Upon receiving an opportunity to obtain a STEP scholarship, I was initially lost in a sea of images of traveling to help a distant community in need or possibly learning more about the volunteer and fellowship options in my own backyard. However, as I progressed nothing seemed to fit. I knew I wanted to branch out and move beyond the scope of my major; to push myself in a new direction I may not have otherwise considered.
As I progressed through my weekly cohort meetings, I found myself mesmerized by the stories my professor told regarding the history of the campus architecture. She walked us through the trails and buildings I would have otherwise never noticed. As she did, she shared a rich history and provided insight into architectural mechanisms we are affected by so often without notice. For example, on the first day she began by taking us to the oval. She had us stand on the steps by the Wexner Center and look out onto the oval. I never noticed before, but the oval forms a small, shallow bowl-like structure, with the highest points near buildings and the lowest point near one of its center circles. It draws people in and encourages community and congregation, as it was meant to do. We continued our journey that day and I went on to my homework and classes. However, I found myself constantly thinking of the stories she told in the back of my mind as I made my way through the week until the next meeting. When my professor suggested something involving architecture, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Ultimately, I ended up designing my own curriculum for a Maymester class with the guidance of my STEP professor. I researched several architectural sites and practiced sketching a diverse array of features. I met weekly with my professor during the May term via Skype, where we would discuss my progress that week and plan for the next week accordingly. I traveled around the area near my home looking for places and objects to sketch. We also discussed some of the history of city planning and public spaces and compared its use in Spain to the United States. I would try to take note of various features that caught my eye during this time. During June, we met frequently and sketched a new location each time, discussing the importance of the site and its social and architectural significance.
When I was in Spain, I actively drew various locations visited, as well as took pictures and notes. I frequently discussed daily activities surrounding buildings and public spaces with individuals native to the area. This was also an excellent time to discover some of the dissimilarity that exists between the many regions of Spain. I was able to meet people from the area when visiting from Pamplona, Barcelona, and San Sebastian.
In Pamplona, I was able to attend the Running of the Bulls with a family that has been in the area for a long time. The architecture was much older and the city plan was based around a time when the town had to be walled. The borders and walls changed with the complexion of the city. Today, many of the remnants of those walls can still be seen. It was also incredible during this time to have the opportunity to get to know a large family that has been in the area for a long time. I had the opportunity to go with the to a churro shop open only three days of the year, one being that morning. They also walked me through the majority of the city and the various parts. It was incredible to see the areas that were clearly within the walls of the old village and those that have been built up in the past hundred years. After the walk, they showed me an old club in which the membership is passed from generation to generation over the course of hundreds of years. The tradition was that the men cooked and served the women. The inside was grand and filled with exposed columns and features that actually are embedded in the walls of more modern stone. The architectures flips from buildings made of stone with grand courtyards and smaller spaces for streets and rooms and then into a very modern-looking area with spacious apartments that look as if they could be in a city in the United States.
Barcelona was my first and last experience in Spain. It was filled with the lively and distinctive eating and culture. My favorite architectural site in Spain was in Barcelona. Here, the Sagrada Familia is still under construction, as funding trickles in from the local community, tours, and members of the church. Upon first inspection, the outside was massive and haphazard. After looking much longer, however, the story of how each feature was intertwined with another and the evolution of the features added to the church as time progressed became apparent. After going inside, I remember being struck by the light and magnificent design. Having visited cathedrals in the past, I did not know how much such a naturally inspired setting would add to the grandeur and energy of the space. The ceilings were held up by columns that were designed like trees and windows were placed strategically to play on the features of the natural light. After that, I was able to see many other features that Gaudi brought to the city, such as the park and a set of buildings downtown.
Barcelona also had an incredible local culture, very different from that of San Sebastian. Here, I was able to see a series of cafes that were designed for casual outdoor eating quickly transform into a location where people can pick up their meal quickly and head home, depending on the time of day. I was surprised to see people not only ordering hamon sandwiches as take out, but also seafood, shellfish, and cuts of meat that I could not discern. Even young children seemed much more open to trying various cuisine. I ended up just outside of a public square that was recently built to try to bring more people to that part of the city. The town had bands come in in the early evening and recently built shops and tapas bars. It seemed incredibly busy, but after speaking to someone in the city, I was told that just months before the area was entirely different. There was very little to do and the area was a much less favorable location to be.
San Sebastian was the most scenic location to me in Spain. It was a quiet town in Basque country near France. Surrounded by smaller villages, the area was bustling at all hours of the day. One region had a shopping district that attracted many tourists and the other was residential. The residential area made use of much more outdoor space for apartments than I have seen anywhere else. It seemed that almost everyone had a large wrap-around porch filled with plants to the point where it would be impossible to see someone standing outside. During the day, the village all seemed to be in the shopping district or by the water. An island nearby became a destination for many people during the day. After speaking to someone that teaches at a university in Spain, I was told that many retired community members would swim out in the morning, stay for a beer and a small lunch, and then leisurely swim back to the main land. Having attempted the swim once, I would find that to be incredibly taxing to attempt everyday. In the evening, I went out for pinxos, as was a typical dinner option for the members of the town. Its was incredible how individuals or pairs would walk comfortably between restaurants and have something at each destination, fluidly conversing with whomever else happened to be outside. I was told that it was a small and very community-driven area. Steps in the middle of a busy walkway became a place for people to sit and converse without upsetting the heavy flow of through-traffic. Even without knowing any Basque, I felt engaged in the community as people asked me questions and told me excitedly about the town in which they lived. While there, I also got to see an old-fashioned amusement park and a variety of cathedrals. Everything was much smaller and more spread out. The public spaces appeared to be part of an older city plan near the main street and in other places somewhat more modern. Here, I also got to hear some of the folklore associated with the town.
From my journey, I have been able to sketch and see things beyond just the image. I learned how to look beyond the details in favor of trying to capture an idea or only aspects in which I want to convey. I also learned how to let go and move beyond the concern that my drawings were not that of an experienced artist, but held meaning and content that helped me to gain new insight. I stepped out of my comfort zone and experienced a new field of study altogether. In the process, I was able to learn an incredible amount about a country and people rich in history and the way in which they utilize architecture to suit the specific culture of a city. In my meetings with my professor, I was able to take away a huge sense of inspiration to continue to pursue things out of my comfort zone. As she inspired me with news pegs regarding modern day architecture and shared snippets of history and tips for drawing, I found myself fascinated by the subject matter in a way I continue to find I bring up when walking through the oval or past Orton.
The greatest impact the trip will have on me moving forward is my interest in seizing unique opportunities as the come and constantly trying to think about how things such as architecture are affected by such a wide variety of social factors. I also learned the benefit of pursuing something that may not immediately fit the most typical option. I ended up having an experience that was unrelated directly to my field of study, but that has ended up having an incredible positive impact on my academic experience. This year I found myself showing around a student that is new to OSU and ended up focusing nearly the entire time on things that I learned during my STEP experience. I intend to take my newly found interest in architecture and try to learn more about the areas in which I travel and more about the area in which I live, constantly asking how something came into being and what is its significance now.