within view of each other.

What follows is a relatively architectural opinion on the nature of the sacred temple prototype of each religion. I have not tried to be unbiased. Errors in reasoning are certainly possible. This topic interests me the slightest bit: some day I might flesh this post out into a letter or a paper. Feel free to comment, with peace or with anger. Religion ought be a platform for debate and I welcome an open discussion.

The chief difference between a catholic and an orthodox church is how a building cuts its fabric. A catholic church dominates – offers its facades to the city, cuts into it and announces its presence. It borrows its languages from Rome, a language of power and control, of pride and majesty. Its domes rise to the skies, growing ever higher and spanning ever wider. The European nations, during their most catholic years, built to out-do thier neighbor, out-build an nearby enemy state, and out-“believe” their peers. The cathedral of Siena stands unfinished, as do many other churches of its time – facades of San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito…; monuments to a discrepancy between size of pride and size of treasury.

An orthodox church is a modest church. Though often adorned with gold in (3?) major cities, the green-blue-white spires rise low and seem to hug the ground in their Greek-cross patterns. Every church builds its spires as points into circles into octagons into squares, and cascades the formula back down to the level of the viewer. These churches stand alone, even in cities, and hide behind their dresses of oaks and willows and birches. The facades are simple – geometric, two- or three-toned, circles and squares. Orthodoxy borrows its language from the Greek and the Byzantine, and uses Roman elements sparingly. When it does, it chooses plasticity over power, eluding the majestic temple-fronts in favor of overlapping wall-hugging elements that almost fade behind pitch black triple-crossed crufices. The orthodox church is not a church between people and God, it is a dwelling place for both.20150318_165834

Riga, Latvia: Orthodox (True Faith, lit.), Old Order (traditional Orthodoxy)

This is why the Moscow cathedral exudes that awful aura. Its trees cut away, its facades stripped and redone with gold and color instead of black and white and green… red, gaudy, and colorful, it rises up from an imperial brick graveyard and becomes a tombstone itself.

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The above images are all Orthodox churches

These are merely observations, even though language may seem to say otherwise. After years of living in the States, I no longer identify with a major Christian denomination. Orthodox ideals retain me from Catholicism, Lutheran thought keeps me from that same True Faith. Nevertheless, as an artist and as an architecture student, I cannot help but feel the different auras of these religions. Catholic churches scare – anyone who can read into the meaning of their architecture and sculpture understands that immediately. Orthodox churches invite a sinner into a forest of sadness, where the one clear path ends with more sadness and sorrow, even in heaven. Lutheran chapels, and the slew of Protestant denominations that follow, stick unerringly to a grim realism of Truth – even though clean, simple, and minimalist, they preach a life of knowledge and wisdom that inevitably leads to anger and hate. The latter two are still home for me: I still feel warm in the embrace of my mother church and often lean on the light of my father church’s words. Both, however, under the yoke of age and by the hatred of the modern day, are slowly drifting away from the last truth of the Christian faith. Spirituality has always been loneliness… today loneliness is sin and heresy. So be it.

On Orthodoxy

Flower Arts: Jugendstil and Krakow

Within the Neoclassical beauty of Riga hide quiet streets, where the Jugendstil buildings display their delicacy to the passerby. Flowering detail of metal and stone wrap around melting windows and doors; the structure of classical temple-fronts bleeds down into statues of powerful and graceful men and women; and beautiful forms of ellipses and circles adorn these facades. The Art Nouveau style in architecture is less feminine than in art, and takes a more Egyptian (?) air. Many sphinxes, obelisks, tiara-decked heads and rough edges feature in the detailing. It seems the essential definition of Jugendstil is “Emperor meets Pharaoh”… never before have I seen Corinthian columns with acanths replaced by papyrus.


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Krakow surprised me with a dichotomy of elegant finesse but active nightlife. Riddled in between castles, Catholic churches, and museums were dance clubs, strip clubs, and other establishments of leisure. The absence of solicitors from African countries was made up for by young Polish guys and girls inviting me into various bars and clubs. Yet all this lived under a veil of tranquility, very much unlike the bustling streets of Florence. Music and shouting continued into the night, sporadically, until 4 in the morning, but it was bearable within a general aura of silence. I write “dichotomy” and I mean it in that sense – the wildness of Krakow nightlife was not as shocking as the pairing of it and the artistic-historic soul of the city.


20150313_195450Sukiennice, the central cloth guild market trading square. 20150318_165941

A synagogue in the Jewish quarter.

I toured the city, visited the Wieliczka salt mines (with an Italian tour…), and haunted the grounds of Wawel. I even went Swing dancing that Friday! The Polish take dancing seriously – the night was long, full of good 20-40s music, and the dancers knew their steps. It is always exciting to dance in another country and see the old culture of yours flowering and changing abroad. This night was no exception.
My father joined me on Saturday, and together we climbed a burial mound southeast of the city, right next to Liban Quarry. In the stone quarry, father showed me the filming location of Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” – a road of fake gravestones inscribed with Jewish names amidst what seemed like post-apocalyptic ruins of the stone-processing plants.


Flower Arts: Jugendstil and Krakow

Rome to Riga: a Summary

The last post was on the first days of my second trip to Rome. Since then, I have visited Bologna, Ferrara, Tresigalia, and Riga. This post will summarize as much as possible but mostly drop in sketchbook pages to cut the time.

The last three days in Rome each took a different theme. Day 2 focused on the Porto Popolo in the northeast, Day 3 on the American Academy area of the Southeast, and Day 4 jumped from the center of the city to the Aventine hill. For me, the trip was an introduction and analysis of plasticity in facades and local symmetry/density in building plans. My professor had explained the concept of a French Hotel to me before the trip, and the images stayed in my mind as my eyes drank Rome.20150318_170144Cosmedin and Sant’Agatha


San Carlino allo Quattro Fontani. One of my favorite churches, being so powerful in its emblems and spatiality. Architecture aside, the church was filled with light and being inside was truly relaxing. This and Bernini’s church were mentioned in the last post.20150318_17005220150318_17002920150318_170008

Tempietto in Rome, Bramante. The drawing of the dark space inside with a shaft of light illuminating the person from above and below is my favorite.


My professor told me my work is “too artsy” and by the end of the Rome trip I was drawing more diagrams and less renders of spaces. I hope that achieves the goal…

Bologna began as a rushed studio trip, turned into a hockey game, and ended with a tour of Tresigalia and Ferrara. Somewhere in between, I experienced Italian high school night-life. My friend took me around a dark Bologna and, another local joining us, we discussed pecularities of culture and laughed at the differences. A merry time, definitely an insider’s experience of Italy!


Palace of Diamonds, Ferrara.


Sketch of my friend. The word is “Ferrara”, near Bologna.

After a strenuous workload and a long-tailed review, I boarded my plane for the east and landed in Riga, Latvia on the 7th. It is colder, the skies are darker, but the people are few and speak a familiar language. Latvia has clean streets and upkept buildings, beautiful seashores and lonely castles; all lost in the few hills that occasionally grace the tundra-like plains. The sun rarely comes out, but when it does, single-white-stripe maroon flags billow in the its low-angle rays, the cobblestones in the streets gleam, and the birches explode with radiant glows of black and white. A beautiful country, Latvia has not been ruined by tourism and promises to be untouched for a long time to come, hidden in the cold embrace of its winters and northern winds.20150318_165805

German Embassy and National Opera
20150318_165740Jaunpils. We visited Jaunmoku Pils right after (photos below).


Last day in Riga: trip to Rundal. Built by Rastrelli in the 17th century, the castle is a one-axis Baroque masterpiece. Nothing too “special” about it, but it is neutral enough that I would enjoy living in it. The day was beautiful, the sun was out (for once, Latvia tends to be rainy and gray). The sculpture inside was beautiful, but everything was elegantly restrained – nothing too much even when all felt complete.
The bareliefs of roses and flowers running up walls, even, were thin and delicate. There was another castle nearby we did not get to visit because of time – I would love to return to Latvia some day. Beautiful city. A separate post will cover Jugendstil and Krakow. Thanks for looking!


Rome to Riga: a Summary