Founded in 1993 by American Architect and Educator, Travis Price, III, FAIA, Spirit of Place-Spirit of Design is an international design-build education and cultural exchange curriculum that teaches students to design architecture that responds to the poetic specificity of the culture, mythology, and ecology of place. For over 20 years, Spirit of Place has been invited by project patrons in a host country to create a 'legacy marker' that revitalizes a unique aspect of culture or mythology, and to celebrate the 'spirit of place.' The program has resulted in a series of 18 award-winning and widely published built projects with students and local host countries, which respond to regional ecology, the diversity of the vanishing cultures, threatened historic resources, and building and craft traditions associated with historic sites. Projects have taken place in diverse urban and remote locations in Peru, Canada, U.S, Ireland, Nepal, Italy, and Finland.
Spirit of Place brings students from schools of architecture and design, all from different countries of the world, to design the project during the spring semester at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC as part of a 3-credit course for undergraduate and graduate students, as part of CUA's concentration in Cultural Studies and Sacred Space. Following detailed site visits for site selection, research, planning and consultation with community residents, and project patrons, Spirit of Place program instructors lead the students into an immersion of the mythology, history, culture, and ecology of place, in order to design an evocative space to reflect and celebrate the spirit of the unique site.
During the design process, students develop metaphoric designs based upon the specific culture and mythology of each place, expressed in a modern idiom, in a variety of media. The students create their own poetic and sculptural interpretations, and then further refine these into detailed architectural models: both physical and in electronic media, as well as in working construction drawings. Opportunities for public lectures and exhibitions of the student design work are planned in conjunction with the installations, for wider public engagement and education.
For 9 days in the summer, the students are joined by local artisans, and often, local students and residents to construct the Spirit of Place installation. Under strenuous conditions, the students work hand in hand with faculty, regional government and non-profit sponsors, as well as local artisans. The impact of this education on the students is invaluable and life-changing. For many students, this hands-on experience is their first exposure to construction techniques, environmental challenges, and cross-cultural immersions. As an innovative methodology blending design education and practice, such work encourages emerging architects to design architecture that responds poetically to the specifics of culture, ecology and the ‘spirit of place.’
A clarion call to environmental sustainability and the preservation of historic cultural resources are key components of these projects. Through the design and construction of modern metaphorical architectural ‘legacy markers’, Spirit of Place projects reinterpret and reinvigorate cultural heritage and invoke the unique qualities and authenticity of place in a contemporary design language.
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