November 8, 2000

Architecture Lecture Features High-Tech Link

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Amidst lights, wires and computer equipment, architecture professionals spoke yesterday evening in Sibley Hall as part of the Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture Series.

For the first time, the series featured an interactive teleconference between members of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Cornell’s Department of Architecture.

This second lecture and discussion of the year featured Deborah Fausch, art history, University of Illinois at Chicago, and prominent architectural theorist George Baird. They each presented their opinions on, “The ’70s: The Formation of Contemporary Architectural Discourse.”

Harvard University viewers enjoyed the well-attended lecture from their Piper Auditorium which is equipped to directly link with Cornell for the lecture series.

Fausch’s presentation focused on the work of architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown and their relevance to realist movements of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Using visual slides to illustrate her points, Fausch commented on the architects’ methods of urban planning, placement of street signs and parking area design.

“The problem people have found with Venturi and Scott Brown is how they turn realism into architecture,” Fausch said as she described the conflicts critics have with defining their work as realist or not.

“Once I was told by a professor … never to use the word realism,” Fausch said referring to past notions of the functional meanings of realism as opposed to abstract architecture.

George Baird, who presented during the lecture series in April 1999, focused on the difference between American and European architectural approaches and the interpretation of history by 1970s era architects.

Following the presentations, thanks to the technology, students at both Harvard and Cornell had the opportunity to ask questions concerning overall themes.

While these interpretations were the key to their presentations, the participants and viewers could not help but also be captivated by the new technological advances.

“By the time this series is over I plan to be a … cyborg,” Baird said while trying to adjust his microphone.

Baird was not the only person to notice the effects of the technological advances. While microphones sounded with feedback and connection with Harvard was sluggish, those who planned and coordinated the event noted that any problems during the lecture were not due to lack of hard work.

“It was a lot of work,” said lecture technology co-coordinator Ritsu Katsumata. “It was about three months of researching technology. We’re just pushing the limits of the technology, and we wanted to create a fully interactive environment for Harvard and Cornell. We really want to make it seem like everyone’s in the same room together.”

Katsumata noted the drawbacks of the technology. “I think they need to make the technology a little more user friendly,” Katsumata said.

The lecture series, initiated in 1976 is funded by a grant to the College of Architecture, Art and Planning in memory of Preston Thomas for whom the series is named. Thomas was a third year architecture student at Cornell when he died in an automobile accident.

“Much of what we are constructing here is the architecture world of which Preston was a part,” said Prof. Val Warke, architecture.

Warke added what he feels is the true importance of these lectures.

“I think that one of the things that is important is both Harvard and Cornell were the sites of some of the most critical events that happened in the seventies and that a lot of the people who have been in those places … seem to be very central to the arguments presented today,” Warke said.

The next lecture in the series will be held at Harvard University and presented at Cornell via link on Nov. 28.

Archived article by Carlos Perkins