Like many others at Virginia Tech, Masters of Architecture degree student Diego Arias-Caballero of Lima, Peru, is in the final stages of preparing for graduation, finishing up projects and looking forward to commencement on May 17, when his family will be here to celebrate with him. 

However, his experience after graduation will be different than the other graduates, as he departs shortly afterwards for France, where he will serve as a teaching assistant at the famed Fontainebleau School.

This will be his second trip to the historic chateau’s prestigious summer academy. He is returning after winning the first prize fellowship, the “Premier Prix de l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Fontainebleau,” for his work during the summer of 2012. This fellowship provides the recipient the opportunity to join the faculty during the following summer session as a teaching assistant, and subsequently, to spend three months in the heart of Paris with a studio at the Cité Internationale des Arts.

Arias first travelled to Fontainebleau as the recipient of the Robert Turner Fontainebleau Study Abroad Scholarship, which was established in 2004 to send selected students from the School of Architecture + Design to the summer academy at the UNESCO world heritage site.

Set in a magnificent chateau about 40 miles southeast of Paris, the Fontainebleau School offers a summer program for musicians and architects that dates back to 1921. During the program, the different disciplines often intersect; music and architecture students live and dine together, attend lectures and concerts, and take group field trips. Students are encouraged to observe one another’s work and collaborate on projects.

Arias participated in the five-week program in architecture and worked alongside students from Hong Kong, Russia, France, and North America. Arias, who is a pianist, was equally thrilled at the opportunity to meet composers and musicians from institutions including Curtis and Julliard.

The architecture students worked in teams on weekly design projects, and during the last week, they were paired with musicians for a final presentation. Pairing musicians with architects may seem unusual, but it offers the students a unique way to combine their creative talents. As Arias said, “It may seem odd when you hear about it, but when you are there is just feels so right — it all works together.”

Arias reported that the projects were challenging and often entailed long hours, but he loved what he was doing, so the entire experience was fun. His outstanding work during the summer academy earned him the top prize for architecture for 2012, and he is excited to return to France following graduation for the next chapter in his international experience.

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