Month: March 2016

New Thinking About Old Places

Last week, Cristina Puglisi, Deputy Director for Administration at the American Academy in Rome, took a group of architects, preservationists, and landscape architects at the academy on a tour of Villa Aurelia. Cristina – the key staff liaison for the restoration of this villa – had an audience that wanted to delve deeply into the thinking behind the work and decision-making around the building’s preservation, and we all enjoyed the give-and-take during the 90 minute tour. Cristina is an American-trained preservationist who has worked for years in her native Italy.  Her insights into the different approaches to preservation in the two countries was especially enlightening to me as I think about new paths for preservation in the U.S. in the 21st century. She mentioned many of these in her tour, which led me to a follow-up conversation over lunch earlier this week in which she fleshed out several of her comments. For some background, here’s the history of the villa, from the AAR website: The Villa Aurelia, originally built for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese around 1650, …

Observations from the Road: Scenes from Holy Week in Rome

Sorry.  No pope sightings (or even attempts at pope sightings). We have had a relatively low-key Holy Week while in Rome, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had its memorable moments. Olive Trees and Palm Sunday:  Our week began last Sunday with a Palm Sunday processional at the neighborhood Basilica di San Pancrazio in Monteverde.  A 6th century basilica that was extensively renovated following Garibaldi’s 1849 attack on Rome, San Pancrazio was a lively place last Sunday. We met about a block away from the basilica and followed priests and musicians through the streets, waving olive branches in place of the palms we see in the United States.  During the service, conducted (of course) entirely in Italian, we only understood the occasional word. But we knew the shape of the liturgy and could follow along without getting lost.  The nave was filled with worshipers, while the aisles were used by parents and nuns to walk or stroll young children throughout the service.  The music was similar to Catholic folk masses in the U.S. these days …

Cars, Shared Streets, and Lovable Cities

I know I’m in Rome to think (and learn) about architecture and preservation (past and future), but recently my thoughts turned to cars. There’s a connection here.  Trust me. If you need a car in Rome, you can find one.  We’ve taken taxis on several occasions, and from those rides I can attest that there are no shortages of cars on the street.  But the interesting thing – from my perspective – is how the cars and their drivers interact with others who share the street: pedestrians (of which there are many), cyclists, motorcycle riders, street vendors, buskers, and patrons at outdoor cafe tables. Rome’s transportation patterns are somewhere between the very rational (and orderly) Copenhagen model, and the free-for-all that is New Delhi. Probably a little closer to Delhi, truth be told. Traveling in Rome is a dance, and cars are not privileged in the way they are in the United States.  (We have changed our cities and planned our suburbs in a way that deifies cars, instead of supports people.) While there are …

Observations from the Road: (The “We Learn So Much Every Day” Edition)

A couple of quick thoughts about recent days in Italy. Orvieto update – To no one’s surprise, Orvieto (which I wrote about yesterday) is the favorite town of several of our friends and colleagues.  We can see why.  A long-time and dear friend from our days in Staunton, Sally James, wrote to say that Orvieto is her “home away from home!”  In my original post, I didn’t mention the chapel by Fra Angeloco and Luca Signorelli, which is the topic of Sally’s first book, Signorelli and Fra Angelico at Orvieto: Liturgy, Poetry and a Vision of the End Time. The decoration of the Cappella Nuova, commenced by Fra Angelico in 1447 and magnificently completed by Luca Signorelli in 1499 and 1504, displays an awe-inspiring Last Judgement and Apocalypse and, below it, scenes from Dante and classical literature. This was yet another magnificent space in an incredible building full of wonderful art and architecture.  Sally encourages us to look for the next issue of Gesta, probably in April, to see her article on the frescoes of …

Orvieto: A Jewel in Umbria

Candice and I decided early in our stay to take a day trip outside of Rome once each week during my sabbatical. A colleague had sent along a blog post on the 10 best day trips from Rome, which whetted our appetite, and with the prospect of seeing one of Italy’s best cathedrals, we jumped on a train last Tuesday to visit the Umbrian hill town of Orvieto. What a marvelous decision! 75 minutes after leaving Rome, we pulled into the Orvieto train station on a beautiful, sunny spring day.  My first thought was about how we would navigate getting up the 984′ rock plateau that serves as the base for the town.  But immediately across from the station was a funicular station, and my spirits soared. Let me pause for a second to say how much I love funiculars (or incline railways).  When we were young, my father (the TVA engineer) use to take us to see old and new engineering projects, and one of my earliest recollections was taking a small funicular to …

Happy Anniversary!

Today Candice and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary! I have to admit that Rome is a pretty wonderful place to celebrate anything, but it seems especially appropriate for an anniversary. When Candice and I were married in 1982, I was a poor graduate student in Atlanta who found time during my spring break to get married and take a honeymoon trip to Prospect Hill – a 1732 farmhouse bed & breakfast outside Charlottesville. Our first anniversary was actually celebrated back at Prospect Hill, as we were there while finding housing before our 1983 move to Staunton in the nearby Shenandoah Valley. For the first decade of our life together, we would return to the inn for “major” anniversaries – such as the 5th and 10th. Anniversaries changed as the twins arrived, and when they were five we moved to Washington.  During those years we were lucky to be able to find a baby sitter and go out for a dinner.  We did return to Prospect Hill for our 20th, thanks to our good friends …

People (and Dog) Watching in Rome

Saturday was a picture perfect day in Rome.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Mid-60s temperature.  Our windows were open all day to let in the fresh air and sunshine.  It was a day that called us to go outside. And we did just that, heading over to the largest landscaped public park in Rome, located nearby the Academy in Monteverde on the Janiculum.  While we walked, talked, and enjoyed the sunshine, we primarily engaged in the age-old past-time of people watching.  Thankfully, we were rewarded in this beehive of activity.  Children playing football. Teenagers in love. Older couples holding hands, both to show affection and to steady their partner. Picnics on the grass. Danish architect Jan Gehl has said that – in the past 50 years – architects, landscape architects and planners… “…have gotten confused about scale. They constantly confuse car scale with people scale. Sometimes they make a mix, but most of the time they make car scale and say, look, there’s a sidewalk, people can walk here. What’s the problem? That is …