Architects’ travels have long been a core component of their training, whether they are part of a structured academic expedition or a self-directed excursion. From the “Grand Tours” of the 18th and 19th centuries to Le Corbusier’s Voyage d’Orient, travel has played a major role in the continued development of architectural thought and production. Travel helps build familiarity with culture, enhances the architect’s spatial and technical vocabulary, and contributes a reserve of historical precedent that is key to the continued execution of good design. Travel is an important way to see past architectural successes and learn from them.
The VMDO Travel Fellowship is an annual award that gives young designers the opportunity to pursue unique investigations into architectural topics that are of particular interest to them. The scholarship is intended to support an autonomous and self-directed one-week course of study that complements the work being done in the office environment. Topics of inquiry and sites of study are determined by the applicant.
Upon return, the recipient is asked to share her findings and research from abroad through a firm-wide presentation as well as a printed publication. Maria Bninski, AIA is the inaugural recipient of VMDO’s Travel Fellowship. Her publication (seen below) provides an incisive and rich account of her findings and research exploring the evolution of ceiling architecture in London from the 1500s to present day.
“The ceiling, the surface beyond our reach, has always been burdened with significant responsibilities." - Maria Bninski, VMDO Travel Fellowship Submission
Responding to her challenge to “Take the Ceiling,” Maria unpacks the legacy of this often overlooked architectural feature. Previously used to display art, iconography, religious devotion, societal values, and political dissent, the ceiling has moved from a place of art and expression to one primarily defined by concealment and technical coordination.
Her reflections are organized twofold, by a log and a lexicon:
- The log records on-site observations through various media
- The lexicon distills the strategies in the log and analyzes patterns across time and place
Through writing, hand drawings, photography, sound measurements, and acoustical recordings, Maria rigorously logs measurements and impressions of a dizzying array of London ceilings. From the intricate details of gothic fan vaults and evocative density of brutalist slabs to the expansiveness of open-air structures and sky-lit ceilings, she observes in her log how history, theory, and craft intersect and unfold in London’s busy streets. Through her lexicon, she helps assess where we are now and where we have yet to go. By peeling back the layers of this unexpectedly complex topic with both reverence and revelation, Maria refreshes an overlooked feature that is actually right at home.