Step into the Lucy and Olivio Ferrari Archive in Cowgill Hall and you’ll find some of the artifacts that illustrate how Virginia Tech became world-renowned for its School of Architecture + Design.
Inaugurated in October 2017, the archive holds more than 1,000 items donated to the College of Architecture and Urban Studies by Faculty Emerita Lucy Ferrari and her late husband, architect and Professor Emeritus Olivio Ferrari.
The items — ranging from the Ferrari’s original designs, paintings, sculptures, weavings, notes, and chair prototypes to photographs and student works — represent the critical role the couple played in establishing the School of Architecture + Design over 52 years ago and an impact still felt in its teaching. The archive also includes an extensive collection of books on art, architecture, and design donated by Professor Frank Weiner and his wife, Lynn Eichhorn.
Weiner, the archive’s curator said, “The hope is that the Lucy and Olivio Ferrari Archive will serve as a place for asking beautiful questions about the past, present, and future of the School of Architecture + Design, as well as about the ‘education of an architect’ understood in the broadest and deepest sense. The atmosphere of the room, infused with the guiding spirit of the Ferraris, can serve to inspire the next generations of students, faculty and alumni.”
The Ferraris arrived at Virginia Tech in 1965, when Olivio was recruited by founding Dean Charles Burchard to help grow the newly formed College of Architecture and Urban Studies into a world-class center for architecture and design.
At Virginia Tech, Olivio was revered as an exceptionally gifted professor who nurtured architects and designers by teaching them to be astute observers, craftspeople, and students of the world. Educated at the Ulm School of Design in Germany under Max Bill, Konrad Wachsmann, Josef Albers, and Max Bense, Olivio brought a unique understanding of basic design to Virginia Tech that led to the formation of the foundation program, a longstanding key curricular experience of first-year architecture and design students. He brought ceramics, photography, filmmaking, and graphics studios into the school to enhance their education as architects.
Lucy, who speaks several languages, introduced and taught courses, including Culture Studies for Architects and German for Architects, to bring a deeper understanding of linguistics and culture into students’ study of architecture and design.
Together, the Ferraris initiated a study abroad program in 1968 and helped establish the Steger Center for International Scholarship, located in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, in the early 1990s. As a result of their efforts, hundreds of Virginia Tech students have lived and studied in Switzerland and throughout Europe.
“We often use architectural terms, such as ‘pillars’ or ‘foundational,’ in our everyday language to respect supportive, influential, and strong people,” said Jack Davis, Reynolds Metals Endowed Professor of Architecture. “Olivio and Lucy Ferrari have certainly exhibited those qualities and more to make the School of Architecture + Design one of the top design education centers in the world. Through their generosity, we have this archive in perpetuity as a testament to their past contributions, while simultaneously educating young designers well into the future.”
The recipient of numerous awards throughout his 29-year career at Virginia Tech, Olivio Ferrari was named a Virginia Tech Alumni Distinguished Professor in 1982, an Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Distinguished Professor in 1990, and posthumously conferred its University Distinguished Achievement Award in 2013.
After Olivio’s death in 1994, Lucy served as the second director of the center in Riva San Vitale until her retirement in 1997.
Lucy remains a familiar and beloved figure in Cowgill Hall. She travels back from the small village of Carona, Switzerland, to Blacksburg each year to interact with faculty and students and visit studios, where she is always welcomed.
“This is great for me to see that Olivio is still in the students,” she said. “He woke them up inside. He knew what they were able to do and brought it out of them.
“This archive is like the history of the school because we were here from the beginning with Dean Burchard,” she added. “It’s not like a museum. It’s to be used by the students, and, hopefully, they’ll get some ideas out of it.”
"I am very pleased we were able through the diligent work of Professor Frank Weiner and the continuing generosity of Lucy Ferrari to make a quality archive of Olivio and Lucy's work,” said Hunter Pittman, director of the School of Architecture + Design. "It’s a pleasure to see the excitement that has been brought to a busy corner of the first floor of Cowgill Hall by the completion of the Ferrari Archive. We are all hopeful it can be a place of study that both inspires new generations of students to excellence in their work and maintains connections to the alumni who were touched by the teaching of Olivio and Lucy over the years.”