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AIA UK Member News: When in Rome……

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AIA UK Member News: When in Rome……

Fiona Mckay

This article has been written as part of the AIA Newsletter’s commitment to up-to-date member news.  If you are aware of UK Chapter members’ involvement in other newsworthy projects or events, please bring them to our attention via a “comment” follow up note at the end of this article and we will endeavor to publish further feature articles.

The AIA UK Chapter first became acquainted with Mark Kelly in 2010 when he was awarded the Noel Hill Travel Award Scholarship as a student at Glasgow’s Mackintosh School of Architecture.  With the aid of his scholarship, Mark visited North-East India on the Tibetan border to study indigenous building design and construction with experienced carpenters, masons, artisans, stone-layers and adobe plasterers for the Tibet Heritage Fund.  You can read about his experience in Asia in the AIA UK Newsletter Number 62 (page 6), December 2010.    

Mark is no longer a student, but is now an architect with Gensler here in London and is active on the AIA UK Board of Directors.  But as many architects have discovered before him, one never really ceases to be a student - although it is probably true that some pursue their continuing education with far less diligence than Mark.  In 2015, recognising that “there are experiences which cannot be read or taught, they must be experienced first-hand”, Mark applied and won the annual RIBA Giles Worsley Rome Fellowship organised by the British Academy.  

This Fellowship (described in more detail here), is awarded annually to architects or art historians to spend three months (October to December) at the British School at Rome (BSR), studying an architectural topic of their choice.  The Fellowship includes accommodation in a large, centrally located artist studio, complete with a generous travel and materials stipend and access to the Academy’s world-class facilities.  Additionally the BSR staff can obtain special access letters from Rome’s Archaeological Superintendent to private buildings and active archaeological sites that are usually closed to the general public. 

The Fellowship holders are expected to follow a self-regulated course of study, and Mark’s successful application expressed a particular goal to investigate Roman concrete construction means and form-work for “cross and barrel vaulting in ancient and modern architectural domes and arches.”  He was not only able to visit multiple surviving examples in Rome itself, but also to investigate Renaissance and Modern buildings and venture outside Rome to the Bay of Naples, Veneto and Umbria.  

Visit to a working travertine quarry in Tivoli, outside Rome.

Visit to a working travertine quarry in Tivoli, outside Rome.

Mark’s unique study methods involved first sketching in pencil as close as possible to the original building, then preparing orthographic drawings based on-site measurements.  Many of these preliminary efforts were later fed into studio-based hand and digital drawings.   In his 54 days in Rome, Mark completed 197 hand-drawings and scaled up 14 of these into large, measured orthographic drawings. 

Drawing by hand on the roof of the oldest surviving concrete dome in the world – the  Temple of Mercury, Baiae, Bay of Naples (late 1st century BC) - built using pozzolana from Mount Vesuvius 30 miles away.

Drawing by hand on the roof of the oldest surviving concrete dome in the world – the  Temple of Mercury, Baiae, Bay of Naples (late 1st century BC) - built using pozzolana from Mount Vesuvius 30 miles away.

Measured drawings made at the BSR of San Carlo  alla Quattro Fontane, Rome - December 2015

Measured drawings made at the BSR of San Carlo  alla Quattro Fontane, Rome - December 2015

Early in his stay, Mark set himself a challenge to see something new every day and meticulously recorded his finds in his personal diary, and this informal diary remains a lasting legacy of his stay.  A few drawing examples are included below, but the full scope of his activities and drawings can be found in Mark’s Rome Video Diary (which is well worth the viewing here  (just scroll down to start at week one)). 

Mark returned to the UK in January 2016 “bright and refreshed,” having found Rome a “jam-packed shortlist of sights … a true inspiration.”  Clearly the Rome Fellowship in Architecture was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  As he explained; “I believe that during your time working in practice, it is healthy to think and reflect on why you are doing what you are doing. Taking a focused research trip to an inspiring city brings you back to professional work in a positive frame of mind, to use the knowledge you learned constructively.”

Shortly after the Fellowship work, Mark held a one month solo exhibition in Gensler’s London office. The ‘GenslerOn’ journal publication (available here) engages the theme of “Why Architects Visit Rome in the 21st Century.” 

After seeing the opportunities Mark found in Rome, the rest of us have no difficulty in understanding WHY we might all benefit from visiting the city.

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