March 12, 2003

Dragon Evolves With Architecture College

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The dragon will emerge on Central Campus again this week, but this year it will find that its surroundings are changing.

The 102nd Dragon Day at Cornell takes place on Thursday, and this year’s event comes at a time of serious transition in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP). While first-year architects are parading the dragon throughout campus to its fiery end on the Arts Quad, the college is facing changes in its leadership, curriculum and its home.

Reflecting the changing conditions of the college this year will be the dragon itself. Traditionally, first-year architects have built the dragon at Rand Hall under the supervision of Brian E. Beeners of the Rand shop. On the eve of Dragon Day, the architects toilet-paper the Arts Quad in preparation for the parade and subsequent burning the next afternoon. Brian Raby ’07, the president of this year’s Dragon Day festivities for the architects spoke of changing the look of the dragon for this year.

“This year is all about unique and different,” Raby said. “The changes are more for us to step away from the designs of the last 4 or 5 years. We wanted to start from scratch.”

Raby said that this year’s dragon would be much more fluid than previous versions.

“We wanted to focus on motion, so there is no hard shell,” Raby said. “We got rid of the Volkswagen chassis and the rigid structure.”

Architecture students and those in the other two departments in the college have had a year filled with uncertainty about their futures. Last July, President Hunter R. Rawlings and Provost Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin presented a proposal to dissolve the University’s smallest college, which was met with strong opposition by the students before it was ultimately rejected. The resolution raised issues over the cohesiveness of the curricula and the relationship between the three departments in the college.

Dean Porus D. Olpadwala described the action the college had taken to develop a more cohesive curriculum.

“There are two committees meeting through the spring, the Provost’s Committee on Curriculum and the Provost’s Committee on Strategic Direction,” Olpadwala said. “We are meeting with people from other departments and colleges that we should be dealing with and that we would like to be dealing with. The committees are working steadily, but there is no report yet.”

Another issue facing the college is finding a replacement for Olpadwala, who will step down as dean at the end of the spring semester in 2004. Olpadwala described the process for finding his successor.

“Provost Martin will form a search committee at the end of the spring semester this year,” Olpadwala said. Asked about his own future plans, he replied “Well, I have an administrative leave and a sabbatical, but after I take those I would very much like to return to my department to teach.”

The new dean will have the responsibility of overseeing the completion of Milstein Hall, the $25 million dollar replacement for Rand Hall, home of the architecture department. This project too has suffered many changes, as the University parted ways with original architect Steven Holl after a disagreement over the design and proposed budget for the building. The project is now in the hands of Barkow Leibinger Architects.

According to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for university relations, there is as yet no timetable for the construction of the new building.

“However, the faculty in AAP has had good interaction with the new architects,” Dullea said.

“Right now we are working on the schematics, which are rough plans,” Olpadwala said.

Olpadwala also added that the Barkow Leibinger architects were working closely with AAP faculty.

The significance of this year’s Dragon Day amidst all the change has not gone unnoticed.

“I hadn’t thought of the connection,” said Raby when asked about the possibility that this coming Thursday might have been the last Dragon Day under AAP. “But Dragon Day represents the unity of architects, and of AAP as a whole. It’s kind of nice, to have this unity with all of the students and faculty in Sibley.”

Archived article by Gautham Nagesh