Q&A with 2014 DMSAS Fellow Allison Palmadesso

One of four DMSAS Fellowship recipients in 2014, Allison Palmadesso will be entering her final year at the University of Maryland in the Fall. Before beginning her 10 week internship with the firm, Allison took her fellowship travels to Turkey, Germany and Amsterdam. We talked with Allison about her travels and her time at DMSAS so far.

Why did you choose your particular destination(s)?

I chose my destinations based on the research agenda I crafted after reading two key texts regarding my growing interest of the built environment’s interaction with the water’s edge over time.  First, a paper written by Bas Butuner in 2006 for the 42nd International Society of City and Regional Planners Congress, titled “Waterfront Revitalization as a Challenging Urban Issue in Istanbul.” Second, a book titled Riverscapes – Designing Urban Embankments, by Christoph Holzer, Tobias Hundt, Carolin Luke, and Oliver Hamm, published in 2008.  These sources helped me determine Turkey and Northern Europe to be the appropriate context on which to weave this research through.  My time in Turkey would be a survey of how the Turkish people are building on the waterfront today, as well as visiting ancient harbor towns, and even working and surveying on the ancient Lycian waterfront site of Aperlae (founded in the 4th century BCE). I determined the other half of my trip would be visiting contemporary North European cities that have developed and now redeveloped on their water’s edge.  I chose Berlin, Dusseldorf, and Frankfurt as the German cities, and Amsterdam and Rotterdam as the Dutch cities I’d visit to gain insight on how contemporary architecture and planning is being incorporated to some waterfront sites that were once abandoned industrial borders between city and water.

Some fellows have done photographs, hand-sketches, watercolors, or even 3-D models of the buildings and spaces they’ve visited. What techniques did you use to document what you saw, and how do you think they helped you to understand the architecture?

While abroad, I did all of the above.  I took a lot of photographs, and would often then sketch the same scene.  I find one can learn different things from documenting the same thing a few different ways.  I did gesture sketches, as well as several street and waterfront sections, I catalogued different vegetation used by water’s edge, and also tried to see the waterfront from a lot of different vantage points.  I sketched waterfront development from the built environment’s perspective, from the pedestrian walking along it, as well as from the water (on a ferry, boat, or water taxi of course). Another thing that proved useful was keeping a journal throughout.  It helped me remember the tiniest things while looking back on the trip, like little cultural things I would pick up on each day of my travels.  Also, this may be the hoarder in me, but I saved all of the stubs from various sites and activities.  Looking at them upon returning I was amazed at how many different modes of efficient transit I was able to use throughout Northern Europe as well as Turkey.

Canals in Amsterdamn

Canals in Amsterdamn

If you could have worked on the design of any building you saw, what would it have been?

I would have loved to contribute to the Mediahafen or Westhafen developments in Dusseldorf and Frankfurt, respectively. It’s such a cool opportunity as a designer to be tasked to revitalize an area, and both areas did just that.

Ogilvy and Mather Building -  Düsseldorf, Germany

Ogilvy and Mather Building – Medihafen development, Düsseldorf, Germany

Did you have any interesting or unusual interactions with the local residents or other tourists on your travels?

 Any interaction with a local while traveling is an interesting experience.  A couple of interactions that stick out to me is speaking with local rug dealers in Kas and Antalya.  They were very humble men that cared a lot about the craft they sold, and one told me about how he used to sell in Istanbul but relocated to Kas because he didn’t like pestering people like the Istanbul vendors do.  They would always offer apple tea, as I grew to find was a gesture of welcoming someone in these smaller Turkish towns. Another favorite interaction was with local college students in Antalya.  They were on holiday and from the nation’s capital of Ankara.  One of the girls was an architecture student and we got to converse about the different things and ways we learn.

Did you find yourself adapting to any local customs during the course of your trip? If so, which was your favorite?

I spent three weeks in Turkey, and I grew to really embrace the Mediterranean (waterfront) lifestyle and diet.  During the portion of the trip where we were working on the Aperlai site, we would wake up every day with the sun at 5am, eat hard boiled eggs on the boat ride, eat fruit from the market during the day, and return from site at 2pm before it was too hot.  We would spend our evenings cleaning up, talking with the locals, and then return to the Pansiyon we were staying in to eat amazing traditional Turkish dishes every night.  The diet included yogurt sauce with every meals, tons of fresh tomatoes, lemons, and cucumbers, goat cheese, and the freshest and best fish I’ve ever had.

The boat

A view from the boat during the morning ride to Aperlai

What story about your travels have you repeated the most?

Probably the tale of how I missed my connection flight in Istanbul when traveling from Antalya to Amsterdam. It was an 18 hour whirlwind but truly something I wouldn’t have handled half as well without the help of the Turkish people and one nice man from Chicago. Note to future travelers: Never try to make it to SAW airport from Ataturk on the Friday afternoon that school lets out of the summer.

How did the architecture you experienced influence projects you’ve worked on in school or this office?

I haven’t started fall semester yet to apply my lessons learned to my schoolwork, but its certainly given me a fuller perspective on design overall. Now I’ve physically been to some of the places my critic at school or Job Captain in this office may reference.  Overall it fuels me with more design ideas to add to the repertoire.

How has the fellowship influenced your professional development and career goals?

The travel portion of the fellowship reaffirmed for me that travel is something I value most highly, and something I believe can be more educational than almost anything.  Furthermore, the internship at DMSAS has proved how highly the firm values good design.  I think that is a value that seems to be forgotten at a lot of firms these days.  It is a pleasure to work in an environment that strives for the very best aesthetic. Both travel and a focus on good design is something I want to carry into my professional future in this field of architecture.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your ten week internship with DMSAS?

I’ve only just completed my fourth week of the internship at DMSAS, but I’ve learned so much so far.  I’ve particularly enjoyed the workshops that Jeffery Loman has done – the rendering workshop and the sketching workshop.  It’s nice to learn that something crafted by hand is truly valued in this firm.  Likewise, in working with Ted and Jon T. on the design for a new restaurant on Hotel Guanahani’s property, I’ve learned how to not get bogged down by programmatic requirements and remember that good design is most important for making place, and how to work efficiently through property constraints and ideas about phasing on the unique site of St. Barth’s.

What surprised you most about your experience working in an architecture firm?

I’ve worked in a few firms before this experience, and what really strikes me about DMSAS is its flexibility of organization.  I love that people hop around pods and different desks pending on what project he or she is working on.  It keeps everything fresh and I think that is important in an architecture firm’s working environment.

What was your favorite souvenir of your travels, either purchased for yourself or something chosen as a gift?

My favorite souvenir were the pillow cases that I purchased from Pacha, a rug shop owner in the small town of Ucagiz in southern Turkey. He told me how the pillow cases were made up of swatches of “mistakes,” but to me it was a harmonious collage of amazing Turkish patterns and colors.  I asked if I could pay with a card, and he said of course.  He then proceeded to call over our boat driver Ali from down the street to escort me to the only card machine at the local market.  He spoke to them in Turkish, they charged me and made a note to pay Pacha the appropriate amount, and then Ali was smiling as he led me back up to Pacha.  I loved this purchase because it proved how much small towns like Ucagiz truly work together for the greater good of the town’s commerce and its people.

What was your most interesting culinary experience on the trip?

My favorite culinary experience was at a fish restaurant on our way to Ucagiz from Antalya.  It was off of a random dirt road off of the highway but my professor swore it was the best, and it was.  The setting of the restaurant is literally on top of this cascading waterfall.  The built environment followed suit, as the seating were on cascading platforms with railings on them, with ramps and catwalks leading to each.  The tables were about 18” off of the ground, as everyone was required to sit on the ground and take their shoes off before sitting down to eat.  Now the food – it was a delectable Mediterranean salad, yogurt sauce, and huge slabs of naan bread for dipping.  Then the main course was fresh whole fish from the coast, sizzling in the cast iron dish in which it was baked.  The most notable part of this meal was the waiter told us how it was good luck to eat the eye from the fish, so we all (a little reluctantly) ate a fish eye. It was a very memorable experience.

Fish meal in

Fish restaurant atop a waterfall in Antalya, Turkey

How (if at all) did locals use public spaces differently than we generally do in the U.S.?

One thing I took note of a lot in my journal was that there is a certain level of trust that is very different in public spaces in Northern Europe than in the United States. Berlin’s waterfront is flanked with pop up beer carts with furniture that isn’t chained down to anything.  There weren’t signs every which way to not litter or not step on the grass, people just generally respected their public spaces more.  Public spaces in Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands alike were places to gather and not rush through.  I found that people were in a lot less of a rush during my travels.

Where did you meet the nicest/happiest people?

The Turkish people’s kindness really took me aback because they would be so hospitable to people that were essentially strangers.  They were always just so genuinely happy to be hosting and sharing their culture with travelers who they knew appreciated it.

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