Preserving History

Art history major granted Trinity University Architectural Traveling Fellowship

by Carlos Anchondo '14  |  photos by Cameron Piper '17

At five years old, Cameron Piper ’17 already commanded a love for architecture. Visiting his grandmother in New Orleans, the pair would ride the streetcars together, Piper’s face pressed against the glass windows as the buildings streamed by. New Orleans, where Piper’s family has roots dating back to the 1700s, fostered his love for architecture and taught him his first lessons about the relationship between a physical structure and a city’s sense of place.

As an art history major, Piper cares deeply about the historic preservation of buildings and how those structures act as a connection to the past. Piper spent his junior year abroad studying art, architecture, and French in Tours, a university town approximately 150 miles southwest of Paris. This summer he returned to Europe as the first recipient of the Trinity University Architectural Traveling Fellowship*. Facilitated by the Department of Art and Art History, the fellowship provides grant money for a summer study of architecture. Starting in Helsinki, Piper will embark on a trip to study examples of early 20th century architecture in Scandinavia and Germanic Europe.

“I want to see how these modernist buildings are being preserved, why they are being preserved, and what the call to preserve them looked like,” Piper says. “Traveling across Europe, I will be able to compare how the same architectural trends, in the same period, look different in Finland than they do in Austria than in the Czech Republic.”

Originally from Banner Elk, N.C., Piper says he was inspired to apply for the fellowship after taking art history professor Kathryn O’Rourke’s course on 20th century architecture. Among other destinations, he will visit Finland’s Villa Mairea and Paimio Sanatorium, Sweden’s Skogskyrkogården cemetery, and Germany’s Neue National Gallery and Bauhaus art school. Piper is particularly excited to see the Fagus Shoe Factory in Alfeld, Germany, a building he says is “one of the most beautiful in the world and way ahead of its time.”

At each monument or building Piper will take a photograph, which will later be compiled into an exhibition at Trinity. As he travels, Piper hopes to capture a sense of each city’s energy and the nuanced evolution of modernist architecture. He says that often societies are tempted to tear down architecture that is no longer in style, a mistake he says cannot be remedied by trying to reconstruct the built environment every generation. To be considered for the fellowship, Piper submitted a bibliography of texts relevant to the places he will visit, a statement of support from a Trinity faculty member, a budget and proposed itinerary, a statement of intent, and a transcript.

Piper completed the entire application while living in Tours, working diligently to become fluent in French.

Often societies are tempted to tear down architecture that is no longer in style, a mistake that cannot be remedied by trying to reconstruct the built environment every generation.

“The ability to be bilingual spoke very strongly to me,” Piper says. “Studying abroad for an entire year helped push me into adulthood and forced me to be comfortable on my own even when things did not go exactly as planned.”

As Piper drafted the application, he purposefully chose to focus his fellowship itinerary outside of France. He wants to widen his perspective on European early modernism before the advent of World War II. In the fall, Piper will begin work on an honors thesis that examines housing on the outskirts of Paris and of New Orleans during the 1950s. Despite having completely different styles and contexts, he plans to use the two case studies to debunk the misconception that poor architectural form can cause various social problems.

The Trinity University Architectural Traveling Fellowship honors the legacy of Jo Ann Wigodsky P’75, an artist whose love of travel and architecture largely influenced the career of her son Dan Wigodsky. Dan established his architecture firm, Wigodsky & Associates Architects, in 2001. His practice is primarily focused on bringing creativity and experience to the design of buildings.

Piper is the inaugural recipient of the fellowship and has previously taken Trinity courses about medieval art and architecture, green urbanism, the urban experience, and 18th century art and architecture. He plans to make historic preservation his life’s work and vows to protect the world’s treasures through every building, neighborhood, and culture he can discover.

*Editor's note: The printed version of this article incorrectly titled Piper's fellowship as the Jo Ann Wigodsky Architectural Travel Fellowship. The correct name for the fellowship is the Trinity University Architectural Traveling Fellowship, funded by gifts by or given in honor of the Wigodsky family.