In an ancient Italian church during the fall 2010 semester, Texas A&M study abroad students on a field trip suddenly heard their instructor begin to sing.
“We wondered ‘what is he doing?’” said Marquesa Figueroa, a Bachelor of Environmental Design major. The instructor, the late Paolo Barucchieri, asked other students to join in. At first they were reluctant, but soon the students joined him, their voices echoing off walls that had stood for centuries.
“By singing, he made us realize in an instant the church’s function and purpose in a different way from how we’d studied it — and in a completely different way than if we had seen it on our own,” said Figueroa, who earned a BED in May 2012 and will begin the university’s Master of Architecture degree program in the fall.
Barucchieri, who led Texas A&M’s study abroad venue in Italy since 1982, was a beloved figure to the hundreds of Aggies who studied at La Poggerina, near Florence, then at the Santa Chiara Study Center in Castiglion Fiorentino. He died April 9, 2012 after a battle with cancer (see obituary).
Figueroa, 2011-2012 president of the American Institute of Architecture Students’ Texas A&M chapter, organized a memorial service for Barucchieri at Rudder Exhibit Hall May 5 despite a full load of classes in the final semester of her undergraduate studies.
“Even with my final design project and graduating and all that it was still something I wanted to do,” said Figueroa, who had help from fellow BED students Kelsey Aschenbeck and Erin Guerra. “It was more of an honor than anything.”
“It was something that came from our hearts because Paolo made such a difference in our lives and so many other lives,” she said. “That’s what made us think ‘we don’t mind doing this’ despite all the extra work that was necessary to plan the event during the busiest time of the semester.”
Former students traveled from throughout the state to be at the service, meeting and swapping stories among exhibits with photos and videos of three decades of Texas A&M students in Italy.
They were joined by a wide array of faculty from various colleges who related their Barucchieri memories with tears and smiles. Paola Barucchieri Guild, his youngest daughter, also came to the ceremony from her home in Las Vegas.
Figueroa was involved in the service’s planning from the beginning.
In meetings with the Texas A&M Study Abroad office and College of Architecture administrators, Figueroa suggested the service be a celebration of Barucchieri’s life, with photos and exhibits from the many students who had studied abroad since he became involved with the program in 1982.
Ward Wells, head of the department of architecture, and Elton Abbott, the college’s assistant dean for international programs & initiatives who had taken his first class to learn from Barucchieri in the 80s, agreed with the idea.
Every student who went to Italy has Barucchieri stories to share.
“When I was over there I got really sick for about two and a half weeks,” she said, sharing one of her Barucchieri tales. I had to get blood work done and see several doctors. They were ready to send me home because they didn’t know what was wrong with me,” she said. “I was ready to come back home.”
She went to the office at the Santa Chiara Study Center to tell Barucchieri the news.
“I was crying because I was in so much pain and didn’t feel right,” she said. “I was ready to leave and Paolo said ‘hold on, hold on, we’re going to take care of you. We don’t want you to go home.’”
As he spoke, said Figueroa, Barucchieri was “making me a beautiful drawing. All of a sudden, I thought ‘wow, look at what he’s doing,’ and I just sat there and watched him make this drawing to get my mind off being sick.” Figueroa still has the drawing as a treasured keepsake.
Her health improved, and she stayed in Italy to continue her life-changing experience.
“I learned so much, not just about architecture, but a way of thinking about architecture,” she said. “In classes, we study things like positive and negative space, ways of ingress and egress to a building, but Paolo talked about what the meaning of architecture is and how it relates to beauty, and about philosophy, psychology, sociology and how everything is related to architecture, not just in a literal but in an aesthetic sense.”
“He never just talked to you,” she said. “He always expressed so much passion, feelings and background knowledge. Every time you talked to him you learned something and I think that's why everything he said had such an impact on all those generations of students.”
He told students there's more to architecture than just the way it looks, said Figueroa.
“He talked not just about aesthetic beauty but the beauty behind the way it was made, the way it was thought out,” she said. “He showed us a lot of aspects of great buildings that I’d never encountered in all the architecture books I’ve read.”
She said Barucchieri will have a lasting impact on her designs.
“He showed us how design is more than what we put down on a piece of paper,” she said. “It’s about invoking heart and feelings and our background experiences in whatever we design. Every architect, every designer has a unique methodology and he showed us how to find our own.”