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November 30, 2022

Architect's Holiday


Rob Whitten

This September, we took a walking trip from Spoleto to Assisi through the Umbrian villages and landscapes of Italy. Our walk followed abandoned rail lines, pilgrimage routes, Roman roads, and farm paths through the olive groves, woods, and meadows–all mapped and planned by ATG Oxford.

Robin, the editor and founder of AudioFile Magazine, writes a log of our daily adventures that I get to illustrate with my pen and watercolors. It’s all in a pocket-sized sketchbook–sometimes the writing comes first and the sketches follow. They can be quick vignettes or a one-hour study.

As we begin to relax, the drawings become looser and more spontaneous. Robin’s writing speaks to all of the senses–the next curve ahead, the sound of a small waterfall, the smell of crushed thyme and mint, the pink flowers of wild cyclamens, a flock of crows, and a picnic of dried olives, goat cheese, and local bread.

The notes and sketches capture the character of the ancient buildings and paths that have been used for over 2,000 years. The homes and structures are built with local materials: limestone taken from the fields and quarries, roof tiles from the local clay, timbers from the oak forests–all crafted in simple forms and shapes that work with the landscape.

The homes open to the south and are shaded with porches and overhangs; the north side is tucked into the hillside, the well is close at hand, and the kitchen garden is right outside the back door. It’s about timeless, low-impact homes, locally sourced food and produce, and a simpler way of life. We returned to Portland with many lessons learned about “site-specific” design.

Next year’s walk begins with a blank sketchbook.


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