Construction Management students explore Italy’s built environment on their European study abroad

Study abroad students posing in Vicenza, Italy
CM Study Abroad group – Vicenza, Italy

During the winter break at the end of the 2021 fall semester, a group of thirteen CSU students and two faculty members, from the Colorado State University Department of Construction Management, embarked on a 19-day journey through fourteen cities and towns of Italy, as part of construction management’s study abroad program. The purpose of the study abroad course is to consider the influence of culture and society on the built environment, and then consider how the built environment shapes and defines local and regional culture.

Italy is a great place to study this because the country, as governed today, has only existed since 1946. Prior to that, it was mostly regional principalities or republics, each acting independent of the other. Those regional cultures persists today; it is evident in the architecture, the food, and even the behavior of local people. The students quickly came to see how these different regions define the built environment, and how significant places and historical people and events continue to shape the region’s identity.

Ambitious itinerary

Students explored architecture in the Italian cities of Milan, Turin, Genoa, Lake Como, Bergamo, Trento, Bolzano, Venice, Vicenza, Verona, Florence, Pisa, Siena, and Rome. Each location provided a new and unique experience with varied cultures, architectural features, incredible histories, and wonderful people. These places and people defined each individual experience, as each person brought back a learned appreciation for Italian perspectives of the built environment.

Brett Brown, CM instructor on the trip, said, “It was an amazing learning opportunity for the students to be immersed in the local built environment, be able to study the past, and discuss the future of the various regions of Italy.”

For most, the trip was physically challenging, according to John Killingsworth, Ph.D. and the study abroad professor. One of the hardest days came early in the trip and included a vertical climb of 1850 feet in just 3 kilometers. That was the hike up to Sacra di San Michele near Turin, Italy.

Killingsworth noted, “It was exhausting, yet not one complaint from students.” After reaching the summit, there remained about 500 steps to climb in the monastery; once the students reached the top, the view was incredible, with the Alps surrounding on three sides, and perfect weather.

The impressive cathedrals

Study abroad students inside the massive Bolzano, Italy cathedral
Bolzano cathedral

Bolzano was a highlight, as the class was able to visit a medieval castle and enjoy an incredible Christmas Market. This part of Italy was actually part of Austria before WWII, but after the war, the Italians claimed the area and the locals continued speaking German.

The cathedral in Bolzano is significant because it is the first Gothic church in architectural history with a central nave and two side naves built in the form of a cross.

Rooftop renovation of the Milan, Italy "Duomo" cathedral
Milan “Duomo” cathedral

The Milan Cathedral was another highlight. The early morning start allowed the class ascent to the rooftop to see this amazing structure from an entirely different perspective. An interesting, serendipitous experience happened, as students observed an active preservation project in process. The contractor was cleaning, restoring, and replacing stones. This cathedral in Milan, “Duomo,” is the fourth largest religious building in the world, and took over 800 years to build.

Study abroad students observing column-cleaning at the Pisa cathedral in Italy
Cathedral stone-cleaning

The Veneto region was a favorite. This is the area around Venice, including Verona, Vicenza, and other important cities of Italy. Venice is probably the most famous and this visit did not disappoint.

Realized benefit of COVID travel

“The lack of excessive tourists made it easy to get around, and enjoy views and food without crowds,” said Killingsworth. The class visited the San Giorgio Maggiori in Venice, which is the prominent Renaissance cathedral seen across the main canal – often pictured in photos of Venice. From that bell tower, the group saw the entire city, up into the Alps, and out to the Adriatic Sea.

“The students were incredibly cohesive, and cared very much for each other,” said Killingsworth. “Each student chose one city to feature, and took the lead during part of the day to highlight some of the significant places or culturally important places (or events, or people) of that city. That was a great success, as all learned from each other.”

Brown added, “We had such an awesome group of students. Each day I was so impressed with their dedication to learning, and helping each other. I believe the best way to learn is to teach someone else, and each student had the opportunity to do that on this trip.”

The Department of Construction Management is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.