• Apprentice to Bernini’s Ghost: A Story with a Palace, a Pandemic, and a Paradigm Shift

    Annalisa Bellettati, Anna Ruth Gatlin (see profile) , Lindsay Tan
    Research, Learning and scholarship, Architecture, Bernini, Gian Lorenzo, 1598-1680, Buildings--Repair and reconstruction
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    Our story begins 30 km outside of Rome, Italy, in a 13th Century fortress renovated in the 17th Century by Bernini. The upper levels are a museum; lower levels are a study abroad campus. Our 12-person team was tasked to transform the dungeon into dormitories with shared living, kitchen, dining, sleeping, bathrooms, and office space. The dungeon is cut into bedrock, exposed only on the Northwest façade. We worked across languages, standards of measurement, time zones, disciplines, and almost exclusively via flat, time-lagged video chat sessions. Only once did we all meet in person to explore the dark, vast chambers and their contents. Working on the project in isolation was its own practice in mindfulness and the source of a paradigm shift. In this era of social distancing, it is hard to imagine how design can be taught effectively through remote instruction. But, every day, design firms are doing just that: working remotely in a virtual studio to create outcomes that need to feel handmade, soft, and personal. It isn’t easy. It isn’t ideal. It is, though, the reality of our work and our lives. Our design concept for this renovation is “awareness” through the apposition of form, weight, and material. In serving as apprentice to Bernini’s ghost – to see through the lens of his work – we acknowledge an intimate relationship with something sacred and fragile. In quarantine, we have taught, mentored, supported, encouraged, critiqued, and grounded students in reality. We have been mindful to express gratitude, but kept asking: when can we get back to normal? Are we missing the extraordinary learning that can be carried out amid this pandemic – across languages, standards of measurement, time zones, disciplines, via flat, time-lagged video chat sessions? Perhaps we should not be apprentice exclusively to the ghosts of the past, waiting in limbo for permission to get “back to normal”, but looking forward – to the extraordinary possibilities for interior design education.
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