Generations of Clemson School of Architecture alumni gathered in Genoa, Italy for the 50th anniversary of the Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies—best known among alumni as “The Villa”—on March 24.
“There have been more than 1,700 students who have studied in Genoa since the Center was founded in 1973, and each student has been impacted by the opportunity to participate in this immersive and engaging program,” said Clemson University President Jim Clements, who congratulated the group via video. “I can’t wait to hear the stories of how this Center impacts the lives of our Clemson Tigers over the next 50 years.”
When the center opened in the Spring of 1973 it was the result of the vision of former College of Architecture dean Harlan McClure and former Charles E. Daniel Center director Cesare Fera. McClure and Fera envisioned a place where students could be steeped in Europe’s architectural tradition and immersed in Italian culture away from typical tourist attractions. After months of searching for sites, they found a villa, built in 1900, in Genoa with spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Clemson Architectural Foundation (CAF) purchased the property and continues to own and operate the site through the generosity of alumni. The partnership between the School of Architecture and the CAF has been vital to the Villa’s founding and continuation.
“When you pause to reflect on your life, there are a very few pivotal, life changing events that are always with you and a part of you. Being a student here at the Villa certainly was such a time for each of us,” said Eric Holmberg, CAF president. “We returned from Genoa brimming with the confidence to go anywhere and do anything.”
More than 100 alumni returned to the Villa for celebration galas on March 23-24 to reunite with each other, with past faculty-in-residence, and to pay homage to Silvia Siboldi Carroll. A native of Genoa, Carroll worked in various roles at the Villa for more than 40 years, becoming its administrative director in 1995. In toast after toast, alumni remarked on how she made the students feel at home away from home. In her own remarks, she explained that “the Villa is us.”
“The Villa is us when we don’t speak a word of Italian and don’t have an idea of what people are saying, but we feel safe as we know someone is going to be taking care of us in any event,” she said. “The Villa is us because the Villa has to be lived and understood, and we can’t stop at its surface. When we’re curious, when we’re not just tourists passing by, when we’re able to get its essence.”
This year, alumni Todd Richardson, ’01, and Luke Jarrett, ’99, started an endowment in Carroll’s name to fund travel abroad opportunities for Clemson architecture students. Richardson and Jarrett both missed out on the chance to study in Genoa, but were motivated to ensure future generations of students could study there. The endowment continues to grow with the donations of other alumni.
On Friday night the celebration crossed the street to Castello Bruzzo. The Castello, whose highest tower is visible for miles around the city, has served as a landmark for generations of students to find their way home, and was the subject of innumerable sketches, but the celebration marked the first-time students or alumni had ever been inside.
After a photo of the entire Clemson architecture “famiglia,” the halls of the Castello echoed with cheers of “C-L-E-M-S-O-N!”
“Five generations of alumni offered toasts to the villa tonight. Overwhelmingly, we heard of gratitude for the local faculty and staff and for the life-changing experiences of living and working in Genoa,” said Jim Stevens, director of the School of Architecture. “We are so grateful for everyone that continues to support the Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies, and we celebrate the efforts that have created and sustained our school’s second home in Genoa.”
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