Higher (ground) Education

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Columbia University is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York. Prior to 1896, Columbia university was known as Columbia College, and King’s College before that. In 1896, Columbia University attained it’s name that is still known today. Apart from changing the name in 1896, the University was also relocated from Madison Avenue to it’s current location in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. Traditional, higher education in itself has always been associated with social status, especially if it’s a private school where the embodiment of elitism is evident.

The new site for Columbia University’s relocation is next to Morningside Park. The park is 30 acres and occupies 110th to 123rd street between Morningside drive and Morningside Avenue at the border between Harlem and Morningside Heights. The characteristics of the natural geography of the park is a rugged cliff of Manhattan’s schist rock. The park was given birth as a cost-saving measure to avoid the expense of extending the street grid across the difficult terrain. This can be seen as a physically divide between the classes, where Columbia University and Morningside Heights are occupied by the upper class and have higher grounds, and East Harlem occupied by the lower class who seek refuge under the shadows of the cliff. Columbia University embodies the same ideals as the Greek temples, putting education on a plinth and celebrating it.

Furthermore, Morningside Park was the focus of the famous Columbia protest of 1968. The university was planning to build a gymnasium on the park as a joint project with the city, where the gymnasium would be used by the students of the university and the public of Harlem. However, in order to resolve the height difference of where Columbia and East Harlem is situated, there had to be two entrances to the building. One entrance opened to the African-American Harlem residences, while the other end opened to the predominantly white university.Protestors believed that the planned seperate East and West entraces amounted to an attempt to circumvent recent federal law that banned racially segregated facilities. The university denied that the project reflected racial bias but instead the gymnasium would benefit the surrounding community. The university later abandoned the project after several weeks of protest which resulted in the shutting down of the school during then.

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Seattle Public Library

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One of the most influential and aspiring architects today would be Rem Koolhaas of OMA, also the architect who designed the new architecture building at Cornell University, Milstein Hall. One of his recent works that has received endless compliments is his Seattle Public Library in the heart of downtown Seattle. Prior to designing the library, OMA’s designers and the library staff as well as the board of the library settled on two core position that helped design the library. The first is that books are technologies, although people often forget, but still its a form of technology that will have to share its dominance with any other form of truly potent technology or media. The second premise and perhaps more relavent to politecture is also the one that was intially difficult for librarians and the board of library to accept which is that library instead of being a place to share knowledge, had a secondary social role. Meaning that a library should be more than a place to read books, but also a meeting place and a place for people to hang out. At first the librarians argued that the social role of libraries is not part of their mandate and that their mandate is media, in particular, books. However, in the end, the board and the staff of the library was convinced that libraries do have a social responsibility and the that was the birth of the Seattle Public Library you see today. I believe that as architects, we have a responsibility to voice our opinions, and that is what OMA did in this project, they believe that libraries are more than just books and it is a meeting space for people regardless of age, gender, race, and social class. As a result, the lobby in the Seattle Public Library is actually called the “meeting room” and one can often see homeless people wandering in the library, because the libraries shouldn’t be a place that discriminates, especially with the attachment of “Public”. Similar to Olmsted’s idealogies of Central Park being a place where people regardless of social class and racial backgrounds can have access to.

Domes of Rome

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The relationship between Church and State during the medieval period went through many phases of development from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the reformation. The struggles for power between popes and kings shaped the western world as well as the Rome we see today. One may easily notice that the skyline of Rome is dominated by domes of churches and as picturesque as it may be, it is also extremelt political. Although, Rome now has a government system and is under State power, there are still reminiscence of Church ruling embedded in the city of Rome. In modern day Rome, building codes are implemented to restrain people from building over a certain height. The logic behind these building codes is to preserve the veiws of the domes which reflect the power of the Church. In Renaissance Rome, when most of the Churches were built, the dome was seen as the perfect shape and symbolized heaven; hence the dome was always the highest point of the church, always well lit, and almost always had painted frescos or mosaics of heavenly images. Although the State has authority over the state of Rome, the churches’ domes act as a constant reminder of the sturggle of power between Church and State.

America Changed the Man who Changed American Modern Architecture

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This building you see was designed by arguable one of the most influential architect to date, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, or more commonly known as Mies. Mies along with Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius are widely regarded as the pioneers of Modern architecture. Mies and many of his post WWI contempories, sought to establish a new architectural style that would represent modern times just as Classical and Gothic architecture did for their times. His style of design was extreme clarity and simplicity, and using modern materials like industrial steel and plate glass. He strived for a type of architecture with a minimal framework of structure which would suggest the freedom of open space; he called his buildings “skin and bones” architecture.

Although we all hail his iconic structures in Chicago as symbols of our democracy, we may be misunderstanding the greatness of Mies. While taking an architecture boat tour down the Chicago river, a visitor can learn that Mies escaped Nazi Germany and was gien amnesty in the United States to produce modernist architecture, that is so prominent in today’s Chicago skyline. Chicagoans readily embrace the notion that without open Democracy, modernism as we know it today may not have been given the chance to flourish. However, rarely is it mentioned that in 1934, four years before Mies arrived to the United States, he signed a motion in support of Hitler. His support of Hitler came out of his greed in wanting to be selected as the Architect of the State. We also rarely hear that these widely embraced modernist structure has a strikely similar attitude and design that Mies proposed to get shown alongside his 1935 competition entry for the German Pavilion at Brussels Word Fair, however, the ones he proposed was adorned with an eagle and a swastika.

While Mies cannot be blamed or held responsible for Hitler’s regime, we also cannot continue to perpetuate the myth that he is a politcal hero whose buildings represent pure democracy.

Architects as Politicians

If you think about it, architects and politicians are in many ways very similiar and being an architect is not very different from being a politician.

Both architects and politicians are responsible for a constituency if only on a moral level. A politician is responsible for the general public in the area he/she represents. In the architects case, the public who uses his/her building and will interact with it even at the mirco level of walking by it.

Both architects and politicians are criticized for being sellouts. In the architects case, he/she would be criticized for being a sellout when he fails to protect the public against the profit motivated intereste of wealthy developers. It is a tough decision to make between your career and the interest of the common good.For some architects, these choices are easier to make. For instance, David Child would be considered a sellout in the profession, he does everything to please the clients even if the outcome is an eyesore to the public. On the other hand, you have Lebbeus Woods, an architect who would not budge for clients and would only build what he designed, therefore, in most cases, his designs only exist on paper, but his dignity is still intact. For all other architects, its finding the balance between good and evil.

Similar to politicians, the more famous an architect you are, the harder you fall and the more scrutiny you’ll receive. Because of the fame, famous architects are held at a higher standard than the average Joe architect. As a politician, a laps in judgement like love affairs and using of illegal substance would mean an end to a career. For an architect, the love affairs and drugs are translated into water leaks, slanted floors, and other flaws in the buildings. These flaws can severely damage a famous architects career as they are constantly picked at by critics and the public.

Below is a link to an interview with David Robinson, an architect who went on to become a politian. Although the bulk of interview talks about policies he would change if elected, he does briefly talk about who there are parallels in architecture and politics and how a design assignment triggered his impulse to pursue politics.

http://offcite.org/2011/09/27/architect-as-politician-an-interview-with-david-robinson

Hyde (the) Park (from the poor)

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Although Hyde Park in London today is seen as a public park where you can find people from different social classes, this wasn’t always the case. In 1536, King Henry VIII acquired Hyde Park from the monks of Westminster Abbey. He tranformed the park into a private hunting ground by putting up wooden fences around the park and dammed up the river to create a drinking pond for the deers. From the birth of Hyde Park, one can associate it with being upper class. However, in 1637, Charles I changed the nature of the park completely by openning the park to the general public. During the Great Plague of 1655, many citizens of London abandoned the city and seeked refuge in the park in hopes of escaping the disease. However, Hyde Park has always been associated with class as it is a place where ‘summer visitors’ can gether on neutral ground for their casual meeting. The grass and trees created the feeling of home for these ‘country dwellers.’ Furthermore, the real estate prices around Hyde Park sky-rocketed and only the upper class could afford them. As a result it is easy to see that the upper class did not appreciate the fact that they had to share their front yard with the lower class.

To make matters worse, in 1851 the Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world displayed the latest technology developed in the industrial revolution. The upper class was affraid that the Crystal Palace would attract more lower class people who were trying to climb the ladder to wealth. Therefore, after the exhibiton which lasted 6 months, the Crystal Palace in the favor of the Parliament was forced to relocate. The Crystal Palace was disessembled and reconstructed on Sydenham Hill. The moving of the Crystal Palace illustrates the political divided between classes and is made even more evident when the Parliament (upper class politician) was in favor of the relocation of the Crystal Palace.

Robert Moses, the “Master” builder

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Robert Moses, also known as the “Master builder” is, if you ask any architecture professor at Cornell University would say he is one of the greatest modernist urban planners. After all, he is known as the “master builder” who changed shorelines, built bridges, tunnels and roadways, and transformed neighborhoods forever. Moses did his contribution to society, however, what the architecture professors may forget to mention is that Moses had many political agendas in his projects that reflects his insensitivity towards the lower-class and the non-whites. Perhaps his name “master builder” can be attributed to his racial characteristics. In Langdon Winner’s article “Do Artifacts have Politics?” we learn that artifacts can either inherently embody politics, or that a specific political agenda gives birth to an artifact. Robert Moses’ Jones Beach and the Long Island overpass bridges would fall into the category of the latter. Jones Beach is arguably Robert Moses’ best park many architecture historians would say, however, in order to arrive at Jones Beach, one would have to drive on the Long Isand Expressway, which was also designed by Moses. At the time of the creation of Jones beach in 1920’s, majority of public bus riders were Afircian Americans or lower class whites. As a result, Robert Moses designed the overpass bridge that went over the Long Island Expressway with a clearane of 8.5 feet with full knowledge that public buses were standardized at 12 feet. By designing these overpasses lower than the height of the public buses, Robert Moses kept the non-whites and lower class whites out of his precious Jones Beach. Furthermore, to make doubly sure that non-whites and lower class whites were kept out, he objected to having a LIRR stop at Jones Beach.