PSU architecture students draw from adventure in Spain

A group of 14 Portland State University architecture students have settled back into the routine of their studies after a 17-day study trip to Spain this fall, led by professors Rudy Barton and Jeff Schnabel. The group studied major architectural and urban design sites, both historical and contemporary, in Madrid, Barcelona and Girona, in an effort to “get beyond the surface” of architecture.

“Buildings don’t travel, so we need to travel to them. For most of the students, this was a first trip abroad and offered rare opportunities to examine firsthand works only seen beforehand in books or lectures.  Spain, Barcelona in particular, contains an incredible collection of great buildings to study, especially some of the most exciting examples of contemporary buildings,” said Rudy Barton.

Students spent over 8 hours each day in fieldwork analyzing and sketching works ranging from Roman ruins and Gothic cathedrals to Gaudi’s masterpieces and the most avant-garde contemporary buildings and plazas.

Every day the students would visit several significant buildings or open spaces—such as Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia or Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion—for on-site design analysis and sketching. They moved back and forth from drawing buildings to open spaces. After a casual lunch, they would reconvene at another project. Work on their journals continued into the evening. “The students were on such a rigorous schedule,” said Barton, “that they had little time for typical sight-seeing.”

“A lot of study tours use sketchbooks as a learning tool, but most focus on appearance. We asked our students to go beyond the surface, to study not only what a building or space looked like, but to analyze how it was made, and how did people use that space. Importantly, what were the experiences of that space,” Schnabel explained.

 “We tried to keep photography to a minimum. It’s so easy to forget when you snap a photo.  But when you intensely look at something and carefully draw it, it’s solidly etched into your memory,” said Barton.

In addition to great works, of particular focus to the students were the design and use of public space. The variety and connections amongst food markets, libraries, streets and plazas captivated students as they spent hours sketching and figuring out ways to incorporate such characteristics into their future design works.

The group's adventures, from the start of the trip to their return home, illustrated with photos and notes on their journey, can be found on the blog:


School of Architecture
Associated faculty: 
L. Rudolph Barton
Jeff Schnabel