Monday Memories 03 – UW Study Abroad in Porto, Portugal

Sketch by Celeste Meneses

So continuing from my last memory, it was the Summer of ’98 and I decided to study abroad in Portugal. I had already planned to go to Portugal to visit my family and thought what better way but to top it off with a semester at Porto’s School of Architecture. It was a great idea.

The course started with all of us meeting in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. All of us gathered there and spent a couple of days visiting the local sites. Margarette Leite, our professor, made arrangements to meet various educators, guides, and lecturers throughout our stay. Lisbon was great but that was on the beginning. We also visited Sintra, Lagos, Santiago de Compostella (Spain), Arraiolos, Elvas, Monsaraz and many more. I calle d my parents at one point and my father shared that in my short time there, I had already visited more of Portugal than he did his entire life.

Although we were all over Portugal, we spent the majority of our time in Porto and the adjacent towns. At FAUP (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto), we met a group of Portuguese students who would be our counterparts for the semester. Our new friends included: Pedro, Andre, Ines Castelo-Branco, Helder Agostinho and Abel Nunes. They were all great…and by the end of the semester they were like family. Besides the fact that we would eat, breathe and live architecture…they would spend evenings with us and cook, have drinks and just share culture, music, food and many laughs with us.

In addition to the Portuguese group, our core group was awesome. Again, we were like family and the times shared were amazing…

At the time I was experiencing it, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Poor Margarette had to put up with my sometimes arrogant/know it all ways. For some reason I developed the attitude, seen it – done that. I’m not sure if this was an issue of insecurity and didnt want to demonstrate how little I truly knew…or if it was just youth. Looking back it was dumb. Thankfully, Margarette and the group was patient and understanding and always sharing.

My life so far as been a series of amazing memories woven together through time. The learning experience in Portugal and later throughout Europe with my fellow student, Derek Pavlik, was one I will never forget.

I could go on and on writing about my experience but I am intentionally cutting it short…My hope is that eventually members of the group mentioned above stumble upon this and share their own thoughts…and allow this memory to grow. So now all that is waiting is you!


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Monday Memories 02 – Alvaro Siza

In the summer of 1998, I graduated from the University of Florida School of Architecture and decided to take some Post Bac classes with the University of Washington. I signed up for a summer session in a study abroad program in Portugal.

Growing up with an interest in Architecture and with family from Portugal, I already was aware of the internationally known, Pritzker Prize winning, Alvaro Siza. So when I found out that he was going to be a guest speaker, you could imagine my excitement. We were already studying in buildings that he designed. So it was a good day when he came to speak to us.

It was an early morning. I was sitting at the school’s cafe with a fellow student, Ines Castelo-Branco (now a great architect in her own right). As I look out the window, I see Alvaro Siza pulling up in his car…a little Fiat??? or other small car. He pulled into his spot. He sits in his car for a moment, looking down…maybe reading  or making a last minute note / sketching. And then I see his car slowly rolling forward. Oops he forgot to put his parking brake on. The car continues to roll slowly and then…bump it hits the car parked in the spot in front. He couldnt have been going more than 5 mph. But in a classic move, he put the car in reverse, moved it about 5 feet back and then continues what he was doing.

A few moments after, he joins our group in the Cafe. He sat down and had a quick espresso and then we all moved into a lecture room. This space was simple…but did have two large boards. As he began to talk, he began to sketch. It was almost like his hand, mind and mouth were connected. It was amazing how quickly the two boards were filled…and then wiped down and then filled again. It was truly a privilege to be in his presence, even more so to hear him speak. In the weeks after, our group traveled throughout Portugal and some of Spain. During our many road trips and the rest of my stay in Europe, we visited many of Siza’s projects. Below are some of the many that I saw. They are simple, clean and expressive examples of contemporary minimalist / modernist architecture. It was and is great work and something that I still find inspiring…

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Monday Memories 01- Donald J. Bergsma

A great man – Donald J. Bergsma

When I decided to write a blog, one of my first thoughts was to have a monthly post about someone or something  that has influenced me in design. They may be someone who I have gone to school with, someone who I have listen to speak or someone who has taught me something new.

I thought it would be best to start with a man that (other than my family) has had the most influence on my life. Donald J. Bergsma or Mr. B., came into my life when I was a student at SPJC (St Petersburg Junior College). I was an aloof, undirected student and Mr. B was the head of the Architectural department. He was our design studio professor and had the reputation of being a hard ass. On more than one occasion, I received the literal prodding of his thumb to my side to “get with the program.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that these misguided perceptions were wrong and Mr B was someone who genuinely cared about each of us. He was indeed hard on us (those that needed it), but did so to make us better. He pushed us and expected nothing less than the best from us.

SPJC Class of ’93

I distinctly remember two philosophies from Mr. B that I still use today. The first is the concept of “shit on a plate”. He would use this term when we presented a project and didnt have great ideas to support it. It was understood that each design should have a grand idea (concept) and then 2 to 3 supporting ideas. If it was a building, a commercial or an ad…it didn’t matter… If you started with a weak idea for placement, message, etc…and supported it with something random,  you would hear the reference of “shit on plate”.  I see many ideas that have little to support it. And many more that seem to be post-rationalized…Shit on a plate!

The second of his philosophies that has stuck over the years is the “sexy girl” analogy. Mr B would refer to this when we were presenting our work. Again, it didnt matter if it was architecture, an ad or whatever…You can look at something an say “wow!”, that’s sexy…or conversely, it’s horrible. If you “sexy girl” stopped you would probably give her an extra look. At that point, you may realize that she has three eyes or that one of her boobs sags or that she has a lil moustache….but you would never have seen that unless you stopped in the first place. Our job as designers is to get that initial stop, to be attention grabbers. If we can get someone to commit more than the typical 7 seconds of their time, then we have succeeded. Our goal is to have them enjoy or even question our work. The more time we get, the better we have done.

In the years after JC, I would randomly exchange notes with Mr. B. Sometimes it would be a joke, a note about his cars or even word about his painting. As you can see in the image below, Mr B was quite the accomplished painter. The impressive thing was that he would use everyday media to paint on. This particular image is painted on the flip side of a Ritz cracker box. Anyway, there are many things I remember about Mr. B, many laughs and many lessons. Thanks for everything you did. You are missed!

Painting by Donald J. Bergsma ( on flip side of Ritz box)


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