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Isabella Brito. Photo courtesy of UB Dept. of Architecture and Planning

Isabella Brito. Photo courtesy of UB Dept. of Architecture and Planning

Read an intrview with Isabelle Brito, architecture student and designer of the Front Yard towers

Monday, October 14, 2013

Architecture Student Isabella Brito is interviewed by Catherine Maier on the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning website

Brazilian foreign exchange student Isabella Brito spent the 2012-13 school year studying at the Buffalo School. Making the most of her experience abroad, Brito participated in the Small Built Works studio and developed the winning concept for "The Front Yard" installation at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. After overseeing the final assembly of the "Front Yard's" projection towers over the summer, Brito returned to Brazil to complete the final year of her undergraduate degree. She recently sat down with fellow architecture student, Catherine Maier, to discuss "The Front Yard" and her time at the Buffalo School.

A long way from Brazil, Isabella Brito made Buffalo her home for the duration of the 2012-13 school year and learned a lot in the process. The Buffalo School was a big change from her school in Brazil.

Brito was most impressed by the hands-on, learn-by-doing approach so characteristic of the Buffalo School. Before her arrival in the program, Brito mostly designed through drawing over model-making. After her year abroad, she’s a firm believer in designing with your hands: “Architecture in Brazil is not as built- or construction-related. Here you have a better notion of how things are built, and you actually get to build stuff. It completely changes the way you think about design.”

Brito’s desire to build led her to join Clinical Assistant Professor Brad Wale’s Small Built Works studio. The project for that year revolved around designing the towers to house the world's first permanent, environmentally-responsive, outdoor audio and video installation. Taking place on the Burchfield Penney Art Center's front lawn, "The Front Yard" extends the cultural, social and architectural elements usually relegated to a museum interior.

The Small Built Works course started off with a mini-competition among the students in the class. Each student was to propose a design for three 24-foot-tall towers that would hold projectors with the Burchfield Penney's facade as the backdrop and projection surface.

Brito's first design incorporated stairs to the projector outside the tower, instead of placing the human body inside and making the towers ‘fat.’ However, after meeting with the technicians, it was determined that the stairs needed to be on the inside, which brought Brito to the current design.

The final design is a co-design between Brito and Wales and incorporates three angled towers, each with a stippled painting of the seasons by Burchfield: Moth and the Thunderclap (1961), Wind-blown Asters (1951) and Oncoming Spring (1954). The 24-foot steel- and glass-clad towers also house a projector and audio system.

“The towers had to be really big, so I wanted to bring something interesting to them so they’re not just standing there. I thought putting some Burchfield paintings on them made sense. I was walking through the freshmen studios and saw they were doing some stippling. I thought we could do that with light—the stippled pattern of the painting with light shining through.”

The "Front Yard" project brought together a team of 30-plus people from the School of Architecture and Planning, Burchfield Penney, Buffalo State College, Rigidized Metals Corporation and LP Ciminelli Constuction. One of the last steps in the process included Rigidized Metals' fabrication of the stippled façade panels. The shaping of the steel panels and the towers' final assembly took place in the Buffalo School’s Materials and Methods Shop. 

Looking back, Brito says that while it did take some time to adjust to a new school and curriculum, she believes her newly acquired skills in building and making has enhanced her ability to analyze her designs in the future: "The whole thing about craft is hard. We don’t even have a Portuguese word for craft. It’s not only about making things look nice, it’s about the patience to take the time to make something, the dedication."

Another key takeaway from her yearlong working relationship with Wales: "I learned that nothing should only exist on paper, instead you should think ahead and imagine, 'What kind of information would the worker need in the field, and what can I provide to him right now in the drawings?' The design utilizes different materials and techniques that have to be re-incorporated together. Thinking towards the needs of worker is something that changed my perception of architecture drawings forever."

Brito also returns to Brazil with a different perspective on studio. She says studio in Brazil is more one-on-one with professors; students only see each other’s work during class-wide reviews. At the Buffalo School, Brito appreciated working alongside her peers in the open studio environment of Crosby Hall. The exchange of ideas in a shared space with other students is critical to doing great work, she adds.

As advice to students, Brito says studying abroad and gaining different experiences is key to building a better understanding of architecture. “There is no set law for architecture: it’s a field of sharing ideas and experiences. The more experiences you have and the more knowledge of foreign things, the better equipped you are to create architecture.”