The casa: architecture students in residence - Die Casa: Architekturstudierende in residence

Denicke-Polcher, Sandra and McAllister, Jane (2022) The casa: architecture students in residence - Die Casa: Architekturstudierende in residence. In: Beyond the Institution - Transforming the Learning Environment in Architectural Education. GAM - Architecture Magazine (18). Jovis Verlag, Graz, pp. 74-85. ISBN 978-3-86859-858-2


Historically our architecture courses have prioritised learning through making at all scales. They nurture an approach to practice which embodies and directs students to explore the spatial materiality of things and question the role it plays for the social context in which we build. Our studio offers a project in Calabria, Italy, where we have established the project Crossing Cultures over the last years together with the not-for-profit organisation La Rivoluzione Delle Seppie. The project grew out of a student led summer school project in rural Italy during summer of 2016. It followed a desire to test and activate what students had learnt in the studio, in a situation “beyond the institution”.

Its location in Calabria, Southern Italy, is at a fulcrum of global and local concerns; the effects of migration and unemployment are issues which significantly charge the students’ imagination in terms of questioning the role they should play as architects for change. The setting of the partially abandoned town Belmonte has become their protagonist for the last few years. The site questions what is it to settle and (re)build and what is their role as architects in the making of these places to successfully attract and build new communities.

La Rivoluzione delle Seppie operate in the field, “beyond the institution”, whilst the AAD studio works from distance, within the institution. Both enter from different directions, however, they are in the same arena and complement each other with regard to the social implication their schemes might bring. This has a two-fold effect for the project as a whole, as it builds local awareness and confidence through engaging with “paperless” live building projects, but also ignites the imagination of the local population through the paper-based, visions of Belmonte as a new civic place for living, learning and working.

But for the students, how to bridge the gap between studio and fieldwork is a constant question. In the autumn of 2020, the University went into lockdown for the second time, providing perfect motivation to consider temporarily moving to Italy and work “bubble” onsite from the ‘Casa’. A group of ten students, decided to do just this and set up home for several months in the village as Studio South. The location in Italy allowed them to become embedded in the local activities, share their experiences working together as a team, and renovate the Casa in moments of the digital overload.

Using interview techniques and video diaries, we compared the differences, highlights and challenges of for the three stakeholder groups "beyond the institution": Calabrian locals, “bubble” students and London “Docklands” students. It is clear from this opportunist venture, that those in the “bubble” benefited from their embedded learning, as well as the locals, who developed a sense of belonging from the knowledge of their greater global presence and hope in a more prosperous economic future. What remains to be seen is how this has reflected in the students’ work and how they see their role for the future.

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