Italy: Interpreting Urban Landscapes

About the program

Cities are complex entities that tell stories; however, few of us know how to unlock them. To ‘read’ these stories and understand their meaning, one can examine the city through its skyline, its layout and the buildings that frame its streets and spaces. Through the exploration of urban landscapes, this course introduces the various concepts, methods and theories that frame our study of the urban environment over time and space. Students will learn how to observe, analyze and interpret urban landscapes in a historical and contemporary context. By considering urban form as a receptacle of meaning resulting from the rituals of everyday life and the vagaries of history, students will gain an understanding of the forces that have shaped and still shape our cities. By the end of the course, students will not only have the skills needed to interpret cities of the past, but better equipped to plan our contemporary and future cities. 

During the first two weeks, the group will stay at the heart of Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, capital of Tuscany and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within walking distance, students will be able to explore famous museums and monuments such the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore started in 1296, the Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Pitti and the Ponte Vecchio. The last week will be spent in Rome, in a modern bed and breakfast located in the heart of the city, within walking distance to the Trevi fountain, the Colosseo and many more monuments of interest. 


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General Timeline

Teaching Dates: May 8-26, 2023

Arrival: May 7, 2023

Week one:

Introduction to urban morphology and landscapes with an emphasis on methodologies pertaining to urban land use and architectural analysis. The group will familiarise itself with the city of Florence by applying basic observational skills. Field excursion to Fiesole, Montespertoli, Certaldo and San Gimignano.

Week two:

A deeper exploration of Florence, using the skills honed during the first week, to read the city through historical, cultural, social and economic lenses. Field excursion to Bologna, home of the oldest university in the world. Guest lecture on the evolution of architecture and urban form in the Po valley. 

Week three:

Contrast the Renaissance city to the Baroque city through several excursions in Rome. Study the influence of the Catholic Church on Rome’s urban structure; examine the impact of industrialization and the recuperation of industrial districts into creative economy spaces.


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Eligibility and Prerequisite

A background in urban geography, architecture, art history or community planning is an asset but is not mandatory. 


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Program Fees

Program fees: $3,200-$3,700*.

*The final program fee depends on the number of students in the program.

Note: The program fee will be offset by $1,000 for UBC students through our Go Global Award. If you have any pass/fail courses, we will assess your average with advice from your faculty.

Included in program fee Not included in program fee
  • Accommodations
  • On-site group transportation
  • Some meals
  • Entrance fees
  • Guest lectures
  • Go Global fees
  • Flight
  • UBC tuition
  • Remainder of meals (kitchen on site)
  • Health or travel insurance
  • Immunizations (if necessary)
  • Visas (if necessary)
  • Personal spending money for communications, snacks, and souvenirs, etc.


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GEOG 491 (3 credits):

Special Topics in Sustainability: Interpretation of Urban Landscapes

By focusing on the interpretation of urban landscapes in an historical and contemporary context, students will understand that the complex interaction between time, technology, social interactions and cultural forces produce cities that are carved in and through physical spaces, but also through spaces of production and consumption. By the end of the course, students should have a solid grasp of how cities function and evolve. 


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Program Director Bio

Bernard Momer, PhD

Bernard MomerLooking back, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch I ended up teaching urban geography and community planning. When I was kid, I spent endless hours creating extensive road networks and cities in a pile of dirt sitting at the back corner of my parent’s property. When my intentions of studying medicine didn’t work out, the natural path was to study urban geography and planning. Days after I graduated from the University of Ottawa in May 1991, I flew to Europe to reconnect with my roots and explore the cities I dreamt of visiting while sitting in the classroom. During that trip, I became fascinated with urban landscapes and how one can interpret them by mixing bits of historical knowledge with some architectural and planning theory. Fast forward several years and imagine my excitement when I got the opportunity to teach my first Go Global course in Florence and Rome in 2016 and share some of their secrets with a group of students. I am looking forward to returning to these two historically rich cities in the spring of 2023 with another group.  

My interest in cultural and urban landscapes led to research on the wine regions of North America and the role of culture in shaping cities while my expertise in urban planning guides research in urban morphology and design, with a focus on the Renaissance period. Never turning down an opportunity to experience new places, I have travelled extensively in Europe, North America and Australia; always searching for the best bakery and the perfect photo opportunity. When not teaching or conducting research, I am serving my second term as Associate Dean of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Development in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. 


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