Master's Program in Architecture Adopts New York City as a Classroom
Carla Jovenda Wijaya (M.Arch.II '16) spent her first semester in graduate school this summer exploring the neighborhoods of New York City, from Manhattan's East Side to the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.
Along with 24 other students in Cornell's post-professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch.II) program, Wijaya also helped develop plans for a hotel on Governors Island, brainstormed ideas for reinvigorating the city's waterfront, and considered ways to reuse abandoned industrial sites along the East River.
"The teachers use New York City as a lab," says Wijaya, a native of Indonesia. "As a tourist, I've looked at New York with brochures and a camera, but it's very different looking at it from the architectural studio class."
With a brand-new studio space for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning on the 20th floor of 26 Broadway, the M.Arch.II program kicked off its first semester with two months of classes that introduced students to current topics in its three concentrations: Architecture + Urbanism, Architecture + Ecology, and Architecture + Discourse. The one-year advanced design research degree is designed for students who have earned either a professional undergraduate or master's degree in architecture.
Taught by renowned designers and scholars drawn from both New York City and Cornell, the courses engage extensive on-site studies and tours. To understand the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy on New York City's waterfront, for example, the class performed detailed fieldwork on the Rockaway Peninsula to develop proposals for revitalizing the area.
"It really opens them up to a lot of diverse possibilities in the profession and field," says Jenny Sabin, the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Assistant Professor of Architecture, who is the director of the M.Arch.II program. "The intensive and collaborative studio environment sets them on a focused research track for when they come to Ithaca for the next two semesters."
In addition to touring New York City's landmarks, students in the program have the opportunity to visit architectural firms in the city, attend lectures by leading architects, and network with AAP alumni. This summer, the students visited open houses at leading design practices the first Friday of June and July through a program offered through the Architectural League of New York.
Events at the AAP NYC studio included lectures by architects Omar Yousef and Andres Jaque. A highlight of the program was a private tour of Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Led by MoMA's Jennifer Gray and organized by Associate Professor Esra Akcan, the tour was held when the rest of the museum was closed to the public. That evening at the AAP NYC studio, Barry Bergdoll, curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, participated in a panel titled "Writing Architecture of/in Latin America in a Global Context: A Discussion on Latin America in Construction," where he delivered a presentation on his experience cocurating the exhibition. Other panel participants that evening included Mary Kate O'Hare, the curator of the award-winning exhibition Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s–50s, held at the Newark Museum in 2010; and Zeuler R. M. de A. Lima, the author of the acclaimed biography Lina Bo Bardi (Yale University Press, 2013). Jim Williamson, visiting associate professor and director of the Bachelor of Architecture program, was the respondent and Akcan organized the panel.
"We encourage the students to engage in the broad range of cultural and professional resources that the city offers," says Robert Balder (B.S. URS '89), Gensler Family Sesquicentennial Executive Director of AAP NYC, who arranges the tours and visits to lectures in the city.
In addition to offering an overview of the program's concentrations, the summer semester builds a body of collective knowledge and support among the students before they move to Ithaca to pursue individual tracks of study, says Lily Chi, associate professor of architecture and coordinator of the New York semester.
"In the summer, the students have this amazing opportunity to make friends and to become intellectual and collaborative colleagues," Chi says. "They work very well together and tend to remain resources for one another well beyond New York City."
One student, Nicholas Doermann (M.Arch. II '16) says the combination of the curriculum in New York City and in Ithaca makes the program unique. "You have this intense experience in the city and then you go to Ithaca, where you have more time for reflection on your work," says Doermann, who has worked in New York City for the past five years. "I really like the fact that there's that balance, and I think that's incredibly important."
By Sherrie Negrea