Andrea Ponsi talks with his hands. In a recent critique of projects in MAPP’s great space, his fluent gestures—combined with a sharp Italian accent—demand attention. Later in studio, working closely with students one-to-one, Ponsi again uses his hands to make a point—this time with a pencil.
“As a studio critic, he doesn’t just talk through what you’re doing, he’ll look at your plan, pick up a pencil and draw a couple of quick sketches,” said architecture graduate student Sara Conover. “As an artist, it’s his natural way of expression. For me, I was able to visualize where I wanted to go; it’s very helpful from a big idea standpoint.”
Guest critics often provoke a complicated emotional response in students. While they are a unique opportunity to present projects to an audience outside of their professors and peers, accomplished practitioners who can bring perspective and context to their work, they can be nerve-wracking and sometimes overwhelming; it’s difficult to absorb that much information in a short period, and in front of such a formidable audience. But the Kea Professorship, which has been a part of the architecture program since its inception, expands the definition of “guest crit” by inserting talented, innovative practitioners into studio time, where students benefit from one-on-one interactions.
This fall, architect, artist, designer, and author Andrea Ponsi joins the long list of Kea Distinguished Professors. With a varied and distinguished background in architecture, city planning, design, painting and writing, Ponsi brings both expertise and perspective to the student experience. Ponsi completed the first of three visits with students in September—which included a guest lecture on practice—working with the faculty and students of the graduate-level Integrated Design Studio.
Created in 1967 by Paul Kea, one of the first licensed architects in Maryland, the Kea Distinguished Professorship serves as an opportunity for the architecture program to benefit from the expertise of eminent practitioners and scholars from around the world. Kea Professors serve as critics and lecturers for one semester, but the extended nature of the position is akin to a master class; Ponsi used his first visit to sit with each student individually over the course of two days, sharing insight into their designs, while coaching them to push the boundaries of the process.
“Professor Ponsi taught me to use what I’ve learned, but to not to be afraid to divert from what I was taught,” said graduate student Andrea Nichols. “It helps to challenge ourselves in a different way.”
Born in Viareggio, Italy, Ponsi graduated from architecture in Florence in 1974, later completing the AA Graduate Diploma at the Architectural Association in London and after being awarded the ITT International Fellowship, and a Master in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Since the early 1970s he has worked on the relationship between ecology and architecture. In 1977, he published The Solar House with Giovanni Del Signore, a monograph on bioclimatic architecture. From 1978 to 1988 he lived in San Francisco where he worked with Mark Mack, Peter Calthorpe and Sym Van Der Ryn on architecture and city planning projects, focusing on environmental sustainability. His work has been published in books and international magazines (Domus, Interni, Wallpaper) and has been the subject of solo shows (Galleria Iannone and Galleria Internos in Milan, Haus der Architekten in Dresden, Universidad Catolica in Santiago, Chile) and group exhibitions (Museo della Triennale in Milan, Venice Biennale). In 2000, he won the international competition for the design of the Palos Verdes Art Center in Los Angeles. Alongside completing several commercial and residential buildings he has designed and self-produced objects, furniture and exhibition systems. He heads up a vibrant practice (Studio Ponsi) in Florence, Italy, and currently works between Italy and the United States.
Ponsi is also a veteran of the classroom. He has taught architectural design and drawing at the University of California-Berkeley, Syracuse University, University of Toronto and the Institut Technion in Haifa, Israel. Since the early 90s, he has been professor of architectural design at Kent State University in Florence and Visiting Lecturer at Washington University in Saint Louis, University of Minnesota, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the University of Virginia. His experience in structural design, the product of years of practice in an urban setting, has proved extremely beneficial to the students.
“This course helps us connect the concepts of structure and design, but bringing in Professor Ponsi’s experience really drives home the notion that this is a global thing,” said Nichols. “It reinforces everything we are learning.”
“Andrea Ponsi is a great master of drawing as a tool for thinking, exploration and discovery,” said Architecture Lecturer Julie Gabrielli. “This dovetails perfectly with our goals for the ARCH 600/611 studio.”