Building Beauty Dispatch #5: BB's International Flavor

A view of the Marina Grande Bay from the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, with the Vesuvio volcano and the city of Naples emerging from the morning mist.

A view of the Marina Grande Bay from the Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, with the Vesuvio volcano and the city of Naples emerging from the morning mist.

With this edition of Building Beauty Dispatches we would like to thank you for your interest in and support of Building Beauty, which has enjoyed a lot of success in its inaugural year. As it grows and makes its way into different parts of the world, we thought you might like to hear from some educators and professionals who are finding value in its hopeful message: that we can all build beauty that makes a difference in the world.

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju and Narendra Dengle are leading the new Asian Advisory Board, which now has representation from India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Turkey. Jim Fuller and his students at the University of Hartford were enthusiastic participants in BB’s HOME event hosted by Duo Dickinson in Hartford and Sorrento. Gina Calabro, the Director of the American Institute of Architecture in Connecticut is also finding BB’s activities attractive to young architects. A few words from them, Olga Stinga, Director of the Sant’Anna Institute; Yodan Rofe, our Program Director; and Sergio Porta, our International Director; follow.

Maggie Moore Alexander, Honorary President

Our students at the University of Hartford were excited and eager to participate in the HOME Design event hosted by Duo Dickinson at Building Beauty this past year. For the coming year we are expanding the HOME program to include more of our students as well as other institutions. We will also build on our relationship with Building Beauty to have our students receive credit for their participation at BB as well as offering BB students an opportunity to complete their M.Arch with us. These exciting new relationships are growing to improve the educational experience of our students through the process of building. While technology is necessary in practice today the act and intimacy of building is more important than ever for our students and the architecture profession.

James E. Fuller, AIA NCARB, Chair of the Department of Architecture, University of Hartford

At the Connecticut Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), we were thrilled to be able display the 2017 HOME Exhibit and to promote Building Beauty and what it conveys.  Offering students and young architects a new approach to the process as they find their way in a changing profession is elemental in shaping the future of architecture. We look forward to promoting Building Beauty’s new publications to our emerging professionals as well as showcasing upcoming HOME exhibits to our membership.

Gina Calabro, Executive Director, AIA Connecticut Chapter

The presence of Building Beauty at Sant'Anna has been such a pleasure for the Institute and the rest of the community. Thanks to the works being carried out in our garden by the participants of the Building Beauty, we have come to more profoundly understand the interrelatedness of beauty and practicality. Watching their design transform from an idea to a reality has been inspiring and I am happy to say that the students and their collaborators will leave a lasting mark on our Institute.

Olga Stinga, Director, Sant’Anna Institute, Sorrento, Italy, home of Building Beauty

The Asian Advisory Board ( is constituted to make Building Beauty a reality on the most populous continent on the planet.

Mainstream architectural thought in the last century has brought the planetary eco-systems to a point of crisis, largely as a result of the way we have constructed our built environment in an industrialised world. Asian societies have tried to follow and outdo the industrially developed societies in this regard; but in Asia our ancient values are still a reality for the majority.

The principles of Ecologic Design and Construction Process being promoted by the Post-Graduate Certificate in Architecture launched in Sorrento, Italy in October 2017, offer an alternative to mainstream architectural education which is contributing to further environmental degradation on the planet.

The ancient societies of Asia, closer to old world community forms, may have a better chance of embracing and developing further the efforts of Christopher Alexander and his colleagues at the Centre for Environmental Structure, who have initiated the Building Beauty program to challenge the status quo in architectural education. The quest for re-discovering the timeless way of building is the mission of the Asian Advisory Board of Building Beauty.

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju and Narendra Dengle, Co-Chairs of the Asian Advisory Board

Working with an international group of students

The first class of students at Building Beauty was as diverse as can be. In a group of seven we had students from India, Iran, Slovenia, South Africa, Puerto Rico and the US. They were also diverse in their ages, ranging between mid-twenties and early fifties, less balanced in terms of gender with two women and five men. Some of them were in the middle of their architectural education, others were already experienced professionals.

The learning experience in Building Beauty is very intense. As our own feeling of well-being is the main criteria for the goodness of the spatial configurations we encounter or want to generate, it means that getting in touch with one’s own feelings is a pre-condition for being able to learn and understand the field of centers. Trying to learn what from these feelings can be shared and general, and what are personal or cultural idiosyncrasies, is also of primary importance. Much of the work is done as a group, and involves discussion and being able to let go of pre-conceptions and being open to other solutions that seem more wholesome to the group. Learning to do it step by step, using techniques such as the ‘mirror of the self’ is not easy, particularly when working in a foreign language and a cultural context that is alien to everyone.


In the end, as the saying goes, ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ The success of the project for the Sant’Anna Garden and the built bench, and its acceptance by the staff and students of the Institute, show that the students were able to bridge their differences, and to integrate the form language of Sorrento Gardens. One of the nicest compliments we received about the bench was from a visitor to the Institute who said that the bench seemed as if it has always been there. Yet it is totally unique, it doesn’t copy any particular bench seen in the area – and would not have taken the shape that it has, if it wasn’t for the particular sensibilities and capacities of the group of students who designed and built it together – using the building process they learned in the course.

Yodan Rofè, Course Director, Building  Beauty

Being international at Building Beauty 

It is a dream, and a strong one. And it is practice, organization, timetables, insurance, finances, contracts, trains to take and classrooms to book. And it is incredible to see that after all the dust is settled, the dream is still there. Not the same dream, but one that is larger and bigger and more colorful. Not as a crystal, not as pure gem, but rather showing all the signs of the fatigue, the astonishment, and the happiness that came forward along the way. A living form of dream, in fact not a dream anymore, but a beautiful real thing that somebody crafted at some point and now sits nicely in the Sant’Anna gardens, along with others talking the same language using different words, built by somebody else at some other point along the way. This is our bench and everybody’s bench. It is only a bench. But it is as glorious as our soul is, as easy as our gesture of sitting there to have a chat with a friend, or just enjoying the silence in the garden for a moment. Everybody’s souls and everybody’s gesture.

This is what it means when we claim that we deliver a program that is international. It goes beyond the different nationalities of those who teach and learn and make everything possible in Sorrento, and beyond the dozens of languages spoken. It is not only because we all talk to each other in English language, with all the funny intonations that reflect our individual stories. It is mostly because what we strive to reach has no national individual border, nor boundaries of religion, race, color, football faith or food preferences. It is not about “preferences” at all, or beliefs or opinions. We strive to get to what makes us who we are as human beings, which only can connect us to each other and, when you are there, actually delivers that so nicely and easily. So effortlessly. So naturally. This is what we are made of, when we are beautiful. Ultimately, it is a choice. We choose to build on our beauty, quite literally. And, as it turns out, that is what beauty is made of – the same structure that makes up us and the land around us, the structure that we and the land share, which for that reason resonates in ourselves and the land alike. Such “resonance” is the beauty that talks the language of our body as much as that of our spirit and the spirit of the land. That language is what we seek and explore, what we practice and investigate every day by making stuff in Sorrento. It takes structure, theory, hands-on hard work and sweat, it takes intellectual ability as much as competence in staying close to our own body and feelings first. But it takes – profoundly it takes – to get past the barriers. That is why our program is international.

Sergio Porta, International Academic Director, Building Beauty



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Maggie Moore