Live and learn - The Forecast 14 - Magazine | Monocle

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In a former cotton mill in the southwest corner of Venice, a group of international students has gathered in a classroom for a special guest lecture called Managing Waters. Projected onto a white screen at the front of the room, a slide reads: “The protection of Venice and its lagoon against flooding.” Francesco Musco, a professor of urban planning and deputy dean of research at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), is keeping an eye on things through the classroom door’s round windows.

Musco has just completed a research project on the efficacy of Venice’s flood barriers, the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Mose), which began operating in the lagoon in 2020 to ward off tidal surges. Off the back of these studies, he has called on colleagues in various disciplines to come and talk to his students. “The master’s programme in urban planning and transition is about making our cities more resilient to climate change,” he says, while walking MONOCLE through the halls of the old industrial building (the Sedi Cotonificio was renovated into classrooms, studios and lecture halls by celebrated mid-century architect Gino Valle when the university expanded in the 1990s).

Former cotton mill buildings now serve as the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia 
Massimo Scolari’s ‘Aliante’ installation, designed for the 1991 Venice Biennale

It’s an educational ambition that’s seeing IUAV, which was founded in 1926 as Italy’s second public architecture school after Rome’s Scuola Superiore di Architettura, emerge as an appealing place for architects from across the globe to continue their studies. The university introduced Italy’s first master’s degree in urban planning in 1970 and today it continues to be a hub of innovation, attracting students who are keen to learn in – and from – a city at the forefront of climate change, mass tourism and cultural conservation.

At the forefront of this concept of learning from the city is Valeria Tatano. As a professor of architectural technology at IUAV, she is keen to get her students out into the city as much as possible. “Studying at your desk and at the library is all very well but in Venice there is a lesson to be learnt at every street corner,” she says. The previous week, she took a class to the Procuratie Vecchie in St Mark’s Square, a residence for public prosecutors built in the 1500s and recently restored by architect David Chipperfield. A short walk from the building, a small barrier has been erected around the square’s basilica to protect the 1,000-year-old church from moderate floods (at present the square finds itself under water some 60 times a year). “I can explain a million times how or why something is done but when students are able to see, touch, take pictures – then they have many more questions,” she says.

Student in Valeria Tatano’s architectural technology class
Vittorio De Battisti Besi, academic senator and programme co-ordinator
Student of the international master’s programme
Margherita Vanore, professor of architectural and urban design
Students showing their work
Francesco Musco, deputy dean of research
Students in the Sede Cottonificio study area

Seeing such work first hand is critical for architecture students who are moving into a professional world where environmentally minded approaches are key to project briefs. Built on a marshland in the centre of the lagoon, Venice has always had to find a balance between the urban and natural worlds. And it is a balance that is only becoming more important: since 2020 the Mose barriers have been raised 50 times, with some scientists predicting that, despite their effectiveness, the city could be under water in less than a century. Add to this the increased pressure on architects to design buildings that are in tune with the environment and it’s understandable why living and studying in Venice, where a changing climate is so visible, is increasingly appealing. Back on campus, Musco says that this is a key quality of the city that is attracting urban-minded architectural students. “Venice’s peculiarities make it very representative of many coastal cities.”

But it’s not just environmental problems that are strengthening IUAV’s educational offering; it’s the fact that every aspect of delivering a building poses a challenge in the city, from access to supply chains to connectivity beyond its islands. Here, buildings are battling sinking foundations (Venice is constructed on timber piles pushed into the loose mud and clay of the lagoon), while electricity, water and gas pipelines need to cross bridges and be hidden beneath pavements. Such topics are currently being unpacked in one of IUAV’s international architecture master’s programmes, where students from countries as varied as Ecuador, the US and Russia are working in groups to design an exhibition space in Ca’ Zenobio degli Armeni, a baroque palazzo. One of the challenges that students are being pushed to consider is how, in order to build the structure, construction materials would be transported through the canals. “It might seem obvious but studying in Venice is incredibly valuable,” says Michel Carlana, who studied architecture at IUAV and now teaches here, while also running his Treviso-based architecture practice. Bruno Tello Fernández, an architecture master’s student from Seville agrees. “Venice is one of the few examples of this particular way of life,” he says, while working on his design for the exhibition space. “Studying here helps you see how people adapt to different types of architecture [and ways of building].”

Below images:

1 to 3. 
Students taking part in Michel Carlana’s Italian master’s programme

4 to 6. Students in the international master’s programme


Building the future

Budding architects wanting to get hands-on experience and make a difference should look to these schools

For a profession with such a concrete effect on the planet, the institutions educating architects can get a little gobbled up by jargon and abstraction. Here are five schools, from Hong Kong to São Paulo, that put their students head on with real-world issues, teaching the next generation of architects and urbanists how to come up with sharp solutions – and build them too.

Pratt Institute
New York, US
Good architecture depends on quality buildings and engaging public consultation and programming. The Urban Placemaking and Management master’s programme at Pratt educates urbanists of tomorrow in these softer skills, with a two-year programme that sends students out for extensive field work in neighbourhoods from New York to Havana.

Africa Futures Institute
Accra, Ghana
Founded by Scottish-Ghanaian architect Lesley Lokko in 2021, two years before she curated the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Africa Futures Institute is a place for postgraduate research with a focus on the Global South. Based in Accra, the school brings together leading practitioners from around the world who host workshops and lectures.

Aarhus School of Architecture
Aarhus, Denmark
Denmark’s only purpose-built architecture school is designed to discourage time spent in front of a computer. With open-plan studios and workshops for everything from carpentry to laser cutting, the three-year education equips students with the skills to construct not only models but real buildings too.

The University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong
One of the best architecture faculties in Asia is launching a new graduate programme in advanced architectural design in 2024, aimed at hands-on learning. Called The Building Society, the one-year master’s degree applies cutting-edge material and technological innovation to the construction of a building in a village in the region.

Escola da Cidade
São Paulo, Brazil
Since it was founded in 1996 by an association of architects, artists and intellectuals, the Escola da Cidade – or School of the City – has educated many of Brazil’s brightest young urban thinkers. A key premise is the Itinerant School, which prods students to get out on the road and learn directly from the built environment.

Significantly, and important to IUAV’s plans, is the fact that the university brings urban planning and architecture together with courses in design, fashion and theatre. In the corridors of Sedi Cotonificio, as well as in the narrow streets that connect to the main university building in Sedi dei Tolentini (with an entrance designed by one of IUAV’s most celebrated former directors, Carlo Scarpa), the university’s 4,000-odd students can be seen carrying everything from rolls of sketches to architectural models and coat hangers. Tatano, who like most professors was also a student here, says that this holistic, design-oriented approach gives a richness to the university’s courses. “Being a small university means that we’re all constantly on top of each other,” she says. “But it means that someone designing a building is shoulder to shoulder with someone designing a skirt.”

In addition to learning from the city’s problems, IUAV is also seeking ways to solve them. High rents mean that most students can’t afford to live on the islands of Venice and must commute from the mainland but the ancient city is also in desperate need of newcomers: it has lost 120,000 residents since the early 1950s. Recognising that for the city to continue to be an educational tool it also needs to be a place where people want to live, the university is planning to grow in an attempt to help repopulate Venice’s main islands. A project called Venezia Città Campus has been established in collaboration with city hall and Venice’s other public university, Ca’ Foscari, which will expand teaching space and student accommodation to welcome an additional 60,000 students in the next 10 years.

“We need to show ourselves to the world not just as a mythical place to visit but also as a tangible possibility for residency and work,” said Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro at an event presenting the project in early 2023. “Venice anticipates the problems that affect the entire country and it’s important to find solutions, like we did with Mose.” By putting its students in front of such problems, and by presenting its own ways forward by contributing to projects such as Venezia Città Campus, IUAV will play a leading role in building the Venice of the future. Other cities around the world will be watching closely.

Former port warehouses have been converted into classrooms and workshops
Taking notes during a lecture
Carlo Scarpa-designed entrance
Students busy at work in the well-stocked library
Workshop used by students of the design course
Conferences and graduation ceremonies are held in the Tolentini building complex

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