Three Siblings Choose RISD

Three Siblings Choose RISD

All three Bentel siblings are artists, musicians, sports enthusiasts – and enrolled at RISD.

Walking along the dusty roads leading up to the remote quarries of northern Tuscany, the Bentel children are on the hunt for a coveted material: Carrara marble. The three curious kids use the milky stone to experiment with basic hand tools in their familys sculpture studio, a small shop attached to their grandfather’s rustic farmhouse near Lucca, Italy. Sometimes they venture out with their father to fire clay in the kilns of Pietrasanta, a medieval town famous for its ceramics and blue-gray stoneware.

“We’d often spend our summer afternoons rambling around these local villages that supplied the marble used to make iconic sculptures from the past," remembers Lukas Bentel 15 FD, now studying at RISD along with his siblings. “Our parents encouraged us to carry around notebooks to sketch centuries-old cathedrals and frescoes. It was an idyllic place to learn how to draw.”

This hands-on exposure to Roman art and architecture helped all three Bentels—Lukas and twins Nikolas Bentel 16 ID and Michela Bentel 17 ID—establish an expansive approach to culture and learning. Their high school résumés are peppered with artistic accolades and perfect scores in Advanced Placement (AP) tests assessing their 3D design skills. These sparkling credentials earned each Bentel a place in the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program, the challenging course of study that allows highly motivated students to pursue bachelor’s degrees simultaneously at both academic institutions.

Juggling the demands of dual degrees

Now in his fifth and final year in the program, Lukas is majoring in Furniture Design at RISD and Computer Music and Multimedia at Brown. These days he spends most of his time in RISD wood shops shaping his latest sculptural installation. But last year he was at Brown wiring electronics to make avant-garde noise compositions. “This program was the perfect fit for me,” notes Lukas. “I jumped at the chance to study at an Ivy League university and the leading art and design school. It has been the college experience of my dreams.”

At RISD the twins’ academic paths often converge. Nikolas is splitting his time between campuses to focus on Industrial Design at RISD and Modern Culture and Media at Brown. Michela is also studying Industrial Design but majoring in Engineering at Brown. And the talented twins make it all look effortless. Yet when pressed, the natives of Locust Valley, NY admit that their schedules are jam-packed with stimulating lectures and challenging studio projects.

“It’s not impossible to handle the workload required of dual-degree students—but it certainly isn’t easy,” notes Michela. “There are a lot of moving balls to juggle, including extracurricular activities that require a lot of time and commitment.”

For Michela one of those outside studio activities will be the women’s ski team at Brown. The blond athlete broke into competitive alpine racing while enrolled at Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Wallingford, CT. Interested in eventually pursuing an internship in automotive design in Detroit or Paris, she finds curious connections between the physical properties of downhill skiing and road vehicle aerodynamics.

“I’d love to redesign the exterior of automobiles,” explains Bentel. “As I’ve learned from skiing, making slight adjustments in form can reduce wind drag and increase efficiency.”

Multifaceted interests

Nikolas and Lukas are also interested in the adrenaline rush of racing. The brothers both ride for RISD Cycling, the school’s first and only varsity sports team. In June, the duo traveled to France to meet up with team captain Jules Goguley 15 ID. Wearing their signature pink and white outfits, the riders biked in the European countryside to prepare for the upcoming season.

In addition to being accomplished athletes, the Bentels are ace musicians. In 2012 the tight-knit group was awarded $10,000 to build a performance space underneath Seattle’s Space Needle. During the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair, the trio played lively string music to entertain throngs of crowds attending the festival. They’ve also participated in classical performances at Tanglewood, a legendary outdoor music venue in western Massachusetts.

Of course, as the saying goes, the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. As partners at the New York architectural firm Bentel & Bentel, the siblings’ parents Paul and Carol Rusche Bentel met in Cambridge when she was working as an architect and he was finishing his studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. She now teaches at Webb Institute, a top-ranked undergraduate institution that offers a double major in naval architecture and marine engineering, while he’s a professor of architecture and history at Columbia.

The Bentel parents also have something of a history at RISD dating back to 1988, when he was hired to direct a summer program on campus for Swiss architecture students from the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule of Zurich (ETH-Z). The couple fondly remembers spending their first wedding anniversary in RISD’s dorms on Waterman Street.

“When I first arrived at RISD, I was astounded by the breadth of technical knowledge and creativity that pours from studios,” explains Paul. “It was—and remains—such a vibrant community full of interesting artists and designers. It’s a special place.”

The Bentels are positively delighted that all of their children are now studying here in Providence. In addition to the convenience of having all three children in one location, “our kids and their classmates are lucky to have the support of two great institutions that help support a materially productive and socially contributive life,” Paul concludes.

—Abigail Crocker

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