Archive for June, 2014

Student Spotlight: Thomas Boyle

Posted on June 9, 2014 in Students

Boyle, Thomas 13-14Thomas Boyle is among the Nanovic Institute’s first students to return from a summer research trip already!  He is a rising Sophomore majoring in architecture.  With our Summer Travel and Research Grant, Thomas traveled to Spain to conduct research on La Reconquista and Andalusian architecture.  He promptly sent us an account of his trip:

Andalusia is unique place within Europe. Remnants of Roman, Visigoth, Muslim, and Spanish architecture exist alongside one another as markers of the prosperity and rich cultures that have dominated and transformed the area. Thanks to the support of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, I was able to travel to two Andalusian sites, the Alcazar of Seville and the Mezquita (Cathedral) of Cordoba, to investigate the conversion of these Moorish buildings after the Christian reconquest of Iberia in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I also visited the Alhambra of Granada, another significant Moorish structure used as a palace for Ferdinand and Isabella, but did not conduct in-depth research on the complex.

In Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city, I encountered a charming historic city center filled with plazas, parks, fountains, and beautiful buildings centered around the fortified Royal Alcazar. Still used as a palace for the Spanish royal family, the complex developed bit by bit over several hundred years. There is a fantastic mix of architectural styles in the Alcazar, including Moorish, gothic, classical renaissance, and of course, Mudejar. The Mudejar style is what occurs when traditional Arabic architectural forms are built for Christian purposes, resulting in a remarkable mixture of aesthetics and cultures. Surrounded by all of this, I got to work. By systematically sketching, photographing, and reading about the site’s post-Reconquista constructions, I developed a unique understanding of the buildings and the subtle unity of the complex. The Alcazar is an architectural marker of over 500 years of Moorish and Spanish history, and my research experience has allowed me to see and understand the site in a more appreciative light.

After three days of study at the Alcazar, I went on to Cordoba, a much smaller city with an architectural history as rich as Seville’s. Founded as a Roman capital of the imperial province of Baetica, Cordoba became the economic and intellectual center of Andalusia under the Moors, and is strewn with well preserved architectural remains from both periods. The city’s most outstanding feature is the Mezquita, which serves as its Catholic cathedral, but was built as a mosque during the city’s Moorish golden age. Famous for its double horseshoe arch hypostyle hall with alternating red and white stones, the Mezquita went through an invasive conversion to a cathedral after the Reconquista. The enormous prayer hall did not serve well for a Catholic liturgy, so a small Gothic nave and an enormous Renaissance nave were added and interrupt the serene rows and rows of Moorish columns and arches. Over 40 smaller chapels were also sectioned off from the prayer hall. Like in Seville, I studied the history of each addition with available literature in the Mezquita, and extensively photographed and sketched. By experiencing and researching the monument in such an intimate way, I was able to understand and appreciate the visible mix of cultures that would not have been possible otherwise.

Perhaps most importantly, I am excited to use my over 400 pictures and 35 sketchbook pages in future designs in school and after graduation. Travel is especially important for students of architecture, because to understand a well designed building, it is best to experience it in person. I think being able to expand my “design palette” through travel is one of the greatest parts of being an architecture student at Notre Dame with access to the Nanovic Institute. I saw many clever and beautiful design solutions Spanish architects have used in Seville and Cordoba, solutions I will emulate in future projects at Notre Dame and beyond.

Student Spotlight: Paul Luczak

Posted on June 2, 2014 in Students

Luczak.Paul.13.14Graduate students aren’t the only Notre Dame students to present at conferences!  The Nanovic Institute recently sent undergraduate Paul Luczak (’15) to the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of Nottingham to present a paper titled “Academies and England’s Changing School System.”  Paul recently wrote about his experience:

On April 14th and 15th, through the generosity of the Nanovic Institute, I attended and presented at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of Nottingham. This conference brought together a global mix of undergraduate students researching a variety of topics and subjects. In my short time at the conference, I discussed with a Latvian student the sentiment of fellow citizens following the Russians’ activity in Ukraine, learned that British pastries have a distinct heritage in Central America, and listened to a presentation on the role of the media in British politics. However, the central purpose of traveling to Nottingham was to present my research: Academies and England’s Changing School System.

Academy refers to a category of schools that operate autonomously of the local authority, or what we would call a district. These schools are all-ability, meaning they accept all students, and receive funding directly from the Department for Education. All academies are granted the freedom to deviate from the national curriculum, change term lengths, and set pay and condition for staff.

Within the portfolio of academy schools, there are two types of schools that still retain the academy label. These are sponsored academies, and converter academies. It’s important to note that in reality, the titles ‘sponsored’ and ‘converter’ are descriptions of the schools, rather than their formal name. In practice, they are known simply as ‘academies.’ Sponsored academies are managed and led by a sponsoring organization. These sponsors include successful schools, businesses, universities, charities, and faith groups. Maintained schools typically become sponsored academies in hopes of turning around a failing school. Therefore, when a school becomes a sponsored academy, the goal of the sponsor is to change the culture, identity, and performance of the school in order to become classified as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding.’ Converter academies, on the other hand, are academies that were schools already deemed good or outstanding by the Department for Education. Because they have a history of success, the DFE is willing to grant these schools the freedom to operate autonomously of the local authority. Given the already high levels of achievement, little change occurs when a maintained school becomes a converter academy outside of alterations to the source of their funding and their association to the local authority.  At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, 2,442 schools were converter academies, and 858 were sponsored academies.

Sponsored and converter academies refer to very different types of schools, but unfortunately, they both possess the same title: an academy. My research studies how the government and sponsoring organizations define ‘sponsored academy,’ and whether parents and community members understand the overhaul inherent in a transformation to a sponsored academy. I found that parents understand and can define the type of school their child attends, but system level confusion persists.

Given this system level confusion, I feel an obligation to share my research in hopes of raising awareness of these schools. This is exactly what I was able to accomplish at the University of Nottingham. At the conference, I presented to many interested and involved members of the education community, but two conversations stood out. One was with a male student, about the same age as me, who prefaced our conversation by stating, “In my town a handful of academy schools have popped up recently. I’m interested in hearing more about these schools.” Another was with an older woman, who introduced herself as a school governor (similar to a school board member) at a school considering a conversion to academy status, but admitted to not possessing a true understanding of these types of schools. In both situations, I hope my presentation stimulated understanding, and helped illuminate the meaning of this hidden school reform.

By attending the British Conference for Undergraduate Research, I was able to share my research on academy schools, and hopefully help British citizens better understand the schools that are now becoming common place in their towns and villages. My experience in Nottingham only enhanced my motivation to continue to study these schools, and ensure that English parents possess a complete understanding of the school their children attend. Thank you to the Nanovic Institute for making this dream a reality.