The LEARN[IN] Lab I took place on 10TH -12TH of September at the University of Florence. This Lab was conceived as an exploratory approach to learning spaces under the topic “The city as an open book”.

Learning outside the classroom

Armed with the mandatory A5 sketchbook and pencil, students discover how travelling is one of the fundamental steps in learning the architectural profession.

Once more, learning from?

We try to understand why cognition and recognition are inextricably linked for an architect.

Just as the best writers are also passionate readers.

Step one, TRAVELLING DRAWING AND LEARNING: a live drawing sortie which normally enables the students to freeze some thoughts onto a couple of sheets of A4: besides the plans-perspectives-sections through orthogonal projection, there is further consideration of the fabrica, the first attempts to study its conceptual and constructive complexity, the first live encounter with a real Architecture of the City that crossed the river via the unequalled corridor and shaped pre-existing and new forms into a system, giving us an extraordinarily important instance of urban reform, a lesson that is still pertinent today.

Step two, ALL TOGETHER NOW: going back to the classroom and – around the table – revisiting the courtyard of Uffizi, comparing the drawings, presented by their author.

Step three AS-IT-ONCE LECTURE, as traditional academic lesson, complete with reading list, about Vasari’s project. Explaining with old b/w fotos that the Uffizi was a large-scale piece of urban redevelopment right in the heart of the historic city centre, and effectively an extension, a couple of centuries on, of the medieval Palazzo Vecchio. Giorgio Vasari built a sensitive point in the relationship of Florence with its river, a large substructure, a landscape-size artifice, combined with the skill of the reworking of the interior of the monumental quarters, with the technical building expertise of the barrel vault on the ground floor, resting on the wall on one side and on the pillar-column-column-pillar sequence on the other, a “span” that became a submultiple system of measurement capable of incorporating and re-understanding the pre-existing mint and even the Loggia dei Lanzi. Composition is about knowing how to arrange, control and predict relations, establish hierarchies, attribute weights, discipline masses: composition is about making choices.

The significance of old questions is investigated in the light of the new problems now faced by the architect: basic, founding concepts that have in part been lost or are no longer used, others that are openly academic but which it would be useful to re-examine.

Step four APERO: the final session is in the café near the Department, drinking a good red wine and  choosing and drawing from memory what has remained of the Uffizi, in head and hands, after all the discussion.

Further four sessions on the railway station of Santa Maria Novella, adopting the same procedure as that used for the Uffizi. Learning that Florence is not just the Renaissance. Summing together fragments of individual thought, what emerges – projecting and discussing the drawings executed from life – is the monumental space of the ticket office, the difficult environmental section stretching out horizontally and linking the station with the apse of the Church of Santa Maria Novella; the fabulous section of the gallery with the stratagem of the kneeling beams; Michelucci’s work on materials; something about possible proportioning and the gruppotoscano design that pervades the furnishings and objects of the station to such an extent that they become part of the infrastructure itself.

By learning by doing we understand on site that the Modern is not a new style, but rather a stance, an intellectual tendency. As with Vasari, what interests us are buildings capable of establishing relationships. The modern does not interact with pre-existing forms in a stylistic or figurative fashion but in the mass.

All in all the Lab I allowed us to approach the topic in a specific way. Tools and exercises from the University of Florence were used by the Portuguese and German students. Dialogue, exchange of contemporary issues based on an eternal built landscape, reminding us that there is no future without looking at the past.