Architecture students' Moscow trip inspires pavilion housing their memories

December 16, 2011

Cornell Chronicle — Architecture students traveled to Russia this fall as part of a group studio project to inspire new ways of looking at culture formation. To reflect their experiences, they produced a variety of work ranging from graphic arts, films, and design objects to a small pavilion near Milstein Hall.

Led by visiting assistant professor of architecture Aleksandr Mergold and visiting critic Alexander Brodsky, a Russian architect and artist, the 15 students in the Third Way Studio went to Moscow Oct. 19 and gathered images and impressions of the city, its history and its culture. Their resulting projects were incorporated into pavilions "small buildings with large consequences." The students produced collages, films, sculpture, models, postcards, and posters, and built an outdoor pavilion containing a "peepshow" exhibition of 22 dioramas installed in an unused shipping container.

Taken together, their individual work cohered as a collective effort of cultural production. "For an advanced architecture studio, it was a different experience," Mergold said. "We knew we would do three pavilions, and we knew we were going to go to Moscow, but we were not going to work on a specific site or solve a specific problem."

The first project, The Pavilion of Ignorance, produced before the Moscow trip, embodied 15 short films, showing a city and its history without explanation, via a "walk through a nonexistent place, and an exhibit one knows little about." The Pavilion of Impressions was constructed in Moscow's Gorky Park, as a "folly" a building existing only as decoration in collaboration with students from the Moscow Architecture Institute and the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, where Milstein Hall architect Rem Koolhaas helps coordinate a research program.

Pavilion No. 3, The Pavilion of Reflections, gathered their collective memories of Moscow into one structure on the Cornell campus. Students transformed a shipping container that had sat in the parking lot behind Sibley Hall since 2010 into a "communal apartment of memories" by building an enclosure for it and, inside, creating a battery-powered exhibition of projected videos and selected images and objects, viewable through standard door peepholes.

Mergold and Brodsky also contributed their own impressions to the exhibition. "This trip was less about visiting cultural tourist sites than about expressing the culture behind it," said Varvara Larionova '12, a native of Moscow who created two dioramas for the final exhibition. The studio's collaborations, contacts and itinerary in Russia were coordinated and assisted by alumna Ksenia Chumakova (B.Arch. '09), who works for Brodsky in Moscow and served as a teaching assistant for the studio.

The studio's exhibition text describes the peepshow as "Our memories of Moscow perceptions, impressions, recollections, neither precise nor correct. A false and beautiful masque of imagined realities." AAP faculty were invited to a Dec. 5 reception in Milstein Hall where the studio's work was displayed, overlooking the peepshow pavilion outside. Mergold said the reception intentionally felt more like an exhibition opening than a traditional formal review of the studio's work. Hot cider and Russian chocolates and pastries were among the refreshments served. "There is a critique of architectural education, between the old-school camp and the new digital formalism," Mergold said. "We called it The Third Way Studio also for this reason." The "Third Way Studio Peepshow" exhibition in Pavilion No. 3 is open to the public until Dec. 16, Mergold said. Brodsky also has an exhibition of etchings through Jan. 13 in the Milstein Hall gallery.

By Daniel Aloi

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