Building Beauty Dispatch #1

Building Beauty: Ecologic Design and Construction Process, a post-graduate specialist program in Architecture, is now underway in Sorrento, Italy, at the Sant’Anna Institute. Initially planned to be offered in Naples at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University, we faced last-minute administrative challenges that ultimately turned out to be insurmountable. Building Beauty is now located at the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento ( where the program is fully supported and classes began in November 2017. Sorrento is an ancient coastal hill town at the south end of the Bay of Naples, with views of the island of Capri, the Vesuvio volcano, and the city of Naples to the north, and the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Ercolano at its doorstep (fig. 1). Together with the equally renown jewel-towns Amalfi, Atrani, Positano and Vietri along the spectacular Amalfi “Costiera” (coastline), Sorrento offers a first-hand example of how challenges and opportunities of human settlements in a dramatic landscape are resolved by historical evolution in a unique blend of art, life,  and sense of place.

Students and Curriculum

Our students hail from India, Iran, Slovenia, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and the United States. They are an enthusiastic bunch who are eagerly immersing themselves in a program that offers new ways of designing, making, and building, with the goal of increasing beauty and life in the world. The curriculum emphasizes the generation of beauty by means of the practical work of making and follows the founding principles described on the opening page of The curriculum links together ecological thinking, building skills, and self-awareness along three lines:

1. Construction and Cultivation: replication of traditional building components/ornaments in addition to a new construction project in the gardens at the Sant’Anna Institute. In cooperation with the Giardino della Minerva’s botanic labs - the most ancient medical gardens of the western world established in the XIth Century in Salerno - students realize a garden project integrated with the construction project.

2. Seminars: leading international scholars from a wide range of disciplines explore a truly interdisciplinary approach to design and construction where complexity and uncertainty are positive conditions of beauty generation; speakers tackle important challenges in the current international agenda of sustainable architecture and resilient communities. 

3. Self, Community and Space: practical art-therapy workshops raise the ability to recognize and trust feelings in relation to space. Feelings are referred to space, the body-mind, and the way they interact in the hands-on physical work of making.

The program concludes with Summer School in Cisternino, Puglia: here students learn from a local master-builder how to build the circular stone-houses traditional of the place, the famous “trulli” (fig. 2), in an unforgettable two weeks of intensive, residential construction experience. 

Fig. 2. A typical “trulli” compound in Cisternino, in the southern Italy Puglia region: students learn how to build “trulli” houses from a local master-builder in the two-week intensive residential construction workshop that concludes the program.

In the Classroom and Out in the Field

Right now, the students are finishing up a three-week intensive course on observing and mapping built space in the town of Sorrento in preparation for their main project. In addition to documenting the more typical quantitative information, the students are also recording qualitative characteristics of the place, including assessing which places in the town feel more “alive” and which less so, and then positing reasons for this. We will share some of their work in our next dispatch. Work on real projects will start next week, with Chris Andrews leading a workshop on carpet design. Students will produce design work that will be used to make actual carpets as they learn about the intrinsic connection between color and geometry. Immediately following the work on carpets, the students will design and make a ceramic tile under the direction of Pasquale Liguori, one of the most celebrated living masters of the world-class Vietri ceramic art tradition (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Pasquale Liguori in a quick demonstration of ceramic decoration technique in his laboratory in Raito, just outside of Vietri in the Amalfi “costiera”. Pasquale is a celebrated master of the world-famous Vietri ceramic traditional art.

We will continue to keep you informed with monthly dispatches, including some examples of student work, so that you can follow along with what is happening at Building Beauty. We welcome your comments and suggestions as we move forward in our first year, so please do not hesitate to get in touch:

Duo Dickinson,

Susan Ingham,

Dan Klyn