The Twelfth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2010
Berkeley Prize 2010

Michael Swords Proposal

Henrietta street - The forgotten birthplace of Irish Georgian architecture, and a type of society now lost.

'What is now already certain is that even the most soulless dumps on earth can -- with the right ideas and people, and sometimes very modest means -- be turned around to become places of beauty and human thriving.' - Leon Krier.
The view expressed by Leon Krier about the rejuvenation of urban wastelands epitomises the central theme of my proposal for the essay stage of the Berkeley Prize. My competition essay proposed the creation of a public space that would have relevance to 21st century living trends, in a sensitive, historical context. In that essay, I dealt with both the topic of architecture as a social art, and the preservation of historic buildings that have a unique architectural importance. Through writing that essay, I learnt that historic conservation can at times be a more apt response to the regeneration of a site regarded as a 'wasteland', than the erection of a new build that may not be contextually sensitive.

The topic of Georgian Architecture discussed in my essay has led me to select Italy as the ideal destination to visit for the travel fellowship. The classical Architecture of Italy served as inspiration to Inigo Jones and the Grand tourists who returned home to create the Georgian style. I feel that I could use the trip to research and understand the classical style further. In keeping with the way I structured my essay proposal, I would intend to separate the research trip into two parts, the first being a learning curve in historic preservation through the participation in a restoration seminar, and the second being a research into the social art of architecture, by visiting the classical public spaces for which Italy's cities are famous.

The Summer seminar of medieval Architecture and Archaeology in Udine, Italy gives participants the opportunity to work on the restoration and consolidation of the 12th century castle of Zucco and Cucagna. I am interested in participating in this seminar as it complements the theme of building restoration that was central to my essay proposal, and would me with an understanding of the process of undergoing such a restoration. The seminar provides an opportunity to learn the traditional masonry practises that results in the longevity of these castles. A special aim of the course is to stimulate the collaboration between architects, archaeologists, restorers and specialised craftsmen concerning the research and restoration of cultural heritage in theory and practice. Participants will have to do an accurate documentation of the existing state, after which they will have to work out a suitable conservation and restoration project, and in the end they will participate in the consolidation works on site, done by specialised masons and stone-workers. Additional features of the seminar include: Guided tours to historically important sites in Fruli, including Gemona, Venzone, Buia and Cividale. Introduction into the restoration technologies. Conferences held by the professors and lecturers In collaboration with 'CEFS' the masons school of Udine, reproduction of traditional mortar and plaster.

After completion of the seminar, I would seek to visit the public spaces that were of inspiration to the likes of Inigo Jones as they designed their Georgian squares. By rationing the remainder of the fellowship stipend, I would spend a week in the city of Florence. This city, with its dozens of Public squares, would be a perfect place to research the social art of Architecture. These squares, such as Piazza del Duomo beside Florence cathedral, are the 'living rooms' of the city, in which its inhabitants are free to mingle and develop social networks against the backdrop of beautifully designed Architecture. However, these spaces may have a different meaning and relevance to the 21st century social paradigm to when they were originally designed. By visiting these spaces, I could gain a first- hand understanding of this significance, and comprehend how these squares are used as social spaces today. I would hope to discover how technological advancements and new ways of life have been adapted and integrated into classically designed public spaces. This has a direct link to my essay, in which I proposed to create a public space on Henrietta street in Dublin. This trip would allow me to asses the potential for success of that proposal, and understand the benefits associated with its application. By visiting Florence, I would gain a deeper understanding into how public spaces can be designed in such a way as to act as catalyst for social networks to thrive, and work as an anchor to a local community and way of life.

In addition to my interest in the Piazzas of Florence, the city also boasts some of the most beautiful and historically important architecture in the world. The historic centre of Florence was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1982. This research trip would provide me with the opportunity to visit some buildings that I have wanted to see, sketch and photograph ever since I started my architectural studies three years ago, including the work of great Architects such as Brunelleschi and Vasari.

The benefits of the research completed on this trip to my architectural education would be immense. The skills that I would learn on the restoration seminar would be invaluable, and unattainable anywhere else. I would have the opportunity to discover how to complete the type of restoration discussed in my essay proposal, and further my comprehension of the value of restoration over new builds. These types of skills are not taught as a part of the course I am currently studying. They would be of use if I were to go down the career avenue of architectural preservation after the completion of my architecture degree.

The second part of the trip, the research and analysis of Florence's public squares, would tie in with the theme of 'the social art of architecture', as expressed in my essay proposal. Such spaces are often subject to intense theorising and re-design, but visiting and experiencing them is the only way to understand their relevance to our social paradigm, and how they are used and operate as public places. The term 'social space' meant a completely different thing when these public squares were created to what it does today. The way we use them has changed, and by visiting them I would hope to fully understand their importance. Modules of my architecture course, such as 'contemporary urbanism', largely cover the theoretical design of Urban spaces, without offering the opportunity to experience them, and gain a first hand understanding of how they operate. The Berkeley travel fellowship would complement my understanding of the theories of urbanism learnt as part of my academic studies, and would ultimately lead to me being able to design public spaces that are apt to the way these spaces are used today.

Itinerary: 31 July – Depart Dublin Airport. 2 August – Begin seminar. 28 August – Finish seminar. 29 August – Arrive in Florence. 5 September – Depart Pisa Airport.

Costs: Outward flight: $100 Train from Venice Mestre – Florence:$100 Bus from Florence to Pisa airport:$20 Return flight:$100 Total Travel expenditure:$320

Seminar participation:$500 Living expenses @ $50/day x 35: $1750

Total expenses: $2580

References: - Seminar website. - General contact email. Roberto Raccanello – Main contact's name for seminar. 

Additional Help and Information

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Michael Swords, Dublin school of Architecture, Dublin, Ireland
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