March 24, 2008

Architecture Students Celebrate Dragon Day

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The smoke that rose up from the Arts Quad was visible to anyone whose eyes were turned to East Hill on March 14. As the remnants of a wire and paper-maché structure blackened the sky on a surprisingly warm afternoon, thousands of people cheered and chanted, played music and danced.
“Burn it down,” one yelled.
“Look at all that carbon monoxide,” another remarked.
This was the annual burning of the dragon — a 100-year old Cornell tradition upheld every year before Spring Break by first-year architecture students. Donning all black, they stood and watched the destruction of their creation, a project that they had spent many hours preparing.
The festivities had begun about an hour earlier when the architects, who had spent much of the night putting the dragon together, released a cage full of pigeons from atop their creation behind Rand Hall. The first years walked toward East Ave. while standing underneath the beast — a wire structure with a green, red and yellow covering. The head resembled a tangle of wires, with metal polls attached to control its movement. Scales, which moved up and down in unison, adorned the wooden neck. The students held the dragon up to control its movement.[img_assist|nid=28959|title=Artistic arson|desc=A crowd gathers on the Arts Quad to watch the annual dragon burning ceremony on March 14.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
With a mix of techno, rap, people beating on trashcans and a student blowing into a costume of various plastic tubes, the precession down East Ave. began. Upperclassman architecture students — decked out in costumes — surrounded the first years’ creation, dancing and making debauchery. Among the most outlandish of the costumes were a spy vs. spy duo (the notorious black and white characters from Mad Magazine), a cardboard robot and a shower. Others dressed up as Coca Cola bottles and some dressed up as sperm. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people lined the streets; yelling at, clapping for and taking pictures of the monster. As well, they partook in the annual tradition of comparing the dragon to previous years.
“It’s definitely more impressive than last year,” said Sam Mullen ’10, a spectator who chronicled the event photographically. “I like that the dragon moves this year,” he added, referring to the beast’s flapping wings and waving scales.
Marty Schibler ’08, an architecture student who was dressed up in gold spandex, agreed that this year was a good one for the dragon.
“It was a decent looking dragon,” he said. “It wasn’t as articulate as the one two years ago, but this one was definitely good.”
The dragon made its way down East Ave. where it made a right on Campus Road and moved towards the Engineering Quad.
This is where things got ugly. Emerging from the quad was a red and orange colored phoenix, guided by engineers, walking into the street to block the dragon’s path. A verbal attack ensued, with architects yelling “engineers suck,” and engineers yelling “architects suck.”
“This is so random. It’s one big freak show,” remarked engineering student Mike Houle ’11, an onlooker who was assigned to write a paper about the event for his writing seminar.
Finally, the battle ended, and one architecture student who was holding up the beast yelled, “The dragon has defeated the phoenix.” And with that, the beast, flanked on either side by policemen, made its way towards its final destination.
The dragon continued down Campus Road, turned right onto Ho Plaza, and came to the Arts Quad. The clock tower chimes played with a crowd standing at the top looking down on the procession. People could be seen sitting on the roof of Goldwin Smith, hanging from trees and running in droves, all to get a glimpse of the creature. A blocked-off space near Rand and Sibley Halls was allotted as the dragon’s final resting place, and where the first years shed the weight of the beast. Upperclassmen took off their costumes and threw them on top of the creation, where they were all subsequently torched.
With the burning of the dragon came a sigh of relief from the first-years, whose many hours of work on the project were over.
“It’s fun during the day, but it’s a lot of work,” said Roza Matveeva ’08, one of the less dressed-up upperclassmen, who participated in making the dragon four years ago. “The [first years] have been here all night. It’s nicer on the outside.”
The upperclassmen, on the other hand, take advantage of dragon day to have fun, according to Schibler. Friday morning, the seniors threw five parties throughout Collegetown and campus, each with a different type of breakfast food and alcoholic drink. The parties were scheduled so that people would go from one to the next for the five hours leading up to the main event.
On the whole, most agreed that Dragon Day had an air of happiness about it. Architecture students and onlookers of all ages had smiles on their faces as the annual tradition played out.
“It was a great time,” Anna Barker ’10 said. “It’s one of those unique traditions that makes you realize you’re going to Cornell, and not any other school. It really made me proud to be a Cornellian.”
One engineering student, however, seemed less than happy by the day’s festivities.
“I have a problem set to do,” said John Wang ’10.