January 23, 2013

Cornell Receives $1.4 Million Grant To Launch Seminars on Urbanism

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Hoping to allow humanities and design students to learn about urban design, Cornell will launch seminars about contemporary cities for undergraduate and graduate students in Fall 2013.

The University will fund the seminars with a $1.4-million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The seminars will specifically target students who are interested in urbanism — how a city’s inhabitants interact with the environment around them — according to Timothy Murray, director of the Society for the Humanities.

“This multi-year grant will allow a sustained and systematic exchange of perspectives, tools, theories and methods between disciplines that really have to work together to conceptualize … the mass urbanization of the world population,” said Kent Kleinman, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

The pilot program will consist of a “two-pronged approach” to studying urbanism, featuring two distinct seminar series, according to Murray. The Urban Representation Labs, one of the two seminar series, will allow students to study Cornell’s collection of urban materials in a  seminar-style setting.

The second seminar series, called Expanded Practice Seminars, will bring humanities students into design and architecture studios to research global urbanism. The students will also collaborate on traditional architecture and design projects, according to Murray.

The Urban Representation Labs will focus on art about cities, ranging from the hip-hop collection at the University’s libraries to paintings at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum that focus on the rise of the bourgeoisie, according to Kleinman.

The artwork, some of which is unique to Cornell, is valuable to understanding the contemporary city, according to University Librarian Anne Kenney.For example, Kenney noted that students will be able to view visual art and listen to hip-hop recordings that played an essential role in rebuilding the Bronx community, which was damaged by the construction of the Bronx Freeway in the 1960s.

“It was more than a hip hop phenomenon; it was a community-building phenomenon,” Kenney said.The second seminar series, the Expanded Practice Seminars, will benefit Cornell because it will use a hands-on, global focus and will ask students to take field trips to cities, Kleinman said.

“This direct confrontation with the urban condition will, I believe, ground the research in a kind of particularity and site specificity that is common in design fields,” he said.Murray said that the two seminar series reflect two different approaches to studying urbanism.“[The aim is] to provide a common pedagogical opportunity for the two communities to share their methods, observations and approaches to urban theory, culture and design,” he said.

Kleinman said that the seminars are important because they will immerse humanities students in studies of design.“Physical planning and architecture involve constructing material and spatial armatures to support social and cultural life,” he said. “You cannot undertake this task without deep reflection on the human condition.”

Humanities students will also benefit from learning about architecture because they will “experience the technical and conceptual training in digital design that architectural graduate students receive,” Murray said.

Furthermore, Kenney said, Cornell’s urbanism seminars will help “break down some of those silos between different disciplines” and bring “critical humanistic thought to tackling global issues.”

Original Author: Noah Tulsky