First-year architects go for Dragon Day record

March 14, 2013

Focusing on color, rather than conflagration, first-year architecture students are hoping to create a memorable, inspiring, and possibly record-breaking Dragon Day experience March 15.

In past years, the dragon built by the architects for the annual spring rite was consumed by flames on the Arts Quad. This year, the creature "will transform during the parade, and the rest is a surprise," says John Lai (B.Arch. '17), copresident of Dragon Day.

"With the environmental safety restrictions, even having a very small fire would cost us $5,000, so we're letting it go," Lai says. "One of our many slogans this year is 'Remix to Ignition.' We had to find a way of closing off the ceremony without really igniting it."

Dragon Day adviser Brian Beeners adds: "It's such a challenge for these kids, since we don't have the burn anymore. They're being imaginative about it."

As of Tuesday, about 20 of the 53 first-year students were actively involved in Dragon Day preparations — design and construction of the dragon, t-shirt sales, and creating murals and other artwork — "and the entire class will eventually contribute," Lai said.

"As [their classmates] see what's going on, they get excited," Beeners says.

One of the oldest traditions at Cornell, Dragon Day dates to the turn of the 20th century and originally marked St. Patrick's Day and the coming of spring to campus.

The dragon this year — all geometric forms, steel and wood framework, and linen skin (donated bedsheets, gathered from 50 hotels in the region) — is shaping up to be the longest ever.

"It's going to be 100 to 120 feet by the time we're done; we're trying to break the record," Lai says.

The unofficial record, Beeners says, "was 120 feet in '98. The head itself was 23 feet long, and the students had to carry it a record distance."

The architects have also been donning costumes and pulling pranks, as a way of goading their first-year counterparts among the engineers to engage with them, and in the tradition, with a phoenix to challenge the dragon.

"We're trying to push them a little bit," Lai says. "We put up posters on Ho Plaza yesterday, and we a hung a few red rubber chickens as an art installation on the Engineering Quad."

"We've been leaving breadcrumbs, with some of our early murals, and the colors we chose for the t-shirts," says Tak Johnson (B.Arch. '17) one of the dragon's designers. "We wanted to emphasize color. We wanted the dragon to sort of act as the basis for everything else. As a group, we really wanted to act as the catalyst for other things to happen. We wanted people to be more involved and be inspired, both ourselves and spectators."

The 2013 Dragon Day Parade begins March 15 at 1 p.m. on University Avenue behind Rand Hall, proceeds down East Avenue to Campus Road, then turns toward Ho Plaza and the Arts Quad.

"So much of the dragon is steeped in legend," Beeners says. The longtime AAP shops employee should know; he's been here 26 years.

"By the time I retire, I will have seen a quarter of all the dragons built, in the 110-year history of Dragon Day," Beeners says. "In 1999-2000-2001, it was a lot of carousing in the streets. In 2001, it snowed, and a huge snowball fight broke out after the parade. I'm glad it's something I'm now happy to have my children come to."

By Daniel Aloi, Cornell Chronicle

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