PRINCIPAL, WORKAC; DEAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY’S GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE, PLANNING, AND PRESERVATION
It’s a really interesting and exciting moment for architecture, but also urbanism and thinking about cities. I think that the school is at a kind of ideal place to think about both in terms of what the future holds. What I love about Columbia is that its DNA has always been very experimental—the school pushes the disciplines forward and sideways, and is also very engaged with the issues of the time. We really do that in terms of critical thinking, in terms of visualization, and how we represent the world. The question of visualization has become really key at this school—questions of thinking about scales of environment, from architectural scale, to the scale of the brick, to the scale of an entire city or landscape. How everything is tied together has been really important. In many ways, we pioneered the idea of global engagement and thinking about what a global practice looks like, how engaging with cities globally has reshaped the canon of the discipline. I think that our Studio-X program has been very exciting in that way. I’ve also really been thinking about questions of history and how we teach history, so I’ve really brought all these questions to the school. In architecture in particular, we’ve rethought the curriculum to push these questions forward in terms of urban thinking. At this moment there’s also the larger question about climate change, and how with our skills and tools we can make those questions visible and relevant.
Our WorkAC [L’Assemblée Radieuse] project in Gabon, the conference center, which was the result of winning an international competition, is under construction. We just completed a master plan for Weifang, in China, for seven university campuses with the Columbia team—Kate Orff from Scape and Jeffrey Johnson from SLAB—and Beijing-based architect Zhu Pei. And we are currently working on an invited competition for a new school that’s organized by Strelka [Institute] in Russia. Here in New York, we’re completing our first residential project, turning an existing building into residential units with an added penthouse. The project is called the Obsidian. We’re working with Knightsbridge Properties, and we’re excited about it. It should be completed at the end of the summer. We’re also continuing our work with Edible Schoolyard—the next one is under construction at PS 7. We won a big AIA Honors award for a competition entry for the Beijing Horticultural Expo of 2019 with the same Columbia team as the Weifang plan.
At WorkAC, we’ve always looked at architecture at the intersection of urbanism and ecology, and at finding ways to integrate architecture and landscape. My own teaching at Columbia, which look into the question of the Arab city, and questions of architecture and representation have also influenced the practice in terms of thinking about these questions in the context of today’s global practice. These are the questions right now.” —As told to Hally Wolhandler