The Steps of Design Clemson architecture students walk their way to a new understanding of culture and creativity

When junior architecture major Summer Anderson packed five pairs of walking shoes for her semester abroad, she never imagined she would need more. Four months, 11 countries, 56 cities and over 700 miles walked later, the Durham, North Carolina native says her footwear collection is nearly exhausted.

While abroad, Anderson – along with her cohort of 16 Clemson architecture students currently studying in Genova, Italy – made a conscious decision to walk rather than use other forms of transportation. Over the course of the semester, the group traveled together a distance equivalent to walking from Clemson to Washington, D.C. Adding in her personal mileage, Anderson has trekked from Clemson to the Florida Keys.

The Spring 2017 cohort, from left to right: (front Row) John Murden, Mackenzie Conlon, Summer Anderson, Maddie Ansley, Dani Noonan, Allison Chan, Mckenzie Betfort, Michael King, and Taylor Shank; (back row) Logan White, Phil Hood, Nic Day, Perry Hammond, Cole Robinson, Josh Rowell, and Page Cross.

While their distance traveled is impressive, the experience echoes what Clemson groups in Genova have done for nearly 40 years: to complement classroom learning, students are introduced to a new perspective of buildings and cities they had only previously seen in text books and slideshows by opting to travel by foot. Professor-in-residence Joseph Schott says the group relied on the network of previous Clemson professors in Genova who had developed extensive maps, notes and suggestions on walking routes.

"It was all done in the service of learning about different places and learning about the ways people do things here as opposed to the way we do them at home," said Schott. "You can look out the train window, you can look out the bus window, you can ride a bicycle – and we’ve done that, too. But it seems to me that you absorb the most information when you’re walking because of the pace and because your view is unobstructed. You hear the things that are going on around you, you smell the things going on around you – you’re really engaged when you’re walking."

Professor-in-residence, Joseph Schott

And the group didn’t engage with the culture just in Genova – they traveled extensively both within Italy and beyond. The cohort made regular trips from the villa to the port in Genova where they observed local residents working and relaxing near the sea. On a single day in Naples, Italy, the class tallied a record 14.7 miles, winding from the coast to the castle and back again. In their free time, students traveled independently across Europe, visiting cities including Dublin, Ireland; Paris, France; Budapest, Hungary; and Barcelona, Spain.

Summer Anderson's map of travels, January - April 2017.

In each city, the students explored iconic structures up close. By walking to, around and through those spaces, the group gained a unique perspective that can be lost in translation when studying remotely.

“There are only so many things that a classroom teacher can do to introduce and analyze a building through slides," said Schott. "There are simply parts of it that they can’t show you. But in this case, when we walked to the Villa Rotonda in Vicenza (Italy), the students were able to explore every nook and cranny and they were able to understand the implications of the building because they looked out at what you saw from the building.”

A student's view of the reflection pond and the Gloriette at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria.

In addition to seeing buildings up close, the group would find high spaces in each city they visited, whether it was the Campanile (a bell tower) in Venice, or a rock formation in Trieste. These bird's-eye views allowed the group to look down at entire cityscapes and develop a better understanding of the mechanics of urban spaces.

A student's view of Athens, Greece from above.

Anderson says that her walking, both near specific buildings and to vantage points above, has already influenced her design process. She plans to focus her career on creating schools and hospitals and says that her experience abroad has given her a new understanding of how to incorporate culture and comfort into her projects.

“I hope to bring certain aspects of the culture to make every person that could be in a particular school or hospital feel really comfortable,” says Anderson. “I want my design to be something where everyone feels comfortable and make sure that everyone is included at any point. Visiting all of these places makes me realize even more how different people are, how different cultures are, and what pieces from each culture you can bring to make everyone feel comfortable.”

As with every study abroad experience, this group is sure to bring back dozens of sketches, souvenirs, new friendships and a global perspective that only a trip around the world can provide. However, this unique class may bring back something extra – an understanding of the way we move through the world and, if they’re lucky, a new pair of shoes.

Interested in learning more about architecture at Clemson? Use the links below to explore our School of Architecture and its Fluid Campus program, which allows students to study in Genova, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; and Charleston, South Carolina.

All background images courtesy of Clemson University architecture students studying in Genova Italy with Professor Schott in the spring semester of 2017. From top to bottom, the locations and photographers are: Grass, Austria photographed by Nicholas Day; San Torini, Greece photographed by Danielle Noonan; Paris, France photographed by Danielle Noonan; Paris, France photographed by Danielle Noonan; Athens, Greece photographed by Danielle Noonan; Paris, France photographed by Danielle Noonan; Lake Bled, Slovenia photographed by Phillip Hood; and San Torini, Greece photographed by Danielle Noonan.

Think Critically. Be Creative.
Created By
Daryn Vucelik

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