I am not an architect. I studied architectural design at a liberal arts college and focused on the sustainability of materials. After, I studied to be a cabinet maker. A furniture designer. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read my acceptance letter into the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art’s Summer Intensive Studio. It has a been quite some time since I sat in front of my drawing board. Everything I do is on the computer these days with little emphasis placed on hand drawings. In school, we touched on drawing and related techniques but nothing too lasting. There was a very big possibility that I was in way over my head. But I knew there was something missing in my design education. A lack of cohesion. I didn’t know what to expect or what I would gain from this program but I knew spending the summer in New York City studying Classical Architecture was not anopportunity one passes up.
My first day I arrived early and sat in a park nearby. Watching those coming and going from subway tunnels to coffee carts. I sat and thought about the life of the city and the history of the buildings that surrounded me. Would these be the buildings we would study?
Engraved on a statue in the park is a poem by William Cullen Bryant. It read:
Yet let no empty gust
Of passionate feeling find utterance in thy lay.
A blast that whirls the dust
Along the howling street and dies away;
Best feelings of calm and mighty sweep,
Like currents journeying through the windless deep.
This was an excerpt from one of his lesser known poems written later in his life. I could think of no better rallying call for my first day into this adventure. In the coming days, I would revisit this spot whenever I had doubts about why I was so far from home.
We met for introductions on the first day and a wave of relief passed through me as we all took our turns saying hello and presenting our portfolios to one another. We were a mix of students, young professionals, architects, designers, artists, and engineers. Some were familiar with classical architecture and others were in the same boat as I with limited to no exposure to classical architecture. My initial fear fed by my inexperience completely vanished. We were there to learn, not compete.
While the program did take up most of the time in the big city, there was still opportunity to explore and experience. There were times in between classroom and office visits where we would venture out together and share our collected knowledge of obscure architectural facts. Other times we discussed the best cheap pizza within walking distance from the Institute. In class we learned a variety of techniques used in classical architectural drafting. Amongst these learning wash rendering was my favorite. There is something almost magical about taking a little droplet of water with a touch of ink and using a brush to move it across your canvas creating shadow and contrast.
The end of the program arrived sooner than expected. A month felt like a year that felt like a week. We were learning about classical architecture in one of the greatest cities in the world and we wanted more.
Our final day, we presented the culmination of our month long efforts. Established architects walked between our tables and commented on our sketches, our notes, our exercises, and our bond. We adjourned to a private dining hall upstairs for our last lunch as a group. We all promised to keep in touch. One of the students created a Facebook page for our class and we all continue to update each other on our happenings.
I spent the hours before my departure walking through the old building that created such a creative space for me that summer. I wondered how many before me drew at my table. What did they draw? Underneath our studio is an old library and lock maker’s museum. There was a giant tapestry hanging on the wall from a guild established long before my time. The motto was something like “By Hammer And Hand, All Arts Shall Stand”. I remember sitting there and letting that phrase repeat in my head.
Was I to return home with a deeper appreciation for Classical Architecture? Would I spend my free time sketching? Not only did I return with a greater appreciation for Classical Architecture, I also brought with it a vocabulary to help facilitate conversation and sharing of my newly acquired knowledge. I carry a sketchbook and pen with me at all times these days. Before what felt like a chore now feels like recess. I look at buildings differently. I want to get inside and study the corners and the spacing between columns. Sometimes I enter a space and I think to myself “How quickly could I draw this space? Where should I start?”
I draw every day. These days, I’m quick to search for a pencil or piece of charcoal. My computer is mostly in a closed position unless I’m working. I will forever be thankful for my time in the ICAA’s Summer Studio. Not only did it enhance the way I design professionally, it also shaped the way I look at design.