MLA Student Experience—Cortona Study Abroad Program

Danielle Schwartz, MLA Candidate ’18

Last summer I studied a dialect of Quechua in the Ecuadorian Amazon and was never so aware of how well a language reflected the culture and belief system of its people. This summer, I am studying abroad with UGA Cortona and have likewise been amazed by how the values of Italian culture are ingrained in its architecture and spatial definition. Reflected in the cities’ urban design, from Rome to Cortona, are the attitudes and narratives of the people who have lived here for centuries.

Since before the Roman Empire, human relationships and connectivity have been ideals of Italian culture. This is reflected in structures from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to the Roman Forum (all of which we were able to visit!). The spatial configuration of buildings in these places provides a framework for and encourages social interaction.

View of ruins at Herculaneum

Visiting the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum)

I couldn’t wait to visit these places that I studied in History of the Built Environment – Villa d’Este…

…and Villa Giulia

For my landscape studio, I am working on a new master plan for Cortona, where UGA has based their study abroad program in Italy for almost 50 years. The purpose of the project is to strengthen the experiential qualities of place for both its residents and visitors. I am excited that this master planning project is forcing me to more fully explore the relationships between people and place in a new context, especially through the lens of A Pattern Language. This book on urban design and community livability has changed the way that I look at and experience streetscapes and their cities.

Flag throwers in the main piazza of Cortona

Notes taken on readings from A Pattern Language

Sketch near the Severini School on the UGA Cortona campus

Having never been to continental Europe, this program has exposed me to a wealth of inspiration and knowledge that will inform my career and designs as a landscape architect. It has been overwhelming to witness extraordinary, awe-inspiring masterpieces from works of sculpture to the expansive gardens that contain them. I think my jaw drops every time I enter a cathedral. I could sit and stare at some paintings for hours and never get tired of finding new details to ogle.

Cattedrale di Sante Maria del Fiore, the main church of Florence

Bernini’s sculpture of The Rape of Persephone

My classes have also given me a greater appreciation and passion for new forms of art, namely sketching and printmaking. I’ve loved seeing how the experience of a place can be graphically communicated through different media.  If I’m thinking in terms of pencil or woodblock, distinct details are noticed, noted, and then conveyed. These are skills I want to develop and explore further in my career. Though I have already begun to notice some of the ways in which UGA Cortona has shifted my perspective, I’m sure that I will continue to find ways that my design ethic and aesthetic have forever been altered by my time in Italy.

A reduction print I made inspired by the painting Annunciation of Cortona

Sketch from the Avenue of 100 Fountains at Villa d’Este