Political action and its relationship to the printed page is the subject of an afternoon event at Columbia University on Friday, March 27, at 12:00 p.m. Three young architecture historians—Samuel Johnson, Simon Sadler, Meredith TenHoor—will present their research on artists, architects, and other creatives who use the printed page as a platform to advance positions in both thought and design. Felicity Scott of Columbia will respond and discuss how print becomes a site of spatial politics. The event will take place in GSAPP’s Ware Lounge. More info here.
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Amale Andraos, principal of New York–based architecture firm WORKac, has been named dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), succeeding Mark Wigley. Currently on faculty at GSAPP, she has also taught at Princeton, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the American University in Beirut. "Columbia is just an incredibly exciting place that's always been on the forefront of the profession," Andraos told AN. "It's an incredibly diverse and experimental place. I want to maintain and expand its role as a think tank for global practice." “An inspiring teacher, a respected colleague, and a pioneering practitioner whose innovative commissions in cities around the world have earned widespread admiration, Amale is a new leader among a rising generation of creative architects and designers of our physical environment,” said Columbia president Lee Bollinger in a statement. “She is just the kind of person who can further expand the role of the School as a center of interdisciplinary thinking across Columbia about how to develop a more just and sustainable society.” While Wigley was best known as a theorist, Andraos has balanced both teaching and practice. "We think of ourselves as a design research firm. For us teaching and practice inform one another," she said. WORKac has completed numerous projects including the Blaffer Museum in Houston, the Children's Museum of Arts in Manhattan, and the Edible School Yard project at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn. They won the MoMA P.S. 1 Young Architects Program in 2008. The firm is currently working on a conference center in Libreville, Gabon and they recently completed a master plan for seven new university campuses in China. In a profession that is still plagued by diversity issues and gender disparities, Andraos is one of an increasing number of women deans and directors. Running a school as prominent as Columbia, though, she will arguably be one of the most influential women in American architecture.
Mark Wigley, pictured, is stepping down as Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, a role that he has held for the past decade. Wigley, a New Zealand–born architect and author, will continue his position through the academic year. Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, made the announcement through email, affirming that “in every context, [Wigley] has represented the School and the institution in ways that make us all proud to be part of such a vibrant place.” (Photo: Courtesy Columbia)
Forget for a moment that President Obama bumped the New York Times’ Jill Abramson from the dais to deliver this year’s commencement address at Barnard and not his alma mater, Columbia College. Tonight, the Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman will be delivering a lecture at Barnard's Diana Center, titled Public Space and Public Consciousness. However, a busy Kimmelman also appeared last night at GSAPP, for a conversation with Columbia Professor Gwendolyn Wright. Kimmelman addressed growing criticism of his focus on the city as a whole as opposed to addressing architecture as buildings, by reminding the audience that he’s only been at the gig for four months and still had plenty to address. He said he had hoped to create a more porous and fluid forum for debate about the city and architecture, through blogs and reader commentary—but that the resources to edit and filter comments at the newspaper are thin, and there was a concern that the blog could be “taken over by crazy people.” He added that Ada Louise Huxtable remains the model for dealing with citywide and policy issues alongside architecture. “A false dichotomy has been set up; there’s this idea that writing about urban affairs and architecture are separate,” he said. “They’re part of the same world.” He acknowledged the criticism. “When is he going to write about…” he parroted an oft-asked question. “...architecture,” Wright finished—before concurring that the same problem exists in academia where a distinct line is drawn between social history and architectural history. Unsurprising for a former European corespondent, he invoked Rome and suggested that rather than looking at Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI as a sculptural object, he could address its Bilbao-esque intentions. MAXXI may have been positioned as a game changer for an underdeveloped Roman neighborhood, but infrastructural changes needed to be in place to make any real difference. The same thing goes, he contended, at the High Line, whose success now has James Corner getting calls from far flung cities to order up their own High Line that will transform the neighborhood. Kimmelman said such high-profile works of architecture and landscape design are but capstones to what was essentially a very long haul addressing infrastructural and government processes that have little to do with architecture. “It creates the illusion that architecture alone can make a change,” he said said of Gehry's Bilbao. “There was lots of structural and social engineering that preceded the building.” After the event, he spent almost an hour talking with students about sites and projects in New York. Public Space and Public Consciousness will be delivered at 6PM tonight at the Event Oval in the Diana Center.
It might have been the first time that the works of Jay-Z, Malice, and Nas were evoked under the great dome of Columbia’s Low Library, but given the trend among young academics to cite rap alongside Socrates, it’s probably won't be the last. That the quotes were used in the panel discussion called “Suburbs, Cities and Crisis,” spoke to a slightly skewed perspective of discussing the suburbs within the confines of Manhattan. The panel discussion was held last Saturday by GSAPP and Temple Hoyne Buell Center to compliment the the Foreclosed exhibit at MoMA. CUNY’s Setha Low was joined by Robert Fishman of University of Michigan, Superfront’s Mitch McEwen, and Newark’s Urban Design Chief Damon Rich. McEwen compared Jay-Z’s “exalted freedom” within housing projects to that of Nas’s lack of hope impressions. Given the content, it might seem safe to believe McEwen was referring to conditions in the inner city, but she pointed out that the “suburb as ghetto” isn’t that far from current reality. She noted Parisian suburbs are experiencing the trend, but so are the Oranges of New Jersey. The show at MoMA responds to demographic and economic trends that were exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis. “Architects are repositioning to undo this violent work that we as architects and planners have undertaken,” said Rich. “The built environment helped create the crisis.” Rich also addressed criticism that Forclosed show was too theoretical. “It takes a theory to makes something happen,” he said. Later when the discussion opened to the floor, the general consensus was that theoretical work done at the architecture school often gets dismissed by the schools of economics, business and international studies—the very audiences architects need to engage. “How do we hitch them so that we do connect reality to theory,” he asked. “If the folks in development told us what research to do we wouldn’t have parametrics,” quipped McEwen. Fishman said that perhaps developers should have paid more attention to work coming out of architecture schools. “The economics didn’t take into consideration that the demographic movement was going back to the core,” he said. He added that the subdivisions promoted sprawl, and while they may have been cheap to build, developers never factored in eventual transportation costs. Quite often when developers do consider design a factor it's not always top notch. He cited advertising for Toll Brothers that trumpet “award winning design” but never tell you what award they won. Low encouraged the theoretical approach provided it kept in mind "the people holding the bag" of the foreclosure crisis. "There's a material reality that ripped us apart," she said.
The first panel of this week's conference at Columbia's GSAPP, "Permanent Change: Plastics in Architecture and Engineering," got down to business a few minutes late on Thursday morning. After a brief welcome, Dean Mark Wigley ceded the floor to Michael Bell, the first speaker in the line-up for "The Emergence of Polymers: Natural Material--Industrial Material." But the pace picked up as Bell and subsequent presenters took listeners on an intense romp through the role of plastics in architectural history, providing background for the nine panels to follow through Friday evening. While each presentation had a distinctly different focus, there were a few standby slides that popped up in more than one powerpoint. The Vinylite House from the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 made repeat appearances, the Smithson's House of Tomorrow got props from more than one presenter, and Mansanto's House of the Future at Disneyland took the prize for most mentions. We got a chance to sit down with one presenter after the panel discussion. Billie Faircloth is the research director at KieranTimerberlake in Philadelphia. In her presentation she discussed sifting through more than 75 years worth of architecture journals. "I was interested in understanding how a material emerges as a building material," she said. "And with plastic it was possible because of its relatively short history, unlike masonry." Faircloth scoured library bookshelves and her own collection of trade journals. She used a "transect" method of collecting data. For a scientist studying a particular species in the field, transecting means that the researcher maintains a fixed path to observe the number of times the species appears. In this case, the path was paved with twelve architectural journals. "The only way to track this was through the architectural press and journals," she said. "I thought of them as a set of evidence. One can get a front row seat to a very narrow venue." The first mention of plastic was in a journal from 1933. Journals from 1954 to the early 1960s yielded the most data, as by that time the National Academy of Sciences was pushing for research on plastic use within the field of architecture. MIT, the University of Michigan, Illinois Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis all held conferences on the subject and the architectural press was on hand. The variety of plastics in Faircloth’s study included dozens of trade names and distinct chemical compositions, but all fell under the deceptively simple moniker: plastics. “They’re really thousands of materials, but for convenience we use only one word,” she said. For the early period of the study, only 25 varieties of plastics were named; by the early 21st century, that number ballooned to 134. But alongside all the cross-references and transects (all beautifully mapped), Faircloth began tracking repeated words and phrases. She compiled yet another list. “Three phrases were repeated, no matter time or disposition of the author,” she said. “'Plastics are difficult to decipher.' 'Plastics are not substitute materials.' 'Plastics are the future.'”
On September 28, the first round in a series of debates on the future of computational design kicked off at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Under the heading Post-Parametric, the first debate was co-chaired by David Benjamin, partner at The Living design studio and director of GSAPP’s Living Architecture Lab, and Michael K. Reed of Columbia’s Department of Computer Science and Blue Sky Studios. Focusing on the subject of data, the event brought Casey Reas to the table with Chuck Eastman, and the result, one might say, was a technical knockout. Reas, a professor at UCLA’s Design Media Arts department and cofounder of the programming language called Processing, opened by demonstrating the power and versatility of Processing, with an emphasis on its role as a collaborative, open-source, and altogether egalitarian venture. Even to an audience familiar with his work, the fluidity with which he moved from code to geometry and back again was dazzling. This was a hard act to follow. A couple of slides into the presentation by Chuck Eastman, professor of architecture and computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of the BIM Handbook, the BIM models of courthouse projects presented by Eastman had students slowly filtering out of the auditorium. Perhaps the inadvertent message of the students’ exodus suggests that scripting is perceived as spontaneous, exciting, and anti-establishment, whereas parametric modeling, stripped of its “wow factor,” is now becoming an extension of the corporate machine—the ideal tool for making the design of prison cells and judges’ chambers more efficient. (Eastman’s last slide was a collage of the design-office-turned-war-room of the future, where all data imaginable is displayed simultaneously on large monitors for ultimate control.) During the roundtable, co-chair Benjamin tried to head off this simplistic and polarizing reading by asking why the language of Processing couldn’t be a model for a more intuitive way of visualizing the kinds of data that BIM attempts to manage. Great question. But apparently a difficult one to answer. While Processing has made its way into a fair number of avant-garde architecture programs, the kind of code that Reas is interested in couldn’t be further from the building codes that BIM was designed to measure. Reas’ art is a personal and subjective exploration of the relationship between natural and digital language, computer simulations, and still images; Eastman’s work is focused on the objective assessment of data for the purpose of testing the efficiency of building systems. Bridging these two speakers would have required at least one or more additional panel members whose work straddles both worlds. I suspect that, from their absence, they are still hard to find.
Last night Rafael Moneo, Madrid-based architect and Harvard Graduate School of Design professor, kicked off Columbia’s third annual conference on architecture, engineering, and materials with a keynote lecture on his Northwest Corner Building, a new interdisciplinary science facility between Chandler and Pupin halls. This year’s conference is titled Post Ductility: Metals in Architecture and Engineering, and though Moneo’s building isn’t scheduled to be completed until the fall of next year, there may not have been a better time to discuss its materials or its contribution to the campus. Unfinished, the building can be seen as the engineering marvel that it is, with 300 tons of structural trusses enabling it to float above the gym beneath it. (Here's a video we posted of them being installed.) Fitting neatly with the conference’s theme, Moneo’s discussion of interpreting what McKim, Mead, and White would have wanted for a New York campus in this century presented the building as less of a departure and more of an entrance. To critics who would say the building doesn’t meld with the university’s architecture, he cautioned, “Use of a material doesn’t guarantee the true continuity you are looking for.” The Post Ductility conference runs through Friday and will conclude with a discussion by GSAPP dean Mark Wigley, and Werner Sobek, Steven Holl, and Matthias Schuler. Next year's conference theme is slated to be Polymers: Plastics in Architecture and Engineering.
We know you love the gossip. AN aims to satisfy that itch in print, online, East Coast, West Coast, whatever, wherever, whenever. So here comes Eavesdrop to our blog so you can get it faster, feistier, anywhere you are. Plus, we will be posting Sara Hart’s online-only EAVESDROP ALERTs. But the real fun begins in the comments section, where you can lay on your own gossipy tidbits. And Sara will be sure to respond. For Whom the Buell Tolls There are some whispers coming from the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Our ears immediately perked up, because we never hear anything much from that stone corner of the academic groves. Founded in 1982, the center’s first director was Robert A.M. Stern, who was followed by Gwendolyn Wright, Richard Buford, Joan Ockman (who stepped down about a year ago), and Reinhold Martin, who currently holds the post. The whispers have it that Professor Martin is changing the center’s mild mission to a more politically left-leaning agenda. Some female members of the 12-person board of advisers are also miffed that he’s held boys-only dinners, like a recent bash with board members Peter Eisenman, Stern, and GSAPP Dean Mark Wigley. Could another Penguin Club be in the making? Furniture Fanfare? So, was this year’s ICFF a bust? It depends on whom you ask. One exhibitor told Eavesdrop that traffic to his high-profile booth was off 50 percent from last year, and noted a dearth of posses from the architectural giants. Not so, said PR maven Beth Dickstein. Her math suggests that while some huge manufacturers bowed out this year, there were more smaller exhibitors, and overall the quality of the goods was better. As sales and marketing consultant to the show’s producer, George Little Management, she admits that overall attendance was down about 12 percent. But, she cites numbers from major exhibitors—including Pablo, Chilewich, and Trove—who claim to have written big orders from big firms with big projects. And Make Ours a Double Here’s a twist on surviving the recession. Gensler associate Judy Cheung brought a new client called Flex Mussels to the firm. Her reward was getting laid off. Now she’s a bartender at the Gensler-designed Upper East Side eatery that specializes in the aforementioned bivalve. Her current gig sounds more gratifying. And more tough breaks: A loss on the left coast could be an opportunity for an enterprising museum in the East. Brooke Hodge, the much-admired curator of architecture and design at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, was laid off along with several other staffers, with senior curators taking a 5% pay cut. Another casualty of the institution’s weak finances was Hodge’s long-planned show on Morphosis, now cancelled. Eli Broad, not surprisingly, is also involved. To get his $30 million bailout, the museum has to make good on spending cuts while redirecting its focus to the permanent collection. Send frites and oyster shooters to firstname.lastname@example.org [This originally appeared in AN 10_06.03.2009 (NY)]