UW Rome Center

About the UW Rome Center

With outstanding facilities for academic programs from a wide range of University of Washington departments and partner institutions, we are proud to host approximately 400 students per year from a growing variety of disciplines as diverse as architecture, education, engineering, anthropology, business, language, literature, and mathematics. We also host international academic conferences and are a wonderful setting for independent research for faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students.

The UW Rome Center strives to foster disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies that benefit from the outstanding historical and contemporary resources offered in Rome and throughout Italy. We encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between programs and facilitate the delivery of outstanding and memorable courses from all academic fields. We also work closely with faculty to integrate programs to the local Roman and broader Italian context, incorporating guest speakers into the curriculum, engaging with local organizations, and to make the fullest use of local resources.

Our neighborhood

The UW Rome Center is housed in the historic 15th century Palazzo Pio located on Piazza del Biscione and facing the famous Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, one of the most vibrant areas of Rome’s historic center. The palazzo is rich in its historical significance to the city, built upon the ruins of the Roman Theater of Pompey and Temple of Venus. Now, the market, shops, restaurants, cafes, banks and other necessities are just a few feet away. And of course, within a short walking distance are some Rome’s most well-known and best-loved sites, including Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our history

The University of Washington has deep roots in Italy, thanks to Professor Astra Zarina who established the first UW Architecture in Rome program in 1970 and later the Italian Hilltowns program based in Civita di Bagnoregio in 1976. With the support of the University, in 1983 she worked with UW Provost George Beckmann and faculty colleague Gordon Varey to negotiate a lease of several floors of Palazzo Pio. Professor Zarina coordinated the design of teaching and residential spaces in this building. During the construction process she oversaw the discovery and restoration of the remains of a medieval tower and frescoes which had for centuries been hidden within the walls of the Palazzo Pio. The University of Washington Rome Center was officially inaugurated in 1985, and since then has provided an unparalleled location for the transformative experience of study abroad in the heart of Rome.

Our founder

astraProfessor Astra Zarina taught architecture and urban design for over three decades in both Seattle and in Italy. She founded the UW Rome Center and served as director of the UW Rome Center from 1984 to 1994.

“I was a guest lecturer in Seattle in 1965 and 1968. I told them I can teach much better in Rome. The chairman agreed to give it a try and with the help of Professor Hermann Pundt, we selected six students to come in 1970. One of them, Steven Holl, is now an internationally known architect in New York. It was supposed to be a one-shot deal, but those students felt it was so fantastic, the experiment continued and eventually became a significant part of the curriculum. In 1976 the summer program, Italian Hilltowns, was added and students could continue their studies in Rome during Fall and Winter Quarters.”

Professor Zarina received the UW Distinguished Teaching Award in 1979 for her success with the development of the Italian Studies programs and passion for her students. In her own words: “I’m an architect. I am also by nature a teacher. I love to see people develop, grow, discover themselves. When I work with them, I discover things too.”

Getting the Center up and running was not without its challenges. “We held classes in the Rome Center, but did not have use of an elevator which had been installed. It took three years to get the Italian utility to give us power for it,” Professor Zarina shared. “On the day it was finally ready, I promised my students I was going to buy champagne, go up and down in it, and offer glasses to everyone. Well, the day arrived and out of nowhere this man with a large refrigerator emerged, loaded into the elevator and broke it.”

Over the course of her career, Professor Zarina also wrote several pieces on architecture, design and culture. She co-authored a book with Balthazar Korab titled  on the roofscapes of Rome. I tetti di Roma: Le terrazze, le altane, i belvedere was published in 1976.

Hundreds of students have progressed through these programs developed by Professor Zarina to expose young architects and designers to the lessons of continuity and change in Italian architecture, urban planning, design and culture. She influenced thousands of students throughout her career, inspiring many who have gone on to become internationally influential architects and designers in their own right.