Architecture seminar explores NYC’s "Common Ground"

August 12, 2009

Fourteen Cornell M.Arch.2 students held their final design research seminar this summer semester at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning’s New York City studio (AAP NYC).

M.Arch.2 is a three-semester-long, post-professional degree program for architecture students who have an accredited bachelor or master of architecture degree and typically have some professional experience. Students can choose one of five areas of investigation: discourse, urbanism, media, technology, or ecology.

The summer seminar was led by Visiting Assistant Professor Mark Morris, program coordinator, with participation from Cornell architecture faculty and invited critics based in New York City. Professors Christian Otto, Mary Woods, Henry Richardson, and Morris each led seminar modules treating diverse topics and visiting several locales across the city. Dr. Kathy Battista, education program director at Sotheby’s, organized her module around public art and architecture installations along the High Line. Lebbeus Woods with Christoph a. Kumpusch focused on examining urban life and themes inspired by various New York City locations. Woods is a noted architect and artist with an international practice based in the city. His drawings were credited, after an infamous lawsuit, for inspiring scenes of the film “Twelve Monkeys.”

"If we can interpret this common ground, we can interpret relevant but previously hidden dimensions of living in the city," Woods said. "This is the ground surface of streets, sidewalks, parks, plazas, and other — even informal — public spaces, comprising the ground plane we share with others we do not personally know."

During the two-week seminar, students studied ordinary city surfaces and environments — sidewalks, pavement, parks, noises, and markings on streets — that could be interpreted to help depict the rich and diverse lives and everyday scenarios taking place within the cityscape.

Manasi Pandey, from Gujurat, India, spoke highly of the seminar and the program as she presented "Ephemerality," a digital collage of photos depicting a new world emerging and disappearing on puddles of water as the water evaporates.

"During the one-year program, I was able to focus on my chosen discipline while investigating other interesting and relevant topics to push my experience and knowledge as an architect," she said. Pandey also acknowledged the assistance of financial support from the university.

For his interactive project "Body Politics," Texan Joshua Nason imagined a world without divisions or boundaries, where people and space bleed into one another to become one. Nason, who plans to teach architecture, said he was drawn to the program's "balance of structure and creativity and its strength in theory and criticism. I wanted a school that challenged me, and Cornell offered just that."

Morris said of the projects that emerged from the seminar: "This work was done inside of two weeks as a sprint rather than a marathon investigation, which should also impact [students'] studio work. It took some risks and brought the students intensely together. The diversity of work and its representation and exhibition in the AAP NYC space was robust. It was a dialogue useful to the evolution of the M.Arch.2 program and graduate architecture education in general."

Also joining the discussion were Miodrag Mitrasinovic, Urban and Transdisciplinary Design Chair at Parsons The New School for Design; Shannon Mattern, media studies and film professor at The New School; and Anthony Titus, professor at Cooper Union's Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture.

Adapted from an article by Sabina Lee

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