By David Mohney
Dean, Michael Graves College, Kean University and Wenzhou Kean University
Former Dean of the UK College of Design
Professor Emeritus Maria Dallerba-Ricci, known to her colleagues, students and friends as “Pucci,” passed away in her beloved Venice on June 30, 2021. Born in Allesandro, Italy in 1936, Dallerba-Ricci became an architect of renown over the course of her career. She earned her first professional degree from the University of Cordoba in Argentina in 1961, after her family relocated to Argentina for seven years due to her father’s employment. Shortly after, she returned to Italy, taking up her studies at the University of Florence, where she earned her doctorate in Architecture and Urban Design in 1964. She served as an Assistant Professor in Florence from 1963-66, and carried out a series of research projects at the Institute of Urbanism there, collaborating with the former Dean, then Director of the Institute, Leonardo Ricci.
In 1966, Dallerba-Ricci declined a Harkness Fellowship to take a visiting faculty position for a year at Pennsylvania State University in America. This was followed by an Associate Professorship at Florida State University, while holding a visiting position at Virginia Polytechnic Institute concurrently. After a stint as Associate Professor at the University of Florida ended in 1971, Dallerba-Ricci was asked by UK School of Architecture Founding Dean Charles P. Graves to take a faculty position in Lexington. She stayed in the University of Kentucky’s faculty ranks for the next 36 years. Promoted to Professor in 1982, Dallerba-Ricci actively engaged in the formation and direction of the professional program. In addition to her teaching responsibilities she engaged in research projects sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the UK Research Foundation, focusing on the edges of growing cities, a topic of significant importance in Lexington in the early 1970s due to the implementation of the Urban Service Boundary.
Through the 1970s, Dallerba-Ricci was instrumental in the organization and operation of a series of European workshops for UK students. This culminated in the creation of a dedicated academic program in Venice in 1986, known as the Atelier Veneziano, with the strong support of Dean Anthony Eardley. Dallerba-Ricci directed the Atelier for two decades, with the assistance of her former Dean from Florence, Leonardo Ricci. Dean Ricci had moved to Lexington in the 1970s, taking a teaching position at UK, and he and Pucci were married in the living room of former Dean Charles Graves’ house in 1978.
Leonardo Ricci was an established architect of significant reputation by the time he met Dallerba-Ricci, but she joined his architectural practice and together they carried out a number of significant projects. The Municipal Court (“Palace of Justice”) in Savonna, Italy, began construction in the early 1980s, and was completed by the time the Atelier Veneziano began. The team continued to enter European competitions in the late 1980s, and received the commission to design the Palace of Justice in Florence in the early 1990s. Regretfully, Leonardo Ricci passed away in September 1994, before construction would start. The commission was then officially transferred to another architect, but Dallerba-Ricci continued to work on the project as a consultant, to assure that the distinctive forms and spaces of their competition-winning entry were achieved. Professionally she is regarded as the equal of her husband as a designer, and took on the role as director of their professional work. After Leo’s death, she continued to enter competitions, primarily for urban piazzas in northern Italy. She often collaborated with UK students on the design and production of these competitions, and earned recognition from the juries for them.
Over the course of more than two decades, hundreds of UK students spent a semester at the Atelier Veneziano, and returned as more mature and aware architects. The Atelier was closed in 2007, when she retired from UK and continued her professional activities from Venice.
Dallerba-Ricci’s ability to take a discussion of Architecture at the highest levels and have that design engage actively with the wider world was a particular talent of hers. Certainly, Venice itself was a resource in this: the scale and materials of the city required a close look by the students there. But Dallerba-Ricci enriched that design question with engagements to the wider arts and culture: music, art, philosophy, and a deep understanding of the continuity of human history as it is made manifest in its buildings. She represented all the best qualities of an architect: a professional, a talented designer, and most of all, a humanist for the world around her.
For those who wish to offer their personal tributes to Pucci, please visit: