The Venice experience: international investigations in urbanism

Students take on climate change, historic preservation through faculty-led workshops in Venice

Published October 4, 2018

In August, 15 students headed to Venice for a two-week study abroad program that took them into the streets of Italy's city of canals. Students investigated issues in urbanism of international significance, including historic preservation and adaptive reuse, tourism and economic development, and the dynamics of public space and urban ecologies. The experience concluded with a workshop at the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale that considers the role of industrial cities in the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. in generating new forms of civic agency. 

Unstately: Bottom-up and Middle-out Practices

Workshop at the U.S. Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale | August 18

Examining the role of the inhabitant, as designer, as researcher and as activist, "Unstately" discussed practices that contribute to place through the unstately acts of citizenship involved in bottom-up and middle-out approaches. Engaging students with nonprofit leaders in Venice, the workshop provoked conversation new forms of citizen agency, across multiple scales and for issues economic, social and ecological. The school's documentary film "See It Through Buffalo"served as discussion prompt.

"Unstately" was organized by UB architecture faculty members Greg Delaney, Joyce Hwang, Julia Jamrozik, Erkin Özay and Nicholas Rajkovich, urban planning faculty member Kerry Traynor, and urban planning PhD student Camden Miller. 

Exploring the city

Venice study abroad - tour of the city

Students explore Venice's network of canals. Photo by Greg Delaney

Clinical assistant professor of architecture Greg Delaney led the first week of the program, a whirlwind tour of the city and its urban fabric. Featuring more than 50 site visits to Venetian landmarks, the tour includes exhibits at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and two days of open travel for students to explore surrounding areas on their own. Students also experienced first-hand the school's documentary film "See It Through Buffalo," at the Time Space Existence exhibition. 

Sustainable tourism in Venice

Kerry Traynor with her students exploring the impact of tourism on the urban fabric of Venice

Kerry Traynor with her students exploring the impact of tourism on the urban fabric of Venice. Photo by Frank Kraemer

Urban planning professor Kerry Traynor and Camden Miller, a PhD student in urban and regional planning at UB, led a "48-hour challenge" to consider the impact of tourism on the historic city, where tourists outnumber residents three to one. Exploring neighborhoods and commercial districts, students assessed gentrification, quality of living conditions, and the physical, cultural and social layers of the city's urban fabric. The two-day challenge included a "scavenger hunt" of the city to assess the availability and costs of essential goods and services for residents, as part of their exploration of tourism's impact on native Venetians. 

Mapping the city

Nick Rajkovich (standing) shows students some of the handheld mapping tools, which they used to create their own design interpretations of landmarks and spaces throughout Venice.

Nick Rajkovich (standing) shows students some of the handheld mapping tools, which they used to create their own design interpretations of landmarks and spaces throughout Venice. 

Using only hand-held tools, students created their own maps and design interpretations of the following landmarks and spaces in and around Venice. Sites included Lazzaretto Nuovo, Isola di San Michele, and the area around Garage San Marco, to explore how bringing cruise ships and tourists to the city have caused many environmental issues. The workshop was directed by Nicholas Rajkovich, UB assistant professor of architecture, and Joyce Hwang, associate professor and associate chair of architecture at UB.

Formal and informal public space

Julia Jamrozik (standing, rear) leads a workshop in Venice on public space

Julia Jamrozik (standing, rear) leads a workshop in Venice on public space

Julia Jamrozik, an assistant professor of architecture at UB, led a drawing/mapping study of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi as a public space that brings together people from various walks of life and has various conditions and adjacencies. The street was formerly a canal, which was drained in 1808. Students diagramed and mapped the public space and the way that people use it. The second part of the workshop introduced students to the nonprofit design agency Microclima and its "Il Giardino dei Bambini Non Accompagnati," a public space project located by the Serra dei Giardini. 

On Openness and Hospitality

The program's final workshop, led by Erkin Özay, UB assisant professor of architecture, looked at sites that challenge unified narratives of Venice as a provisional context. Architectural theorists such as Massimo Cacciari and Vittorio Gregotti framed Venice as the city of conflict and ambiguity, rejecting the anachronistic view projected by many observers. As a mayor and architect, respectively, they sought to embrace and reveal the incompleteness of the city, and emphasize Venice’s ability to enable representations of the larger world within it.