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One Student's Summer Internship at the Acropolis

The School of Architecture is proud of its students, and not just for their accomplishments in the classroom—but for their accomplishments outside it, too. Nicolas Sloan ‘21 used his Notre Dame education and the resources available to him at the University to land an internship in Athens, Greece, where he worked for the Acropolis Restoration Service throughout the Summer of 2019. Sloan received funding for the internship from the Nanovic Institute, which awards grants to Notre Dame students seeking to advance European scholarship. Read on for Sloan’s advice on applying for such funding, what his internship experience was like, how Notre Dame positioned him for success, and more.

School of Architecture (SOA): You received funding for this internship from the Nanovic Institute. Can you tell me a bit about the application process and what you felt when you were granted funding?

Sloan: Professor Ingrid Rowland was essentially my guide through the whole process. I came to her in the beginning of the year in Rome when I realized I missed the opportunity to join the group doing research in the Forum. She put me in contact with her friends who do research on the archaeology of ancient sites, including my boss in Athens. Once her friend agreed to supervise me, I began both the Nanovic process, as well as the process for the Acropolis Restoration Services, or the YSMA.

Both processes had their own requirements that took a decent amount of time. YSMA asked for a portfolio of measured drawings (at the time I only had two completed ones and the measurements for two others, so I had to do six more in one weekend). Professor Rowland was extremely helpful in discussing my outline for my write-up for Nanovic, reading over it and having me make changes where necessary. She also wrote my recommendation letter. I received help from peers who had also gone through the process before. After this thorough process, I then had to wait for Nanovic's response. It actually came during deadline week, so it was really a happy moment in an otherwise stressful week.

SOA: Is there any advice you'd offer to Architecture students considering applying for research or internship grants?

Sloan: Remember that the people who read these grants aren't architects, so it's important to look at your essay from their points of view when asking yourself if you have made an argument of why your research is important. Also, don't be afraid to get help from multiple people. I had three separate people critique my proposal write-up. It helps to be proactive and get ahead. Don't leave anything until the last minute, that way you can refine your documents.

SOA: What exactly were you doing for your internship? What did an average day look like?

Sloan: My average day would start at 6:30 a.m, taking the hour walk to the Acropolis (getting coffee from two cafes), so that I could get to work before it opened to tourists. For the first half, I would be inside of the trailer to the side of the Parthenon in my boss's office. Every other day or so, I would do my own independent sketches on site until the site opened to tourists (although many of the security guards questioned me for the first couple of weeks). When presented with a new piece, I would lay it out on a table, clean it if necessary, and set up two rulers to serve as guides to measure it off of, creating x and y axes. Then I would measure everything through a long and very thorough process using a variety of tools. I would have a small portable mayline on my lap with a sheet taped down where I could draft each piece in a number of elevations or "plans," sections, and document details. The final steps were to label different conditions such as mold or bullet marks, dimension all parts, draw in the cisel marks, add the stratigraphic lines to make the drawing read, add line weights, and then title the plate.

When the pieces got larger, I moved to the other side of the trailer, where I would be around the marble cutters and more of the construction workers. Lena, my boss, was very warm; she would give me food and water, ask about my stay in Athens, invite me over to her house for dinner, make recommendations for restaurants and museums and monuments to visit, and was very active in adding to my understanding of architecture. However, when I moved out of the office, the construction workers then filled that same role. The three who spoke English would make me take breaks (not always by choice) and give me food and drink. They enjoyed teaching me Greek words, about Greek food and drink, and everything about Greece. One of them took me to see other monuments on the site and gave me a tour very few people would ever get.

Then, by about 3:00, I would leave the site and go explore the city. Usually I would have a single destination each day, but I would discover many other things along the way. To the dismay of many Greeks, I never left the city to go to the islands, because I wanted to try to know the city as well as I knew Rome after my year there. I visited every museum and all of the sites I wanted to see at least once.

SOA: How would you say your internship fits into your education at Notre Dame? How has it enriched your experience as a student?

Sloan: My passion for Greek architecture goes back to when I first started studying it at the age of twelve. I've always known the Parthenon through numbers, facts, and details; however, with classes here at Notre Dame, I've been able to learn a lot of the significance behind the architecture, and how I can apply those lessons to my projects.

I never once thought I would be given an opportunity like this, and I learned so much from my time in Greece. While there I was able to document fragments from the Parthenon's architraves, a fragment of a column drum, and even part of a column from the Pre-Parthenon through rigorous measurements and analysis. I was able to learn how the smaller parts and details affect the whole composition, and I now want to emulate that level of attention to detail. I was also exposed to the archaeological side of architecture and found that I enjoy it as much as I do design.

Outside of work, however, I wasn't necessarily done for the day, for I wanted to see buildings throughout the city. I was able to analyze Greek architecture with the lessons I've gotten here at Notre Dame and figure out the design process of many of these buildings. I've learned a different approach to design than the more Roman one we're more familiar with. These lessons tie directly into my thesis project, where I want to explore using Greek forms, building types, and a more Greek approach of design to create a project, rather than decorating a Roman building with Greek orders and temple fronts as seen in Greek Revival. I hope to continue my research by examining Greek Revival buildings, seeing what kind of approach they took to design, and what I can learn from it.

SOA: In what ways did your studies at Notre Dame prepare you to succeed in your internship?

Sloan: Notre Dame has always put a larger emphasis on the analysis of architecture and understanding its purposes, philosophies, and the culture it represents. Professor Economakis, Professor Stamper, Professor Rhodes, and Professor Rowland have been extremely influential in my understanding of how to look at architecture, and they have talked with me one on one to strengthen my understanding. The most influential Professor was Paulo Vitti in Rome, whose course revolutionized the way I look at and analyse architecture. In fact, he stopped by Athens to chat with me about my time there, and I showed him pages in my notebook of analysis on buildings throughout the city.

Techniques from the school also helped prepare me for this experience and helped me get the most out of it. My lessons in freehand sketching helped me analyze architecture around Athens. The measured drawings I did for the workshop in Rome were the groundwork for the higher level of documentation that I ended up doing on site. Something I only realized as I'm responding to this is that I couldn't have done any of this without hand drafting. Many of us take this skill for granted, but without my practice with hand drafting, I couldn't have made any of these drawings.