Architecture and Rome Center Faculty Participate in New Faculty Exchange Program

Vanessa Mingozzi, left, and Greg Herman
Cassandra Thomas; University Relations

Vanessa Mingozzi, left, and Greg Herman

A new faculty exchange program at the U of A Rome Center is creating cultural exchange opportunities for faculty to enhance their teaching and deepen their understanding of study abroad students.

Vanessa Mingozzi, an instructor of architecture at the Rome Center, spent the first eight weeks of the spring 2024 semester teaching an architecture course at the U of A's Fayetteville campus. Simultaneously, Greg Herman, an associate professor of architecture who is normally based at the Fayetteville campus, taught an architecture course in Rome. Following spring break, the two faculty members returned to their home campuses and finished teaching each other's respective courses.

"As a faculty member, this experience broadened my knowledge of other teaching methods and course design," Mingozzi said. "Being in contact with other faculties from both Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design and from other departments was inspiring and enriched my vision of the work. As an individual, I think cultural exchange experiences are valuable opportunities to get some distance from your everyday life to better know yourself and test you out in different conditions."

Mingozzi and Herman are co-teaching Advanced Design Studio and professional elective courses. The Design Studio course tasks students to use the theme of adaptive reuse to analyze an existing site in depth, understand the main features derived by its history and explore other features of the site to develop a project using the existing structure to accommodate a purpose different from its original intended use.

"Setting up the courses' frameworks and main contents was an interesting process and a key moment of this exchange experience," Mingozzi said. "Professor Herman and I set a common theme, which is that of an adaptive-reuse design project. He suggested a site here in Fayetteville, whereas I suggested a site in Rome. It was eye-opening to investigate the same topic from different points of view and in such different locations."

Students in Fayetteville imagined the repurpose and renovation of the Porter Warehouse site, a one-story brick building on the corner of Spring Street and West Avenue. Built in the early 20th century, the building originally served as an apple warehouse located in what is now a growing arts district in downtown Fayetteville. In Rome, students worked on the Palazzo Nardini, a renaissance palace in the historic center of the city that holds a prominent position along the Via Papalis, the ceremonial route new popes take from the Vatican to St. John in Lateran.

"The electives support the design courses from a theoretical and methodological point of view. In Fayetteville, students deal with the architectural declination of site-specific practices looking at investigating, researching and recording non-visible elements such as history, emotional depository, social habits and human interactions," Mingozzi continued. "In Rome, they investigate architectural features to make a space sacred through a series of site visits in the Eternal City. The results of their observations are recorded by hand-drawn sketches made with oil pastels."

The experience helped Mingozzi not only to better serve study abroad students from the U of A, but to broaden her own horizons living in another country.

"This was a wonderful occasion to get to know the places where most of our students are coming from, so that I better understand their reactions when they're in Rome," she said. "Also, as a researcher, I am always very interested in getting to know a place by living there. From the architectural point of view, this gives you the perfect chance to dive into a completely different universe of visual references."

Herman found himself captivated by the context, format and location of his teaching experience in Rome. He described his time there as "positive in every way possible," expressing gratitude for the warm reception from the Rome faculty and their inclusion of him in various activities and discussions.

"The Rome Center faculty were welcoming and generous," Herman said. "They included me in their own course reviews and sought me out for discussion — with espresso, of course — and they included me in their excursions to other places of interest outside Rome."

Herman said the experience led him to reconsider some of his approaches to teaching.

"There were small barriers there that required me to rethink certain aspects of my teaching," he said. "It was impractical to build models there, something we do routinely at home, and finding written source material that is both accessible and in English was somewhat difficult. The capability of visiting sites the students had heretofore only seen in books was amazing and could be life changing. While I personally was unable to conduct my own research agenda while there, since it is Arkansas-based, my co-focus on preservation design was very much activated here and will continue to impact my teaching in the future."

 

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