In the 1980s, students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies would travel to Basel, Switzerland during the summer to study European architecture. As the program grew, it became more challenging to find adequate and economical housing for students. Dr. Charles Steger, then dean of the college, desired a permanent home for the program but when the university was prohibited from owning property in Switzerland it turned to the Virginia Tech Foundation to purchase a villa in Riva San Vitale. Virginia Tech purchased the more than 250-year old villa in 1992 and the property was extensively renovated to become a living and learning space for Virginia Tech students.

The Foundation completed another significant renovation and expansion project in 2014 which included the construction of a two-story addition providing multipurpose and dining space, sub-dividable classroom space, and support space. The renovation also extended to the existing kitchen and the stables wing to provide an architectural teaching studio, as well as a shop and creative space. The addition and renovation improved the academic and residential experience at the center by allowing for more programmatic flexibility and for the concurrent delivery of a variety of program offerings in the future.

Formerly known as the Center for European Studies and Architecture, the Steger Center was renamed in 2014 to honor former university president Charles W. Steger in tribute to his vision of broadening the university’s global presence. The programs have expanded beyond the study of architecture to extend the opportunity for all Virginia Tech students to spend a semester abroad.

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One-minute reminiscence: Lucy Ferrari recalls the years before Virginia Tech's ownership of Villa Maderni