Article By: Piper Hale
Published: Nov 1, 2011
Bridgid Byrne, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is working toward an M.F.A. in architectural history at SCAD Savannah.
Bridgid Byrne's interest in architectural history
began when she was an undergraduate studying interior design and took a class focusing on the history of furniture design. She was immediately hooked by the class's subject matter. "I was just fascinated with the historical aspect of how design has changed," says Bridgid. She decided she wanted to delve deeper into this field in graduate school, and a few keyword searches later, she stumbled across SCAD's architectural history program. After visiting Savannah and meeting with the departmental chair, Bridgid knew she had found the right program.
Since beginning her graduate studies at SCAD, Bridgid has forged close relationships with both her peers and professors
. "The classes are very one-on-one, which is great for me and the way I learn," she says. "I know every single one of my professors and it's a very comfortable atmosphere, just like a little community or a little family."
Many of Bridgid's hands-on projects have involved studying the architecture of Savannah; she has researched the history of the Ardsley Park district and the military skirmishes that shaped Wormsloe, a local historic site where she volunteers regularly. "Savannah really is a living lab," she says. "I've had at least three to four classes where we go outside and the department uses the city to explain what they're teaching. It's this visual thing you can actually interact with. Savannah's urban landscape represents a wide range of eras and different styles of architecture. Students use the city to learn. It's something we can see and touch; not just words in a textbook."
Her access to not only the buildings themselves, but also to physical documents and other records that are generally only available locally, has proven to be of enormous benefit to Bridgid. She says that, as an architectural historian, she often feels like a detective. When she's not poring through historical archives for subtle details others may have missed, she's interviewing people who have close ties to local history. "They can give you that edge that you wouldn't have," she says. "They may not even realize the importance of what they're saying to you, but it can give you a clue you can run with. You don't get that from just reading a textbook."
Outside of Savannah, Bridgid also worked in her hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania, over one winter break. She shadowed a conservator and helped him document the archives of the Catholic diocese there as he designed a new space for the archives in the Altoona cathedral. She also helped him in the design stage of renovating a building to emulate Roman ruins for a theme restaurant.
Bridgid was well equipped to contribute elements of ancient Roman architecture to those designs; not only had she studied it extensively in her classes, but she had travelled to Italy the previous year with other students from SCAD's School of Building Arts
, where she saw and studied Roman ruins in person. She was awarded SCAD's European Travel Scholarship for this trip, and spent her time studying the architecture of Rome, Florence and Venice with her classmates. "Learning without the textbooks, standing in front of the Vatican and talking about Bernini and the Piazza and analyzing the architectural details of structures from different time periods was just incredible," says Bridgid.
More recently, Bridgid spent a week in Dublin to work on her thesis, a study of 20th century Irish architecture as influenced by the Easter Rising revolt. Unfortunately for Bridgid, an unexpected snowstorm hit while she was in town, but she still managed to speak to many of the knowledgeable local people and spend time with the city's records. She considers this trip invaluable to her research. "You can find some things online, but it's not the same as seeing something, touching something, meeting people," says Bridgid.
Bridgid has completed the classes for her degree, and is now taking some time to polish her thesis before turning it in. After completing her thesis and receiving her degree, she will move to Washington, D.C., to begin her career. In regard to her coming job search, Bridgid is excited by the prospects. "I never expected to have as many avenues as I do," she says. "I think it's amazing! When people say to me, 'Architectural history? What are you going to do with that?' I just start listing things. By the end of it, they're looking at their watch and wishing they hadn't asked, because I'm giving them so many things I can pursue. I'm just so excited to get out there!"