First year architecture education provides foundational techniques that allow students, who enter architecture school with a range of artistic skill levels, to develop the sketching and watercolor skills that are essential to Notre Dame’s approach to design. Professor Giuseppe Mazzone, who teaches the first semester studio, is charged with helping students develop those skills. During his Fall 2018 studio, he found a fascinating way to introduce first-year students to creating shades and shadows in their work. Prof. Mazzone designed a project for first-year students to recreate the Parthenon Frieze in graphite on mylar. The resulting project is a stunning 77 panel representation of the frieze. Prof. Mazzone explains his inspiration for the project and his teaching process in an interview below.
*Interview edited for clarity and brevity.
School of Architecture (SOA): What is the Parthenon Frieze project and why did you choose to include it in your freshman studio?
Mazzone: Usually in the freshmen class there is an assignment intended to teach shape and shadow. I wanted something where each student could contribute to a larger project. There were 75 students and I felt like the frieze was a good option because it contains similarity in terms of the subject–for each part of frieze, there’s a person sitting on a horse. So each student would have a similar contribution to the project. During the summer I redrew the whole frieze because I needed to make sure that all the students had the right challenge but it did not need to be exactly identical for all of them. I did the drawing slightly smaller than the original and I scanned the whole drawing. So I assigned each part randomly to students. They were free to give their own interpretation to their portion of the frieze. I gave them references for some of the parts to show them the shapes and shadows.
SOA: How do first-year students react when you assign such an ambitious project?
Mazzone: At the beginning they might have been a little scared because this is one of the first projects they complete. Before this they just have a short assignment to work with graphite on mylar and it was much smaller in size. It was just a technical exercise to get the hang of the technique but this was the very first serious project. Some of them were a bit nervous at first but then they start to find it fun. The challenge that I gave them is to start their drawing from the left edge and progress to the right. If all of them start from the left and move right, they need to go see the person who’s panel follows theirs to observe the amount of shape and shadow they used. I did not expect to see a uniform project and I actually like the fact that you can see the individuality of each student.
SOA: How do you teach students the proper technique for this project?
Mazzone: It is just a way to enhance they way they look at things. When you look at the technique, you have a sheet of mylar that is completely covered with graphite and it is entirely black. In order to provide the illusion of a drawing, students need to erase the graphite. So I show them examples and I did a demonstration. But the overall idea is that they don’t need to draw perfectly, but they just need to be sure that everybody who looks at this will have the illusion of that shape. That’s why it becomes really important to start training the eye because I show them examples of Greek sculptures and the draping technique they employed. The draping on Greek sculptures looks realistic because the folding needs to be very deep in order to create a shadow. Showing those examples, I try to help them understand. What you draw is not necessarily what you see. From my point of view, it does not require previous knowledge or experience to do this technique but it is very easy because at the end they are only erasing. When they do it, they start to figure out that it is easier than it looks. They learn while they are working on it.
SOA: What is the most exciting part of the project as an instructor?
Mazzone: Seeing the whole thing come back together and just to show them the actual size of the frieze. It’s really big. That’s really good for them because they can see at the end that they work on a single part of a much bigger project. For me it was nice to see some students bringing family members and friends to see their work. There’s that moment of pride. And I enjoy looking at them working on this project. At the beginning some of them get frustrated, but then they go in the zone. They start to erase, pressing more or less automatically. You can see when that moment happens–they slowly stop talking to each other and they start to draw and they cannot stop. They get so focused that everything surrounding them just disappears.
SOA: What do students gain from this project?
Mazzone: They start to discover that when they have to do an assignment, they don’t necessarily need to have all of the directions to start. They know generally what they have to do and the types of materials they have to use. And they can take those directions and make the project their own. I like to give students the idea and let them go their own way. That gives them freedom. You need just the minimal direction and when they figure out how they reach the goal on their own, that is the moment that they grow.