March 12-25, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 5
Back Issues
Barcelona: A laboratory for learning
Lindners create endowment for art history program
Kaleidoscope opens with community celebration
Headlines @ U.Va.
Free clinic grows beyond founders’ vision
Simulators to replace use of dogs
Cooking up a winner
Robert Marquez: Engineering environmental solutions with low-tech designs
Engineers Without Borders — U.Va. engineering students share their expertise
U.Va. maps out
Ten-year milestone gives book festival celebratory theme
Storyteller, healer Martin Prechtel to visit U.Va.
Environmental writers Lopez, Philippon to speak
Book art meets ‘Literary Art’
A pillar of Carr’s Hill, housekeeper Barbara Jett retires
Barcelona: A laboratory for learning
U.Va. students sketch at the Parc del Clot, a new urban space in Barcelona, built on the site of a former railway industrial complex.
Photo by Jane Ford
U.Va. students sketch at the Parc del Clot, a new urban space in Barcelona, built on the site of a former railway industrial complex. The park incorporates sections of the original ironworks with lawns, grassy mounds, pools and a row of arches that resemble an aquaduct and support a cascading waterfall.

By Jane Ford

Barcelona, Spain — Andrea Drake paced off the perimeter, while Clark Tate and Elisa Niemack sketched the church across a narrow, busy street that borders one side of an empty urban lot. Michael Lewis took photographs.

The students are part of a group of 23 U.Va. first-year graduate architecture and landscape architecture students, in Barcelona, Spain, for a nine-day immersion into the city’s architecture, landscape, culture and history. This is the fourth year that U.Va. graduate architecture school students have visited Barcelona. The city is their laboratory for learning.

The densely populated coastal city is a contemporary city of contrasts that blend and respond to the Catalan culture. La Ramblas,
a main pedestrian thoroughfare featuring cafés, flower stalls, news
stands, street artists and bird stalls, is packed with people at all hours; the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was built in an area undergoing extensive redevelopment, reflects light inside as well as onto the plaza where skateboarders practice and people bask in the sun; at neighborhood parks children play ball and adults gather to talk; old buildings, renovated buildings and contemporary architecture sit side by side; the centuries-old close attention to construction materials, details and craftsmanship is evident everywhere; all provide a rich resource for the students to explore not only the relationship between architecture and landscape but also the successful blending of historical and contemporary design ideas.

“ The program in Barcelona embodies what U.Va. is saying they are trying to do in combining the architecture and landscape architecture programs,” said architecture student Elisa Niemack.

In Barcelona, the students learn to understand how a different country, a different culture use their space, said architecture professor Kenneth Schwartz. He and professors Earl Mark and
Nancy Takahashi led the students on the trip.

Each day the group visits parks, plazas and buildings where the students stop to sketch — learning to capture a sense of place in a short period of time. They analyze each site, filling sketchbooks with drawings, diagrams and notes — recording details about the building materials and how they are made and used, as well as the light, sound and movement through the space.

Landscape architecture student Galin Boyd focused on street lighting and furniture at many of the places they visited.

“ The juxtaposition of clean design with earlier centuries, the moving beyond replicating, from an aesthetic standpoint is very successful here,” he said.

The sketchbooks will be invaluable tools for their design projects when they return to Charlottesville. In one project, the architecture students will be challenged to transform a vacant Barcelona lot into useful space for a nearby university, which is increasingly expanding into the neighborhood. The landscape students will apply the new knowledge gained during this process to a second project for Charlottesville’s Music Resource Center, incorporating the adjacent Trailways Bus Station as studios for musicians in residence with a public garden and space for small outdoor performances.

“ I have been very pleased with the program and its results, demonstrated in the excellent student projects that evolve out of this trip and the subsequent studios,” said Dean Karen Van Lengen.

In Barcelona, the students build on a foundation of research started in Charlottesville. Lectures on Barcelona’s history, politics and culture; readings and discussions on theory; research on individual buildings, parks and urban spaces all contribute to their understanding of the role of design in civic and public realms.

“ The pre-trip work they do is incredibly important to making the trip meaningful,” Takahashi said. “I am amazed at how much they glean about the city from the study of maps.”

For architecture students Laura Sullivan and Phoebe Richbourg, being in Barcelona brought the research alive.

“It was amazing how much the space changed by people occupying it,” Sullivan said after visiting one of the parks. “It was unrecognizable.”

Richbourg said, “Being in Barcelona reinforces the link between theory and practice. America does not have many good examples of what we are talking about in school. Here, there is a cultural priority to have good design.”

At each stop along the way, the professors and assigned students present interpretations and lead discussions to help better understand the designs and their place in the overall context of the city.

Mark has spent his academic career linking architecture and computers and is working with the students throughout the semester to close the gap between computer and studio work. He talked with the group about some of the research he has conducted using computer modeling. Mark’s study of materials and light in the design of architect Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion, designed for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona; and the complex use of geometry by Antonio Gaudo, whose work spans the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enhanced the students’ visits to the architectural works.

Being in the city also provided access to other experts. Lectures and meetings with Barcelona architects and landscape architects provided students first-hand insight into historical, planning and design considerations. A highlight was the visit to the office of architect Beth Gali, whose work blurs the boundaries between architecture and landscape architecture, old and new, urban planning and individual buildings. She shared with the students information about recent projects her office is designing.

Brian Gerich worked in Gali’s office last summer. He fell in love with Barcelona as a graduate architecture student when he went on the school’s first trip to the city in 2001. He returned this year as the teaching assistant with the group. His Barcelona experiences have reaffirmed his decision to pursue a double degree in architecture and landscape.

“ Coming back clarified the relationship between landscape and architecture: that they are one thing and that this is something attainable in the U.S.,” he said.


© Copyright 2004 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page