School of Architecture College of Design

Drawing on History by Tom Vogel

Drawing on History

Tom Vogel discusses the benefits of spring modules through his time studying the Laurentian Library.


In a previous student story, Sara Marquardt (M.Arch graduate) mentioned how the seven week spring modules provide a welcome change of pace from the fall semester. Of the five modules offered during spring 2016, one triggered my mind into action: Michaelangelo's Studio: the Laurentian Library, taught by Professor Andrzej Piotrowski. I can still recall in high resolution- from the otherwise hazy recollection of an undergraduate art history class long ago- the images of the library's vestibule and stiar and the power these images still hold over me.

Designed to house the Medici family book collection, the Laurentian Library was never completed. The rare book room Michelangelo designed as the culmination of the space, the third in a procession of spaces, was never constructed. The first few weeks of our studio consisted of engaging the historical library and the time of its conception and construction. During this reading and analysis phase, we discussed the architecture, arts, religion, and politics of the time period, Michelangelo, Mannerism, and essentially anything we could consume in an attempt to understand the design decisions that culminated in the Laurentian Library.


The second portion of the studio- necessitating a healthy boost of hubris- was to propose and design a small modern rare book room (in the place of Michelangelo’s never realized rare book room). It was the design of the studio that this proposed intervention fully engage with the historical understanding developed during the first few weeks of the class, and respectfully engage the original canonized structure. Programmatically, the addition’s needs were relatively simple: a climate and light controlled archive space for 50 of the drawings/documents produced by Michelangelo for the construction of the library. It also needed room for a pair of scholars to work. Conceptually, the addition’s scope was anything but simple. Built into the curriculum each student produced a rigorous series of diagrams and models. Each of these generative series were informed and developed through a variety of critiques and conversations.


Each of the individual designs built upon the understanding of the time, culture, and methodologies of Michelangelo and utilized this understanding as a datum through which to attempt- with no lack of humility- to both modernize and complete a true masterpiece of architecture. History in the case of this studio was not a passing precedent- a series names, dates, or images to be pondered for a brief period. Though the seven weeks of the studio is past, it taught us methods that- like the Laurentian Library we engaged so rigorously to understand- will continue to echo through the work that we engage with in the future.








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