$1.4 million Mellon grant will support collaborative studies in urbanism

January 10, 2013

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $1,462,000 to Cornell for a pilot program offering collaborative studies in architecture, urbanism, and the humanities.

The project’s two concurrent seminar series — Urban Representation Labs, dedicated to research on Cornell collections of urban-themed materials; and Expanded Practice Seminars, dedicated to research on global urbanism through the study of contemporary cities — will be administered by the colleges of Arts and Sciences and of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP).

Each seminar series will enroll graduate and upper‐level undergraduate students from design and humanities majors.

Six contiguous terms of seminars from spring 2014 through fall 2016 will be followed by a final colloquium in spring 2017. The program’s oversight committee — AAP Dean Kent Kleinman; Timothy Murray, director of the Society for the Humanities; University Librarian Anne Kenney; and Stephanie Wiles, director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art — will convene planning meetings with faculty this semester.

“This program is intended to bring together design and humanities students and faculty to think deeply about the city and its many representations as a kind of grand text of human desire and aspiration,” said Kleinman, the project’s coprincipal investigator with Murray. “For this multifaceted program to succeed, we will seek the participation of urban scholars from across the humanities and the design arts and sciences.”

The project will leverage Cornell’s strong academic programs in the humanities and in architecture and urban design.

Both seminar series are conceived as “complementary yet distinct approaches to the integration of humanist studies and design methodologies” — a dual track promising “to yield significant lessons and provide important guideposts for future pedagogy,” according to the project proposal.

Initial planning meetings will seek to formalize 2013–14 seminar offerings; establish selection processes and criteria to appoint faculty; develop student selection criteria; scope and secure curatorial and archival support and logistics; coordinate communications and activities with collateral partners; and develop a website and print materials.

A digital tools staff person will work with the planning group to prepare workshop modules on key visualization tools and to support seminar faculty and students who may not be familiar with design methods and tools.

In fall 2013, the inaugural Expanded Practice Seminar theme will be identified by the planning group, the seminars announced, and students and faculty recruited and selected for the following spring’s seminar. Prospective faculty nominations will be solicited among internal and external scholars.

The first Urban Representation Lab theme will be identified by spring 2014 and students and faculty recruited and selected for lab seminars starting that fall. The process would continue for the next two yearly cycles.

Expanded Practice Seminars will be thematically aligned to an Expanded Practice Studio, a hallmark of Cornell’s graduate architecture curriculum that is “explicitly structured to address meta‐issues in global urbanism that challenge narrow conceptions of design practice. … sites are identified that embody a specific material/cultural issue under investigation,” the proposal states.

Student selection will be competitive and modeled on the Society for the Humanities’ selection process for its graduate fellowship program. Students will be expected to submit a brief research proposal for review by an interdisciplinary faculty panel.

“We are very honored by Mellon’s endorsement of this collaboration between the humanities and AAP, which will provide the most innovative faculty and graduate students in the humanities with an opportunity to work in dialogue with their peers in architecture on the general topic of ‘cities,’ on which Society for the Humanities fellows have focused their research,” Murray said.

By Daniel Aloi, Cornell Chronicle

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