The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, popularly known as the Duomo, is an icon of Florence and one of Europe’s largest churches, famous for the massive domed roof designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the structure — built between 1296 and 1436 — also boasts several attributes that today are associated with sustainable architectural design.
Last summer, Igor Marjanovic, assistant professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, explored this unlikely confluence with “Intersections of Art and Architecture in Florence,” an interdisciplinary class offered as part of the Sam Fox School’s Florence studio.
Last week, the class earned Marjanovic a national Education Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). One of five granted for 2009, the award was given March 27 during the annual meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) in Portland, Ore.
“Contemporary issues always have a historical trajectory,” Marjanovic said. “Many Renaissance buildings were built with careful consideration of site, material and building layout in order to conserve energy and maximize ventilation or sun exposure. Thus, our contemporary concerns for sustainability have a longer tradition.
“I was interested in the idea of culture and how can we engage it by means of design — drawing, making, drafting,” he said. “The students were asked to study the use of public spaces around Brunelleschi’s dome. They talked to people — tourists, locals, illegal immigrants — and tried to understand the social dynamics of public space.”
Students used those findings to develop a series of maps “locating spaces where tourists nap, or where police chase illegal vendors or where street artists make their artwork,” Marjanovic said. They also began using recycled materials — including eggshells and discarded train tickets — to model the building and its surrounding environs.
For example, junior Daniel DuGoff employed a pair of eggshells to demonstrate the effect of distortion in mapping the Duomo’s surface.
“One shell is a replica of the dome,” DuGoff said. “The other takes the idea of a dome and maps numbers across its surface, as if making a grid.” As the second shell is flattened, that grid begins to warp, highlighting the inherent difficulty of translating a three-dimensional shape onto a two-dimensional surface.
Other projects included design proposals for small public structures, such as benches, shading devices and restrooms. A sampling of the class’ work will be exhibited at the 2009 AIA National Convention, which takes place April 30-May 2 in San Francisco.
Created in 1988, the Education Honor Awards program is coordinated by the AIA Educator/Practitioner Network and recognizes collegiate faculty achievements and contributions to education and the discipline of architecture.
Recipients are chosen by jury, with an emphasis on programs that deal with broad issues, particularly in cross-disciplinary collaboration and/or within the broader community; that contribute to the advancement of architecture education; that have the potential to benefit and/or change architectural practice; and that promote models of excellence that could be appropriated by other educators.
This year’s jury was led by chair Randy Byers, AIA, of The Design Studio Inc. in Cheyenne, Wyo. Other jurors included architectural critic Robert Campbell, FAIA; Julie Eizenberg, AIA, of KoningEizenberg in Santa Monica, Calif.; Deana Moore, vice president of AIA Students in Washington, D.C.; and Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, of Iowa State University.