Italian Academy Opens in Style

Photograph: Susan Sontag. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

With a kickoff week of major lectures and panel discussions, the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America opened its doors Nov. 13 and said ciao to the old Casa Italiana.

It was a fitting inaugural event: world-class scholars of Italian culture and history were the first to use the renovated Columbia facility that aspires to be the premiere center for advanced studies linking American and European relations.

"The facility has been physically changed to give a concrete aspect to the vision of an institution that is radically different from the old Casa Italiana," explained Maristella Lorch, director of the academy.

During the lectures and discussions during the week of Nov. 13-17, the Columbia community was invited into the academy in the Casa Italiana on Amsterdam Avenue at 117th Street. The facility had been closed during the two-year renovation, which is almost completed.

"The Italian Academy is being realized to answer the call of a totally different historical moment, the post-Cold War era," Lorch said in her welcoming remarks. "It was conceived in 1987-88 by a group of Columbia scholars who felt the Italian genius considers the world as its laboratory. They were convinced that Italian scholars, scientists, humanists, social scientists, artists and businessmen should be given a chance to dialogue on these problems with their American counterparts in an environment that reflected the vision."

The creation of the academy and the renovation of the facility was made possible by a 100-page agreement between Columbia and the Italian government, signed in 1990. Italy purchased the building, which was built in 1927, and is renovating it; Columbia used the funds from the sale to create an endowment for the academy.

The $7.5 million renovation has preserved the handsome Italian architecture and traditional dark paneled decor in the library and the teatro, while opening up the academic and administrative offices on the upper floors with atriums and balconies. Sixteen "studioli" for visiting fellows will be finished in natural wood, colored glass and aluminum. Even the light fixtures are contemporary in design, made of curving glass in red, blue and yellow. The furniture is a blend of new and old, with stylized Italian leather chairs and ornate antique pieces.

The inaugural lecture series, "After Christianity," was presented by Gianni Vattimo, professor of philosophy at the University of Turin and one of Italy's most influential thinkers. The panel discussions centered around translation and its traditions and problems.

Panelists included Paolo Fabrini, director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris; Remo Guidieri, professor of anthropology at the University of Paris; Mikhail Iampolski, professor of comparative literature and Slavic languages at New York University; John Hejduk, dean of the architecture school at Cooper Union; writer and scholar William Pietz; Joseph Rykwert, professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania; writer Susan Sontag, and Robert Farris Thompson, professor of art history at Yale.

Columbia University Record -- December 1, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 11