For non-European young architectural students in their early twenties, spending a semester in Italy is a powerful experience, which can profoundly affect the way they see the world and have a lasting influence on their work. The Association of American Colleges and University Programs in Italy (AACUPI) puts the number of students studying architecture in Italy at about 6000. While the number is impressive in and of itself, what will be explored in this event is the extent and significance of the cultural impact, which the experience of living and studying in Italy has upon the work of these architecture students. Facts about the presence of these students in Italy published by AACUPI (approx. 6000 architecture students a year) are significant for many aspects of undergraduate and graduate education. With this initiative, we are interested in observing the phenomenon, especially from a cultural point of view: each year, these architecture students make a sort of modern day Grand Tour of Italy, in which some of architecture’s greatest achievements become their classrooms. Learning and living in the midst of Italy’s artistic, architectural and archeological heritage and interacting with these treasures in a vibrant urban environment is a unique experience.
The trip to Italy does not just mean studying on site; it is also an encounter between the culture, which one brings along, and the Italian culture, which one finds. What we are trying to identify with this event is the nature and extent of the influence, which the encounter with Italy actually makes upon the projects, and work of returning architecture students. To what extent have they been influenced by their experience with Italian “culture”, the artistic, archaeological and architectural experiences they have had during their stay in Italy?
Assuming that there is a detectable influence of Italian culture on architecture students’ work when they return to their countries, we wish to further explore:
- Does this influence endure? If so, how long does it endure?
- Are there other cultural influences, which affect the returning student’s outlook and work?
- Alongside architectural influences should we consider influences coming from Italy’s traditional and modern artistic achievements, the living archaeological context of the country, the country’s landscape and its traditions of design, cuisine and fashion?
- Do features of today’s urban Italian social life have a lasting influence on the way in which students conceive of urban structure and the use of space?
Evaluating the continuing influence of Italian culture on a non-European architecture student is not as easy for Italian observers as it may seem. This requires that the Italian observer find a way to see the Italian urban environment through the eyes of an architecture student who may come from a very different type of urban environment. While Italians may take their urban environment for granted, non-European students may be drawn to features of Italian urban life and architecture which are new and thought provoking and which can have a lasting influence on their thinking. A non-European architecture student will discover Italian cities flourishing with a rich mixture of functions, relationships and spaces that define the character of their settings; cities without zoning, without the separation of residential and commercial zones found in many modern cities. What feedback comes back to us, we Italians interested in knowing how the cultural experience of the Grand Tour has affected the work of returning from an American university program? Taking a close look at the projects and designs, which these students developed during their stay in Italy, may help us find out. Each edition presents the designs and projects of architecture students produced during their study in Italy. It provides an opportunity to evaluate the influence which immersion for a significant period of time in Italian architecture, art and culture has had on their work.