Daniel L. McPeak, AIA | NCARB | Architect
– Received formal European training in Architecture through the Florence Program and the University of Michigan in 1996.
– While based in Firenze (Florence), Daniel was able to travel as to all countries in Europe, Tunisia in Africa and Greece. This was quintessential in his education of various vernaculars of Architecture, Contextual pinning, psychology and investigation of culture through interaction, food and photography.
– He received two awards for Studio Projects from local Italian Architects for innovation and creative expression. Excellence in the Design of The Artist Colony over the Fiume Arno, and the Regional Winery Facility in Greve for Chianti.
– The importance of the overseas education forever changed his approach to Architecture globally as well as the understanding of what being an American Architect has meant in the fabric of the world.
Details of the Florence Program and its Site:
“Florence Program” is Villa Corsi Salviati, a privately owned national monument, located in Sesto Fiorentino, a town of 47,000 inhabitants (2002) some six Roman miles—about 5½ US miles—from the center of Florence. The “Florence Program” has been legally and specifically recognized by the Italian Government as a tax-exempt non-profit organization.
Villa Corsi Salviati is constituted by a large structure, more than 1,000 feet long, composed of a central monumental section and two horizontal wings, one to the east and the other to the west, added between 1632 and 1661. The central part was the summer country residence of the owner. The east addition was used in part as the gardener’s quarters and in part as the Villa Gallery, which in 1735 was enriched, outside, along its wall and on the garden side, with marble statues by Vittorio Barbieri. The west addition, larger and more complex in structure, was once used as dwelling for workers and farmers, and for deposit of the agricultural products. It also comprised a “stanzone degli agrumi”, or Limonaia, a large room where lemon-trees were stored during winter. (The “stanzone” still exists and is used for dramatic performances and art shows. It is very appropriately called Teatro della Limonaia).
The University of Michigan occupies all of the east addition (with the exception of a small apartment set aside for the gardener). They also lease all the monumental part of the Villa, including the “piano nobile”, or second floor, but excluding the ground floor to the left of the Villa main south entrance, which is reserved for the villa owner (please see the page entitled A Historical Sketch ).
At the request of the Resident Director, toward the end of 1998 the Internet controlling authority for Italy granted the Program its own domain name: “unimwd” — UNI is the standard abbreviation in Italy and some other European countries for “university”, and MWD are the initial letters of the three Florence Programs partner universities. The Home Page has been “under construction” for several years, but finally a simple page was uploaded this semester (Winter 2005). It can be checked at www.unimwd.it.
The Florence Program is a consortium including the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin and Duke University. The Academic year consists of two semesters (Fall and Winter) followed by two additional terms (Spring and Summer). The Program is intended primarily for juniors, seniors, and graduate students by special permission. The conception behind the Florence Program had been that of creating a residential college, a place where faculty and students could live in a teaching and learning community. Students and faculty live, share meals and have classes in the Villa. But an effort is made to focus on what Florence and its milieu have to offer, so in-depth classroom study is supplemented by weekly on-site classes, as well as excursions both within Florence and to other Italian towns. Courses are taught in English. Subjects taught include courses in several aspects of the late Medieval period, the Italian Renaissance and beyond, Italian language and Italian civilization. The curriculum varies each semester and depends on whom is chosen to be the Resident Director, since he or she has the responsibility of putting together a program of study for the year—or, sometimes, the semester—of his or her tenure in Florence. In the recent (and also not so recent) past, some Directors have added a number of courses dealing in general with modern Italy, and thus seemingly departing from the idea that a relevant curriculum is one set in the frame of reference offered by the Florentine context (see below). At the same time, unfortunately, also in recent years, a number of courses have been introduced that substantially have little or nothing to do with Italy—let alone with Florence—and that are outside the pertinent purpose of the program.
The Program was conceived with the purpose of introducing undergraduate students to Italian culture, and more specifically to Italian proto-Renaissance and Renaissance art, architecture, history, music, philosophy and literature, economic and political thought, science and technology. The designated Resident Director has the responsibility of “developing … a curriculum of courses attractive and challenging to both faculty and the student body and keyed to the special possibilities of the Florentine context”.1 The expression “Florentine context” can be understood in two ways, intellectually and topographically.
Intellectually, Florence as the cradle and major center of the Renaissance; and also as early modern and modern Florence, from Cosimo I through the Lorraines and their restoration in the 19th century, to Florence as the capital of united Italy—and beyond. The fact remains, however, that the Trecento, Quattrocento and Cinquecento have exerted their preponderant influence on the rest of the millennium; and as such they have conditioned and continue to condition, perhaps rightly so, the curriculum. But in the tailoring of the curriculum of courses, even within the Renaissance itself some topics have been more fortunate than others. For instance, while a course such as the ‘Rediscovery of Classical Philosophy in the Renaissance’ has had a great success, a course on ‘Rhetoric in the Renaissance’ — “the queen of the arts” — has never been offered in the twenty plus years of the Program history.
Topographically, Florence within easy reach of other prominent centers of the Renaissance such as Ferrara, Mantua, Urbino; as well as Florence considered as the middle point between Rome to the south and Milan / Venice to the north.
On the basis of these interrelated elements the Florence Program attracts serious students who might have a strong interest in the fields mentioned above.
The consortium members do not follow-up on former program participants’ professional career. However, a partial study of academic year 1989-90, focused on the Winter semester, has revealed that among the 56 students during that specific term there were at least four future art historians who now teach in various universities (Brandeis, Williams, Richmond, Georgia — with one of them as resident director of a US art program in Italy), as well as one Renaissance historian and one professor of Italian language and literature.
The University of Michigan, through the Office of International Programs (OIP), is the main administrative unit of the Program. Although the Villa operates from the beginning of September to about the first week of August, the consortium members share in different ways. During the academic year Michigan, Wisconsin and Duke are full members only for Fall semester. (It is to be noted that during the Fall Michigan reserves about 20-25% of the total student-space for students of its Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning). In the Winter semester (January thorough April) the consortium is reduced to two members, Michigan and Wisconsin. Spring and Summer terms have been under the control and responsibility of Michigan alone—with the exception of 1991 and 1992 when Spring and Summer were shared also by Wisconsin. Since 2004 Michigan and Wisconsin have successfully co-sponsored a four-week spring term for a selected number of their honors students. Summer is retained solely by Michigan, but students from the other two member institutions can participate, and receive transfer credits from the University of Michigan.
Faculty and Director
During the academic year each consortium member supplies faculty from its home institution to teach on the program on a regular basis, in general for a semester. Program faculty from the home institutions are supplemented by local faculty hired on site. Some of these local instructors have been teaching in the Program for many years, and this helps to maintain the continuity.
The Resident Director is chosen from one of the consortium members on a rotating basis. In general the Resident Director is sent to Florence for the full academic year, although there have been six times, including upcoming academic year 2005-06, when directors have been nominated for only a semester. And at one time there was also a semi-permanent director who served in Florence for a five-year period.
The program office is run by the Administrative Assistant who manages the day-to-day running of the office and works closely with the Director. The Administrative Assistant has the responsibility to assist the director in working with faculty and students, to make and maintain contacts on behalf of the program with government offices and local facilities, to plan official program events, excursions and various cultural activities at the Villa. The Administrative Assistant maintains financial records for the academic part of the budget, and submits records of expenditures each month to the Michigan Office of International Programs. The Administrative Assistant position is a very important one in the sense that it provides the much needed continuity to run successfully the academic component of the program, in view of the fact that the resident director — as it has been mentioned — changes from year to year, and sometimes even from semester to semester. Yet in the last ten years the Administrative Assistant’s retention quotient has been extremely low, and this tends to jeopardize the separation and independence of the academic aspect of the program.
The present Villa manager has been with the Program since its inception. Consequently she affords the program almost 25 years of solid continuity. At Boscobello (please see the section entitled “A Historical Sketch”), she was employed as a purchaser of provisions and was in charge of the Villa staff and kitchen. Thus she became an expert in those aspects. Now, at Villa Corsi Salviati, she is the general manager of that part of the Villa leased by the consortium members, and is also in charge of all the villa equipment including its electronic resources. In addition, she is managing the food purchasing and the kitchen, oversees directly a cook and his associate, as well as other people who help in the kitchen and have various custodial duties. She is also in charge of the day-to-day needs of students and professors for what concerns housing, medical needs and general well-being. In some of her tasks she is aided by a semi-retired gardener who lives on the site and has been working for the Villa owner for more than four decades. Furthermore, the Villa Manager organizes special events for students such as concerts, weekend trips, special dinners and cooking classes. In the recent past the Villa Manager has also assumed responsibilities for all hotels and travel arrangements on student field trips and accompanies them. The Villa Manager maintains financial records for the villa part of the budget, and submits records of expenditures each month to the Michigan Office of International Programs.
Each academic year a graduate student from one of the three universities is selected as House Fellow to be of general assistance at the Villa, specifically to assist students to explore and familiarize themselves with Sesto Fiorentino, Florence, and Italy in general. He or she also assists the Director during the weekend excursions, and makes sure that the Villa general rules are observed.
Library and Slide Collection
The Program library has a collection of over 2000 volumes. Although many of these are textbooks left by former students and used for courses, there is a good number of books to support courses taught in the program. These are books on art history (including the 15-volume Encyclopedia of World Art, edit. by Massimo Pallottino), on Florentine and Italian history, history of science, history of criticism, Italian literature, Italian civilization, political science, music, philosophy, aesthetics, architecture, etc. At the present time, an apparently unsystematic list of books, called Program Library Database, can be viewed at www.unimwd.it/librarydatabase.htm.
The Program slide collection is in excellent shape due to the professional expertise of Tina Bissell of the University of Michigan who went to the Villa several times specifically to work on the collection. The collection contains some 8,000 slides, the bulk of which is on Italian Renaissance art and architecture. But there are also important holdings in modern Italian art, including many slides of the Macchiaioli movement, one of the most important artistic movements in Italy towards the end of the 19th century.