Our second century

In 1916, Assistant Director Eugenie Strong and architect Ernest Cormier briefly took up residence in the current BSR. We know a little about these early days in the building, which was by no means as complete as it is now. The east wing was missing (and not completed until the 1930s).


Plan of the BSR with missing east wing (Courtesy of the BSR Archives)

One of the studios was the common room, and housed Thomas Ashby’s [Director 1906-25] Piranesi prints in a special cabinet. Part of the Director’s flat was the temporary kitchen. Ashby himself was at the Italian front as a volunteer ambulance driver; most of the thirty-seven men associated with the BSR, including its Italian staff, were also caught up in the war.


The former common room – today one of our artists’ studios (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)


Thomas Ashby’s Piranesi prints on display in the common room (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

But the building was ours, for all that it was incomplete, and its first two residents were remarkable figures. Strong — an ebullient socialite, an expert on Roman art, polymathic, and profoundly international with contacts across Europe — is relatively well known. Her immense collection of commercial photographs of art and sculpture from several periods remains an untapped part of the BSR archive; and work on her large collection of postcards merits external funding.


Eugenie Strong (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

Ernest Cormier stands for another aspect of the BSR. He was a Canadian architect, and designed not only the central buildings of McGill University but also Canada’s Supreme Court in Ottawa. Our Commonwealth roots and our commitment to architecture, and to excellence, come together in the figure of Cormier.


Supreme Court of Ottawa, designed by Ernest Cormier – the first student to take up residence at the BSR in 1916 (Photo: Wikipedia)

It is fitting to remember Cormier as we also think this year of our departed and much-missed friend, Francesco Garofalo, who himself spent several years in Canada and who gave so much to the BSR. Francesco and his wife and fellow architect Sharon Miura worked on the extension of the BSR at the beginning of this century, including the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre, where his posthumous book of essays was presented earlier this month.


Speakers at the launch of Whatever happened to Italian Architecture? (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)


Architect Sharon Miura who managed the BSR’s Sustainable Building Project with her late husband Francesco Garofalo (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

A century on from its beginnings, the BSR’s building has never been in better shape. Thanks to my predecessor’s extension, and the recent Sustainable Building Project refurbishment programme — which Sharon Miura project-managed, with architects Studio Amati, engineers ARUP, and building contractor LO.MA — our artists are now showing their work in a temperature- and humidity-controlled gallery, our Library periodicals are in a fully refurbished basement, and we are constantly driving down energy costs.


Work on the east wing roof during the Sustainable Building Project (Photo: Natalie Arrowsmith)


Christopher Smith inspects the building work (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)


The refurbished artists’ studios (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

To celebrate this, we were proud and honoured to receive a visit from our President, HRH Princess Alexandra, who launched the next phase of our Second Century Campaign. We are working to create a stable and sustainable basis for our future. We hope that as many of our members as possible will visit us next year and that all our existing friends, and many new ones, will help us continue the traditions of internationalism and excellence which have characterised the first century of the BSR and will serve us well in our second.


HRH Princess Alexandra visiting the BSR to launch the Second Century Campaign (Photo: Thomas Toti)


HRH Princess Alexandra with members of the Sustainable Building Project team and BSR staff and residents (Photo: Thomas Toti)

Christopher Smith (Director)


A week in the life of a BSR award-holder

Living in such a culturally and historically rich city as Rome means that a wealth of opportunities are on offer, and our award-holders and residents have been making the most of this! Numerous excursions, gallery tours and conferences are attended each week, and here we take a look at the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of a typical week at the BSR.

All of our residents were invited to the opening of the Japanese House exhibition at the MAXXI last Tuesday, which runs until late February 2017, after which it will move to the Barbican Centre and then on to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The exhibition featured a series of photographs and models exploring the development of postwar domestic architecture in Japan.


Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

Back at the BSR: as part of the research for her AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Amy Russell, 2009-10 Ralegh Radford Rome Scholar and current BSR Research Fellow, gave a fantastic lecture on the imperial senate and the way in which it interacted with both the emperor and the city. Joining us from slightly further afield, yesterday evening’s guest speaker William Gudenrath (Corning Museum of Glass, New York) gave a talk on the history of glasswork and the glassblower from early Roman antiquity through to its ‘golden age’ in the Renaissance.


Amy Russell on ‘The imperial senate and the city of Rome’. Photo credit: Arthur Westwell


William Gudenrath discusses different glassblowing techniques. Photo credit: Stephen Kay

These lectures will soon be available to watch again on YouTube, and you can always find out more about our upcoming events on our website.

As always, both lectures were followed by a lively question-and-answer session, with the discussions continuing in the atrium for a rinfresco and cena speciale.


Discussion and rinfresco following a talk. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri


BSR tiramisù ready for a cena speciale!

The great wealth of history and art in Rome means that our residents have the chance to demonstrate their expertise on a huge range of topics. Last Thursday, our current Henry Moore Foundation–BSR Fellow in Sculpture, Simon Barker, led a trip to Tarquinia to see the stunning Etruscan tombs. Simon enlightened the group with his extensive knowledge of the Etruscan period, and the artists gave their perspectives on the styles and techniques of the artefacts and tomb paintings.


Detail of one of the painted Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia. Photo by Ellie Johnson.


Wandering through the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Friday saw our award-holders take on stone carving for the first time. Led by sculptor Peter Barstow Rockwell, each person was given a slab of stone to work on and instructed on how to work the material. Everyone returned exhausted from the effort of the carving, but had a fantastic time in the process!


Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Photo credit: Jana Schuster


Photo credit: Jana Schuster

On Sunday 13 November 2016, Jacopo Benci (Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture) organised and participated in an informal roundtable on women and artistic practice at  Centro Studi DARPS (Donne Arte Pensiero Società), where the five women artists currently in residence at the BSR (Kelly Best, Maria de Lima, Maria Farrar, Catherine Parsonage and Vivien Zhang) discussed with Marica Croce Caldarulo (director of DARPS), Serena Alessi (literary critic and women’s studies scholar; BSR Rome Fellow, Oct 2016-June 2017), Lucrezia Cippitelli (art critic; lecturer in Aesthetics, Florence Academy of Fine Arts; lecturer in Art Theories, University of Addis Ababa); Costanza Mazzonis (contemporary art consultant, Sotheby’s Italy), and Marina Micangeli Sanfelice (entrepreneur).


Enjoying some burrata at the DARPS event

One of the many perks of being a BSR resident is the access to sites that are usually closed to the public. Today marked a particularly special trip: Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens led a visit to the Casa Bellezza, a series of fantastically preserved frescoed rooms from the late Republican era which sit underneath a 1930s structure which was the home of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza.


Photo credit: Vivien Zhang


Photo credit: Maria Farrar

Just another week at the BSR!

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))

Meeting Architecture III: Fragments

The events of human life, whether public or private, are so intimately linked to architecture that most observers can reconstruct nations or individuals in all the truth of their habits from the remains of their monuments or from their domestic relics.’

Honoré de Balzac

Our current Architecture Programme Meeting Architecture III: FRAGMENTS considers how ideologies are shaped, memories evoked and emotions stirred by buildings, their contents and their ruins. 

We are now halfway through the programme having hosted the following lectures and exhibitions at the BSR in 2015-16:

  • Robert Bevan, ‘Culture and genocide’
  • Akram Zaatari, ‘The Archaeology of Rumour’
  • Francesco Bandarin, ‘The past as hostage. Heritage, conflicts and international organisations’
  • Dor Guez, ’40 Days’
  • Eyal Weizman, ‘Only the criminal can solve the crime’

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If you were not able to make it to any of these events, full video recordings are available of the lectures by Robert Bevan, Francesco Bandarin, Dor Guez and Eyal Weizman on our YouTube channel.

We very much look forward to seeing what the second half of this programme will bring!

Photos taken by Antonio Palmieri and  Giorgio Benni

Using the lost-wax method of bronze casting in the 21st century

As part of his preparations for our December Mostra, Giles Worsley Rome Fellow, Mark Andrew Kelly has been exploring how the ancient lost-wax method of bronze casting could be used to create modern sculptures and scaled architectural models.

Our Communications and Events Assistant, Katherine Paines, accompanied him and Marco Palmieri (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator) to collect the finished sculpture and asked him what it was about this casting method that interested him so much.


The final polished bronze sculpture made using the lost-wax technique. Photo by: Mark Andrew Kelly

The lost-wax method of bronze casting is so-called as it involves the creation of a primary sculpture in wax (or for larger sculptures, clay then coated in wax) which is encased in clay complete with small vents made from sticks of wax which form channels in and out of the refractory mold. This model is heated, causing the liquid wax to melt and escape through the vents as a gas, leaving an empty clay shell imprint into which the molten bronze can be poured. Once cooled the clay can be cracked open to reveal an exact bronze copy of the wax original, which can then be polished, chiseled and honed.

Hundreds of statues across the Greek and Roman world were made in this way, however, due to the skillful craftsmanship and the time required in the foundry, it is a method that has fallen somewhat out of fashion and is now not commonly done.

Mark is an artist and registered architect currently working towards an exhibition for the December Mostra at the British School at Rome. He is looking at concrete construction in Roman barrel vaults, cross-vaults and modern lightweight domes. The motivation to consider this type of bronze casting within his work comes from his interest in the formwork required to cast 3D metal models, which is very similar to casting in concrete.


Mark Kelly (left) and Marco Palmieri (right) inspect the finished product. Photo by: Katherine Paines

Mark’s inspiration for trying out this method comes from his residency in Rome. He has travelled extensively around Italy during his time as an award-holder at the BSR, documenting the buildings and objects he has seen in an overflowing sketchbook and regularly publishing timelapse videos of his work on his personal architectural website. Mark passionately believes that when you come to a new place, particularly somewhere as steeped in a varied architectural history as Rome, you should try out the things that you are unable to do anywhere else. Where the craft and traditions are local, you are going to come out with the best results.


Augusto, at Fondi Arte Bronzo, has been creating this type of work for over 28 years. He is seen here polishing the finished sculpture. Photo by: Katherine Paines

The cost of the raw materials and the antiquated methods used mean that it is not a commonly used method when creating sculpture. However, having whet his appetite for this here in Rome Mark is interested in potentially pursuing the lost-wax method further to produce architectural models as part of his regular practice in London. As he says, architectural models are often pricey things to produce even when they are made out of plastic and polymers, and as long as the quality produced justified the money spent it would be something he could look into – assuming of course he was able to find a workshop in England with the right equipment!


Mark was inspired by the shape of Pier Luigi Nervi’s roof structure with three parabolic vaults. Drawings and photos by: Mark Andrew Kelly

The finished product, viewed alongside a reconstructed wax model of the same, will be unveiled as part of Mark Andrew Kelly’s collection at the December Mostra at the British School at Rome on Friday the 11 December 2015.


Before and after: cast bronze metal on the left, hand-molded wax on the right (black). Photo by: Mark Andrew Kelly

Thanks must go out to Isabella Capolei, Marco Palmieri and the staff at the Fondi Arte Bronzo.

Katherine Paines (Communications and Events Assistant)

Mark Andrew Kelly’s blog, where you can find all of his timelapse videos of how he has been spending his time in Rome is available at: http://www.markkellyarchitect.com/blog/

The website of Fondi Arte Bronzo can be visited at:  http://www.fondiarte.it/index.html

Images by Mark Kelly and Katherine Paines

Climate change and sustainability: the UK and Expo Milano 2015

We were delighted to host the event ‘Climate change and sustainability: the UK and Expo Milano 2015‘ at the BSR on Thursday 15 October 2015. Our first speaker of the evening was Wolfgang Buttress, designer of the UK pavilion at Expo Milano 2015, whose design for the UK pavilion The Hive has recently been awarded ‘Best Pavilion Architecture’ at Expo Milano 2015.

Wolfgang Buttress

Wolfgang Buttress explains how the marriage of music and nature inspired his design for the UK pavilion ‘The Hive’ at Expo Milano 2015.

Our second speaker was Professor Lord Stern of Brentford, who gave a thought-provoking lecture on the ‘logic, urgency and promise of tackling climate change’. Following the event at the BSR, Lord Stern lectured in Florence on 16 October, and concluded his Italian tour by presiding over a roundtable discussion in Milan as part of the programme of events for this year’s Expo on the theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.

Wolfgang Buttress + Lord Stern

Wolfgang Buttress, designer of the award-winning UK pavilion at Expo Milano 2015, and Professor Lord Stern of Brentford, I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, and President of the British Academy.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole lecture (see the top of this blog post), you can watch a short interview with Lord Stern before his lecture at the BSR, and see the PowerPoint presentation of Lord Stern’s lecture. There are more photographs from the event on the British Embassy’s Flickr page.

Lord Stern will be lecturing in the UK on 24 November as part of the British Academy Debates on ‘Energy and the Environment’. Follow @britac_news and #BigDebates on Twitter.

Images by Guido Petruccioli


March Mostra/Meet the architect…Adam Nathaniel Furman

- An Furman, Picciridu's Tower, 2015

Adam Nathaniel Furman, Picciridu’s Tower, 2015


Adam Nathaniel Furman‘s (Rome Prize-winner in Architecture October 2014– March 2015) project The Roman Singularity is a multi-media exploration in text, computer drawing, animation, hand drawing, and ceramic, creating an an imaginary alternate Rome for the 21st Century; a dream in the mode of Piranesi’s Ichnographiam Campi Martii, a peek out through the other side of Rome’s catastrophic and utterly incomparable reality-bending gravitational field, a new city from which fragments can be seen here in this exhibition. An in-depth presentation of this project can be viewed on his blog: http://theromansingularity.blogspot.it/

The Roman Singularity, il progetto di Adam Nathaniel Furman (Rome Prize-winner in Architecture October 2014– March 2015), è un’indagine multimediale realizzata con testo, disegno a computer, animazione, disegno a mano libera e ceramica, che crea una Roma cartacea del XXI secolo alternativa; un sogno che richiama l’Ichnographiam Campi Martii del Piranesi, e che si affaccia sull’altro lato del catastrofico, e incomparabile campo gravitazionale di Roma, capace di plasmarne la realtà, una nuova città i cui frammenti possono essere avvistati in questa mostra. Un’approfondita presentazione di questo progetto può essere visto sul suo blog: http://theromansingularity.blogspot.it


Adam Nathaniel Furman, Photo: Antonio Palmieri

BSR Fine Arts March Mostra opens Friday 13 March 2015 18.30. Dates: 14–21 March (excluding Sunday). Hours: 16.30–19.00. Read the Press Release here or join the facebook event here.


Monte Mario: my first view of Rome

Tom Brigden was Giles Worsley Travel Fellow at the BSR in 2012. Here he tells us about his time at the BSR, his work as an architect at a leading international architectural practice specialising in conservation, and what J.M.W. Turner has got to do with Rome.

 T. Brigden, Nuova Pianta di Roma 2012, graphite and ink, 42x30cm

T. Brigden, Nuova Pianta di Roma, 2012, graphite and ink, 42 x 30 cm

Few cities could be said to approach Rome in terms of sheer density of historic and cultural sites, crowded as they are – quite literally in some cases – one on top of another. Given the opportunity, then, to live and work in such a place, what would be your first destination?

It is 9am, on a beautifully sunny October morning in 2012, my first morning in Rome. I’m heading north from the BSR, leaving the clustered domes and pinnacles of the city’s beguiling skyline behind me. My destination is the Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario to the northeast of the city. First impressions are not promising. Crossing the Tiber south of the Foro Italico, a tortuous knot of seemingly impregnable motorway slip roads and roaring traffic separate me from the park’s rusting barbed entrance gates.


Within, things do not initially improve, confronted as I am with littered scrub, vandalised bins and graffiti covered walls. However, as I begin climbing the steep, switch-back cobbled road which ascends the mountain I soon find myself immersed within a tangled ancient forest. Of course, ancient this forest may be, but to assume it is untouched by human hand in a place such as Rome would be a mistake; shattered walls and terraces revealed at each hair-pin bend hint at diverse former vocations ranging from Roman cemetery to seventeenth-century pleasure gardens and nineteenth-century fortress.

Though the gradually diminishing hum of the traffic I left behind seems an un-welcome modern interruption within this tranquil forest, the cobbled tracks traversing the mountain once formed the final triumphal stage of the so-called Via Francigena, the ’road from France’ European pilgrims took en-route to the Vatican. As such, these tracks once thronged with weary pilgrims and heavily-laden animals, drinking in their first views of the city and St Peter’s basilica beyond.


T. Brigden, City, Landscape, Fragment II, 2012, graphite and ink 42 x 30 cm

This magnificent panorama of the city, the sinuous Tiber sweeping in a broad meander between the Milvian Bridge and Mausoleum of Augustus, framed by elegant stone pines and backed by distant blue-grey hills, is an unforgettable introduction to the city. These wooded slopes were once the prized locations for grand villas, most notably the villa of the Roman poet Martial, Pietro da Cortona’s Pigneto Sacchetti (destroyed) and Raphael’s Villa Madama (left unfinished and largely altered), all of which carefully manipulated the contours of the hillside to take maximum advantage of the vista.

Later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the atmospheric ruins of these artistic and architectural treasures became a popular stop on the Grand Tour. Reaching an unusably decrepit bench at the summit of the hill, I muse on the idea that writers William Wordsworth and Henry James, artists Claude Lorrain, J.M.W. Turner, William Marlow and Richard Wilson, among many others, have all stood on this spot and admired the view. In fact, the popular depiction of this viewpoint, on countless canvasses, in numerous books, in hundreds of prints, contributed to its absorption into the British popular imagination; aristocratic gentlemen soon referred to the particular characteristics of a view from their Thames-side villas as equal to that of Rome’s Monte Mario. And yet, despite this fame, I enjoy this silent belvedere alone – you will not see the coach parties that crowd the Janiculum, the posing lovers of the Pincian or the group ‘selfies’ of the Capitoline hills here.


T. Brigden, City, Landscape, Fragment IV, 2012, graphite and ink 42 x 30 cm

This brings me to why I could not resist Monte Mario as my first destination in Rome. My research interests lie in the contemporary phenomenon of view preservation within urban and historic environments. My PhD dissertation explored the history of view protection in London, which has some of the strictest view management policies of any world city, tracing its origin to the picturesque movement and the popularisation of a particular view of London, the view from Richmond Hill. As a final post-script to my dissertation I was keen to explore the connection between the Richmond Hill and Monte Mario views, which were frequently directly compared by writers, architects and artists, including Turner, Marlow and Wilson. My time at the BSR, generously supported by the Giles Worsley Fellowship allowed me the unrivalled opportunity to gather material and connections, in the libraries of the BSR, American Academy and in the city’s many public and private collections of art. Without the generosity and support of the BSR’s staff and other scholars, I could not have hoped to achieve this. As an architect with conservation specialist Purcell LLP, I utilise the skills I gained at the BSR in practice as well as in my academic work. This includes the preparation of detailed context and views analysis documents which inform the development of architectural and urban design proposals. As a practice, our work utilising such skills has included a huge diversity of complex projects, Tower Bridge, Durham Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster among them.

Every resident scholar, artist, architect or visitor to the BSR will have different ideas for their first excursion in the city. Those I met during my time at the school had plans ranging from following an itinerary of churches authored by Andrea Palladio, to the Beaux-Arts sculpture of Hendrik Christian Andersen, to the ossuaries of the Capuchin monks. It is this exposure to ideas, to different ways of seeing, experiencing and thinking about the city of Rome that I feel is one of the BSR’s greatest assets – I very much look forward to returning in the future, and another chance to see the city from a whole new perspective!

Dr Tom Brigden received a commendation for his PhD dissertation The Protected Vista: An Intellectual and Cultural History, As Seen From Richmond Hill at the Royal Institute of British Architect’s President’s Awards for Research 2014.

Applications are being invited for the 2015-16 Giles Worsley Rome Fellowship. See http://www.bsr.ac.uk/awards/architecture-awards-ii#giles for further details. The closing date for applications is 18 February.