Architectural Study Trips in Italy, Summer 2016

Architectural Study Trips in Italy, Summer 2016
27-Jun-2016 - 15-Jul-2016
The 8-10 day trips will take place between the last week of June and mid-July, 2016, and the exact date will soon be confirmed

Architectural Study Trips in Italy, Summer 2016 – Invitation for applications

Faculty of Architecture │Department of Architecture │The Italian Cultural Society of Hong Kong Leo Tung-Hai Lee Fund

Dear undergraduate students of the Department of Architecture,

This summer, the Department of Architecture will be conducting three study trips to various sites and cities in Italy which offers an added experiential learning component to your architectural education at HKU. Each of the study trips offers a specific topical focus and will be led by Associate Professors Anderson Lee, Eunice Seng and Tao Zhu respectively. The three study trips will converge in Venice at the Biennale site, where students will convene for a joint-workshop to exchange ideas, experiences and documentation.

Collectively, the study trips give students the first-hand experience of studying sites and building in contexts and to examine them close up. Not only will the sites come alive for them in context but after having studied the architectural drawings, the students learn to analyze the implications of architectural representations. As these buildings and landscapes are rich in terms of their compositions, materials, textures, construction methods and details, students will learn first-hand the multiple trajectories, depths and range of modern architecture and their multiple historical lineage through their visit to these Italian cities.

There are 8 places available for each trip. The 8-10 day trips will take place between the last week of June and mid-July, 2016. There shall be financial support of up to Hk$11,000 for each student participant. The study trips are supported by the Faculty, the Department of Architecture and the Italian Cultural Society of Hong Kong Leo Tung-Hai Lee Fund.


Current HKU BAAS and BALS students in Years 2 to 4.

Criteria for application:

  1. 1-page CV and Portfolio demonstrating your visual-analytical and drawing abilities (PDF, no more than 5mb)
  2. 1-page statement of intent explaining why you wish to participate in the trip and your choice of trip (ranked in order of preference from 1 to 3)

* Shortlisted applicants will be informed by end March and interviews will be conducted to select the final participants.

If you are interested in participating in the summer field trip, please send your application materials (a hard copy and a digital pdf copy) to Ms Angela Ting at by 5pm, Monday, 21 March.

1 SCARPA AND THE CITY: Urban Residual Space and Networks
By Mr Anderson Lee
Carlo Scarpa (Venice, 1906-1978) was regarded as one of the most influential and well respected architects of the 20th Century. His work is often being characterized as sensual with utmost attention to details, joinery and materiality. His projects were largely interior Architecture or additions to existing buildings of compact sizes and programs. But it is precisely the intensity and the visual richness of these interiors which often overshadowed the “other” important roles that these projects contributed; and that of the significance and intertwining urban relationship of Scarpa’s work to the City of Venice at large. The compact city morphologies of Venice resulted in highly subdivided building blocks with narrow, small, but intense spatial experience. It is within these particular sites and circumstances that we find Scarpa’s best works. His Venetian projects are all urban but small in scale. The dialogue between the outside and the inside in Scarpa’s work is often being overlooked by architectural critics and historians. The Querini Stampalia Foundation where the water from the famous Venice canals “floods” into the interior, thus forming an “urban entrance,” as well as the Olivetti showroom which carefully frames the urban scenarios of Piazza San Marco from the inside of a small shop, are all but a few examples showing how Scarpa looked and treated small urban space with big ideas behind.

Yet Scarpa owed this unique urbanistic approach not only to his own talent and sensitivity but arguably, it also came from his childhood time spending in the City of Vicenza, where a long tradition of designing urban public space networks stemmed from another seminal architect during the Renaissance’s period of the region: Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). The considerable amounts (over 30) of palazzos, churches and public buildings completed by Palladio in the Vicenza, Verona and Padova area served as precedents and examples for the young Venetian to understand intricate relationship between building interior and urban public space.

Being the Director of the Shanghai Study Centre, I have been in contact with the Planning Bureau of Hong Kou district government where the study centre is located. We were being asked to identify small yet overlooked urban residual spaces in Hong Kou, and to subsequently generate architectural strategies and proposals for them. Not unlike how Scarpa dealt with the intimate and tight urban environment of Venice, my idea is to lead approx. 8 students to conduct research and intense drawing survey to document and analyze the relationship between the inside world of Scarpa’s work and the outside world of Venice. We can employ these findings as background research materials to demonstrate the potential and possibilities to the Hong Kou Planning Bureau.

The study will begin with visits and the understanding of public works by Andrea Palladio in the northern Italian City of Vicenza, Verona and Padua. We will also visit Scarpa’s other built works located in the region, such as the Brion Cemetery and Castelvecchio Museum in order to build up some fundamental knowledge on Scarpa before reaching the final destination of his hometown of Venice, and to document two of his best projects: the Querini Stampalia Foundation and the Olivetti Showroom.

In Search of Space, Form and Identity from Venice to Milan
By Dr Eunice Seng
This study trip takes students from Venice to Milan to visit, document, draw, and analyze modern architecture in northern Italy. The focus will be on the projects designed and constructed during two moments straddling the Second World War – 1922-45 (Fascist Italy) and 1946-70 (Republican Italy). The first period saw the construction of buildings and sites that embodied a more universal rationalist approach through overt technological means of expression, particularly the work of Giuseppe Terragni (1904-43) in Como. The second saw a generation of architects, most notably Carlo Scarpa (1906-78) and Ernesto Rogers (1909-69) of BBPR (Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti and Rogers), who attempted to rethink the rationalism of the pre-war era by working with a more organic approach in architecture that attempted to synthesize history, traditional and vernacular with the modern plan and technology. Students shall learn first-hand the range of works and ideas that reveal how these modernist architects responded to the social, political, economic and professional circumstances of pre- and post-WWII Italy.

New versus Old

This study trip shall explore building and landscape sites by modern architects, which embodied the conflicts between preserving the old and designing the new, between the scientific and technological and the personal and artistic, and between the international and the local/regional as the primary motivation for their designs. These shall be revealed as we travel from the restoration and new projects of Scarpa in Venice and Verona (1950s-70) to the buildings of Terragni in Como built under the Fascist regime (1930s-40s), to the work of the architectural collaborative BBPR in Milan, which challenged the stereotype of the minimalist aesthetic of modern architecture with a reference back to historical medieval architecture but using modern construction technologies. Enroute Venice to Verona, we shall visit Villa Foscari (1550-60), the classical Renaissance villa by Andrea Palladio, the most active architect in 16th century republican Venice, which is now part of the collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The plan of this villa embodied many elements, including its symmetry, proportions and hierarchy of rooms that were referenced by the 20th century modern architects.

Rationalist versus Organic in Architecture

In contrast to Terragni’s highly rationalized modern geometric buildings of the 1920s-40s, the building projects in post-war Venice and Milan challenged the “international style” minimalist aesthetic of modern architecture. In Italy, this dialectic of rational and organic expression continued to this day. It is undeniable that the building projects, landscapes and monuments of Scarpa and the BBPR are as modern and were as innovative as their contemporaries, in that they using new industrialized materials to negotiate and reconcile historical symbolic forms. For Scarpa, whose projects are often historical sites or buildings that called for a sensitive and intelligent integration of new elements with the existing, some dating back quite a few centuries, the modern building project necessitated the understanding of the history and tradition of the building, its construction, materials, and its relationship to the place.

Time, Space & Architecture

The study trip will begin and culminate in two large urban sites that are home to two important temporary architectural events – the Venice Biennale and the Milan Expo 2015– which dates back to 1895 and 1851 respectively. We shall visit selected pavilions by modern architects (Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Josef Hoffmann, Carlo Scarpa, Alvar Aalto, BBPR and Sverre Fehn) in Venice, and of the post-exhibition sites designed by contemporary architects in Milan, most of whom used the pavilions as test cases or prototypes for their ideas on architecture. These temporary events which have lasting impact on the city provide the context and platform to discuss important issues of time and space in relation to urban forms and city building.


The study trip will cover the four cities: Venice, Verona, Como and Milan. In preparation for the trip, students will attend a workshop where we will collect and discuss the architectural drawings (plans, sections and elevations) of the key buildings designed by the Italian modernist architects. The main objective is for students to first encounter the projects through the architectural drawings as these present the architects’ intentions. Students will examine these building sites close up. Not only will the sites come alive for them in context but by studying them firsthand after having studied the architectural drawings, the students learn to analyze the implications of architectural representations. As these buildings and landscapes are rich in terms of their compositions, materials, textures, construction methods and details, students will learn first-hand the multiple trajectories, depths and range of modern architecture and their multiple historical lineage through their visit to these northern Italian cities.

THE ARCHIVES AND THE FIELD: Observing, Collecting and Drawing

Urban theorists and documentalists such as Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau and Georges Perec have used walking, observing and collecting as ways to comprehend the modern urban environment. Through the collection of observations on the projects and their surroundings and the topographical enumeration of their contents, students will learn to convey the multiplicity of spatial relationships and the individual’s unique experience of spaces as a set of interrelated components.

Besides the actual sites, students will visit the archives that contain the drawings for the projects so as to understand the architects’ intentions and processes. They will then make measured drawings and sketches of the projects in their contemporary post-habitation state.

Four scales of Artefacts

Student participants will study each building site in 4 scales: urban, architectural/building, interior and detail. The tradition of master and vernacular craft in Italy continued into the 20th century, as evidenced by the buildings and sites that we will be visiting. It is necessary to understand the crafting of form, space and detail in its larger urban context as well as within the private sphere of the interior.

How Did Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn Learn from Italian Architectural History?
By Dr Tao Zhu
Over the past three centuries, a rite of passage for architectural students has been a visit to Italy to study the evolution of the “Western classical architecture” that followed a strict linear trajectory: from antiquity, medieval to renaissance and baroque. In contrast to this convention, I propose that we instead visit some of the Italian historical sites with a reversed timeline and a new perspective: to view history through a modern lens. More specifically, my plan is to help students review how two generations of modern architects in the 20th century, represented by two master figures, Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and Louis Khan (1901-1974), had interpreted the Italian architectural heritage with their own unique perspectives, and consequently made far-reaching impacts on the course of modern architecture.

When he was in his 20s, during his formative years as an architect, Corbusier made two trips to Italy. The first one was in 1907 and the second 1910. Kahn also went on his architectural pilgrimages to Italy twice: first in 1929, right after graduating from college and again between 1950 and 1951, when he served as the Architect in Residence at the American Academy in Rome. Both architects were profoundly influenced by Italy’s splendid architectural heritage; however, each one approached Italian architectural history from a different point of view, and they therefore contributed to the development of modern architecture in very different ways.

Corbusier was primarily influenced by the pure geometry employed in ancient Roman architecture and by Michelangelo’s extraordinary capacity to create new architectural vocabularies by transgressing the classical rules. For Corbusier, who would become the quintessential leader of the architectural Modern Movement in the 1920s, “the lesson of Rome” had already embodied some of the essential modern spirit that was waiting for his generation to unleash in full force.

Born only a generation after Corbusier, Kahn appeared more “reactionary” to the radical revolution wrought by modern architecture. He was eager to land the Modern Movement down to the classical tradition. Traveling in Italy, Kahn admired the high level of integration of structure and space in Roman constructions and celebrated the harmonious relationship of traditional buildings to the country’s civic public spaces and rolling landscape.

Through the years, HKU’s Main Library has amassed a large collection of Corbusier and Kahn’s archives and monographs. Prior to our departure to Italy, I will direct the students to utilize the library’s collections and thoroughly study the travel sketches and diary entries made by Corbusier and Kahn during their travels in Italy. I plan to combine the itineraries of the two masters for our trip and to spend twelve days concentrating on pertinent sites in Rome, Florence and Naples. We will “re-visit” a series of sites which the two masters had visited, reviewing what they had learned from history and exploring what we may be able to discover today. During the site visits, I will also teach students to actively analyze and draw what they are seeing, like Corbusier and Kahn did before, rather than passively taking digital photos of the artifacts.

I have been teaching courses of modern and contemporary architectural history at HKU for the past eight years. In my classes, I always emphasize the connection between modernity and tradition. The objective for this trip has the same exact goal—to serve as a bridge connecting two sets of history courses that are usually considered to be separate from each other: traditional western architecture and modern architecture. By following in the footsteps of two modernist masters along the historical sites, by incorporating the experience of a personal on-site view of the magnificent buildings, I attempt to encourage my students to see history not as a graveyard of dead artifacts and outdated modalities, but rather a fertile land awaiting each generation of architects to cultivate and harvest with their own fruits of labor. In order to be a truly creative architect, one has to develop a deep understanding of tradition. In other words, borrowing from T.S. Eliot’s words, an architect needs to have “a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together.” That is what creates an architectural tradition and is, at the same time, what makes an architect “most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.”


The study trip will cover the relevant sites in Venice, Florence (including neighboring cities Siena, Pisa & San Gimignano), and Rome.