2020 Booth Fellow, Michelangelo LaTona, Will Study Parisian Building Typology

Michelangelo LaTona, M.Arch ‘15, has received Taubman College’s 2020 George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship. The Booth Fellowship, which began in 1924, annually provides a $10,000 stipend to recent Taubman College graduates pursuing architectural research that requires international travel.

Through the Fellowship, LaTona will study the interstitial buildings that connect two different urban logics within the city of Paris: the medieval fabric that traces the evolution of the old neighborhoods (faubourgs) as they grew and morphed into one another; and the Grand Boulevards, the infrastructural overlay that connects and networks them. LaTona’s project will focus on what he calls a third domain: a uniquely Parisian building typology that emerges at the intersection between the “unplanned” vernacular, which is the domain of the people, and the top-down “planned” infrastructure, which was designed by the empire. “It occupies the space of negotiation between the informal fabric, whose morphology indexed pragmatic compromises, and the image-driven unifying identity of the boulevards,” he said. “They exist at the threshold between two stages of social life, which Serlio’s interpretation of theatrical scenes oppose: the comedy, depicted by the vernacular residential street, and the tragedy, staged by the formal lining of classically designed buildings.”

LaTona’s objective is to locate and document moments in a city where its many histories are visible at once. “In a way it is an archaeological approach to studying living cities. I aim to treat the city as an archaeological site in the wilderness in much the same way Laugier conceived the town as the forest,” he said. He will photograph and sketch sites as he uncovers them.

LaTona said he hopes the Fellowship experience helps him to better define his position with regard to urban planning, design, and history: “This typology may be unique to Paris but can be thought of as emblematic of an approach to urban architecture that appears in cities across the globe. As an architect working in urban environments, I will greatly benefit from the chance to study this in-depth, which I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to do.”

He also is excited to be the latest in a long line of Booth Fellows representing Taubman College: “I am so grateful to even have been considered for the Booth Fellowship,” LaTona said. “I consider it a tremendous honor and opportunity, and I could not have achieved this without the help of my mentors, family, and friends.”

Taubman College faculty Sharon Haar, Perry Kulper, and Malcolm McCollough served as jurors for the 2020 Booth Fellowship. They considered disciplinary contribution, how the project would shape or impact the recipient’s professional development, and how well the past work and accomplishments of the candidate tie into and buoy the objectives of the proposed project.

The jurors selected LaTona’s both/and: The Third Paris because they appreciated the focus on:

  • a single place (so as to develop a “third” or additional vision of the city, with a focus on the vernacular condition, as well as a yet unknown Paris);
  • that the proposal had a clear connection to LaTona’s M.Arch thesis (which speaks to the timeliness of this new endeavor, in situating and launching the next phase of his work and/or teaching);
  • and hope to see new scholarship in light of current considerations on travel, as well as impacts of such a travel-based fellowship in our current context.

“In consideration of these influences, we encourage Michelangelo to springboard further beyond documentation/mapping,” the jurors said. “Such expanded scope could include a how-to manual, a glossary, or another outcome that would provide the means of establishing key principles and diagrams by which specifics of the research could expose and evoke speculation on a range of other cities, or even suburban/rural conditions.”

Learn more about the Booth Traveling Fellowship.