School of Architecture
Assistant Professor, Co-Director HUE/ND and Associate Director DHARMA Lab
While Selena Anders was growing up she spent her summers going to work with her father, a bricklayer. Herbert Anders worked on historic buildings in downtown Chicago, so a young Selena was able to see how these old townhouses, bungalows, schools and even park districts came together, igniting a passion for designing and building. This hands-on education didn’t stop during the winter; the father and daughter avoided the cold temperatures by working on interiors of houses where she helped with drywall and learned about framing.
“I really just loved it,” Anders, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture, says. “It was really fun to just be on site and build things and see how things come together.”
Her passion took a detour in college when she decided to pursue bachelor of arts in art history and anthropology, but architecture was always a key part of her life as she focused on Italian architecture and archaeology.
That liberal arts background has served her well after completing a master of architecture at Notre Dame, where she has been a professor, based primarily with the Rome Studies Program, since 2010.
“People always tease me like, ‘how does your anthropology degree fit in?’ and I always say, ‘how does it not?’” she says.
Notre Dame’s Architecture program focuses on classical architecture and traditional urbanism with an interest in conservation and investment. Third-year students in the program spend a year in Rome with extensive travel built in to immerse themselves in the tradition of the Italian city and explore for themselves why some buildings have stood for thousands of years while others that were built 50 years ago are already falling into disrepair.
The idea is that when a student understands Italy deeply they’re able to transfer that knowledge to the rest of Europe and eventually the world.
And that focus on culture and urbanism is as much anthropology as it is architecture.
“Each city has its own language and local cultural approach to architecture and urbanism,” Anders says, “but it is all tied together in the commonalities of traditional architecture. The anthropology just helps you put things together and understand people and places. It’s the study of human tendency and recognition of how much we have in common more so than how much we have that is dissimilar.”
Students who study abroad in Italy with Selena also have an opportunity to travel to China, where they take in the common threads of architecture between Western designs and Eastern designs in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.
“While the buildings may have these Chinese roofs and details, they’re no different than a school building you may see in Chicago or other works in the U.S.,” Anders points out.
“It’s basically bringing history forward with the use of certain architectural languages that allow you to see these shared traditions while also appreciating the local character and uniqueness of a place.”
Anders is working to bring that history forward in a number of other ways. She recently completed her Ph.D. in architecture, theory and practice at La Sapienza, University of Rome. She is an associate director and co-founder of the Digital Historical Architectural Research and Material Analysis (D.H.A.R.M.A.), with Professor Krupali Krusche. The research team is working to digitally document historic buildings and sites like the Roman Forum, the Taj Mahal, the Vatican’s Belvedere Courtyard and Mughal Tombs in Agra, India.
She also works with Jennifer Parker, architecture librarian for Hesburgh Libraries, as co-director and co-founder of HUE/ND, a laboratory focusing on the Historic Urban Environments in Rome.
“Jennifer and I were discussing how we can make the digital tools, historic resources and rare books available in the School of Architecture Library and make them more accessible to faculty, students and other people who are interested in Rome,” Anders says. “The idea is to make Notre Dame’s resources available to a wider group of people.”
Their latest project, Cities and Texts: Rome, will combine Roman travel guides from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and map them on a website and smartphone app.
“You’ll be able to bring people to historical Rome by putting these images and text together capturing modern-day images of the same places,” she says. “You’ll be able to see 300 years of evolution in Rome in just one click.”
As for her own evolution, she’s worked out the perfect balance of teaching, designing and research informed by her experiences with her father all those summers ago.
“As someone growing up in Chicago in a traditional urban and architectural environment while working on historic buildings I didn’t know how to express what I wanted to do,” she says. “I knew the skyscrapers like the John Hancock and the [Willis] Tower and I love them, but I love working on buildings that feel like home and feel like a neighborhood.”