The Dean's Letter

January 24, 2022

"Acts of Imagination"

Dear AAP community —

Welcome back, everyone — to a new year and semester ahead. And a year that will challenge us to imagine our college and indeed our world renewed and anew.

Over the winter break, I had the opportunity to reflect on what I saw in the college at the close of our 2021 semester. Throughout the final week of classes and reviews, our community's creativity, imagination, and willful optimism were palpable — from work on the walls to discourse in the room to actions on the ground. I saw students grapple with the ecology of dust, turn vacant parking lots into a network of public programs and spaces, reimagine cities in response to sea-level rise, invent new digital tools to advance sustainable design practices, and paint with dirt. A view into such a rich cross-section of what philosopher and writer Bruno Latour would call the "matters of concern" of our time, of our disciplines, and of our college, in real-time, with the uncanny resonance of shared ideas, interests, hopes, and purpose —  provided a glimpse into the future. And offered perspective that reverberated and reaffirmed who we are, what we do, and all we can do. I also had the time and space to (finally) finish Kim Stanley Robinson's cli-fi novel, Ministry for the Future, and as I read his meditation on the convergence of ideology and science at imagination, speculating: "There is a real situation, that can't be denied, but it is too big for any individual to know in full, and so we must create our understanding by way of an act of the imagination," I thought about our community and our future.

Acts of radical, constructive, civic, and collective imagination are what enable us at AAP to change the "real situation," — natural and built environments at every scale, public and cultural life in our places and spaces, the social fabric of our communities, and the world and future we share. We create, deepen, and re-create our understanding of our real situation by looking back as we look forward from where we stand today.

As our Department of Architecture celebrates its sesquicentennial, and our Department of Art marks its 100th anniversary this academic year, we can look forward to a series of events that recognize our foundations, our community, and our creative practices as they have evolved for a century or more. This spring's Preston Thomas Memorial Symposium, Breaking Ground(s), will frame a three-part conversation inviting scholars and designers to disrupt and expand notions of origins, critical design practices, and innovations in architecture pedagogy. In addition, the Department of Art will host a panel and public discussion of the synergistic relationship between art practice, critical thought, and public life in art education. Also with our anniversaries, we will launch the AAP Alumni Archive that honors and gives greater access to the life's work of a selection of alumni from across the college who graduated from the 1940s through the 1980s. I look forward to sharing more information about a number of celebratory anniversary events and gatherings for faculty, staff, students, and alumni soon, so please stay tuned.

In City and Regional Planning, we officially welcome Professor Sophie Oldfield to the department and chair position this semester. Sophie comes to Cornell from Cape Town, South Africa, where she taught for many years (with a dual appointment at University of Basel) as an expert in urban studies, and where she was recognized for community-based research and teaching. We look forward to her leadership and the insights she will bring to AAP.

Looking further ahead, we have several social impact searches underway that will be transformative for our college. The search for Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity and Equity at AAP is progressing and will bring candidates for campus visits in early spring. In addition, three faculty positions — one in each department — focused on equity, justice, and identity will bring critical expertise, expanded knowledge, and perspectives in city planning, the built environment, and artistic practice. Two CIVIC searches, one in art and one in planning, are also ongoing. As part of the university's Radical Collaboration Initiative, these positions are designed to build on points of intersection between art, planning, and the humanities in the areas of public life and media. Finally, this spring will also see the launch of a search for two inaugural Strauch Fellows under AAP's Broadening Participation Program. These fellowships support early-career scholars and practitioners to provide robust pathways for diverse and impactful faculty in our disciplines.

At AAP, we understand that acts of imagination and inquiry set agency into motion, making it possible to re-imagine the world, re-frame problems, and effectively re-define "normal" — all while looking at how we might restore not so much the way things were but rather how they could be as we move our future forward.

For additional updates about the many goings-on in our departments — new course offerings, resources, and more initiatives continuing to advance across the college, please read AAP's spring 2022 highlights article.

Thank you for all you have done, and in advance, for all we will do together in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.



J. Meejin Yoon
Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning


Contact Office of the Dean

129 Sibley Dome
Phone: (607) 255-9110
Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Previous Letters from the Dean

"Knowledge At Its Best"

January 22, 2024

Sharing Gratitude

December 14, 2023

Hope for the Possible

August 21, 2023

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