What do you get when you place a group of University of Detroit Mercy students and faculty in the same building as a group of University of Pisa students and faculty? You get a building filled with echoes of Italian and English, questions and comments, and friendships forming. These echoes made the 4 day University of Pisa/ University of Detroit Mercy Collaboration an experience that we all enjoyed whether we were a student or faculty member, Italian or American, an art history student or an architecture student.
This past week the students and faculty from University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Pisa got together to study and analyse the area surrounding Porta San Felice on the town’s southwest end. Within the San Felice area we found layers of information rich with many of the towns historical assets. Some of which included; the upper and lower San Felice Gate, the medieval fountain, the steps to Piazzetta degli Avelli, Piazzetta degli Avelli, the chapel, the public wash house, the roman bath, and the remains of an Etruscan wall. The groups were asked to analyse the area based on; location, neighborhood context, physical features; man made features; circulation; sensory; human and cultural, and climate aspects particular to the area and its surroundings.
Our collaboration started out with a visit to our site, and the many features surround it as stated above. We began thinking about the assets and how the layers of architectural and natural details uncovered a historical story that seemed to take us back in time. Our site visit was not only an opportunity to begin to understand the area we were asked to research, but it was also an opportunity for the groups to get to know each other and our specific programs. At first glance the gate and the surrounding area seems similar to the other six gates leading access into the town of Volterra. But, when we dug deeper and as our professors spoke we realized we were standing in a particular area of Volterra that has aspects from the Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, and contemporary periods of time, we really were time traveling! The area continued to the built and rebuilt as time passed and people interacted with the site in different ways. Today the area stands out from the other entrances because of its gate that is flanked by a tiny chapel and bell tower on one side, the fountain on the other and magnificent panoramic view of the soft rolling hills as far as the sea just as you step outside of the medieval wall.
As part of the week of collaboration, we had the opportunity to go to the City of Volterra archives. At the archives the students were challenged to research more information, about the San Felice area. This was particularly fun for the American students because we were able to look at drawings from the 70′s and 80′s drawn by architects restoring the area and translate the information to the art history students, while the Italian students read books, journals, articles, notes, and more about the area and translated the historical inforamtion to the architecture students. This was an opportunity for both students, Italian and American to showcase our particualr skills we are going to school to enhance and learn more about.
From the inforamtion we gathered at the site, archives, and local library the students were able to piece together the information and formulate a presentation for the faculty and the other groups. We had about a day and a half to put all of our information together and create graphical representations of the parameters we were given at the begining of the collaboration. The Italian students worked on alot of the historical, human, and cultural information as the American students worked on drawings and graphics. The last two days were the most fun, as many of us were really becoming comfortable with our groups. We ran across the street and got afternoon esspresso, talked about our hometowns, learned Italian slang, we became friends with one another, and the building echoed with laughter. But, dont worry, we also got our work done!
More Pictures from the week: