A giant metal dragon will parade from Milstein Hall to the Engineering Quad on Friday afternoon for the 117th Dragon Day celebration, the traditional spring break send-off that is the culmination of weeks of work by first-year architecture students.
This year, the team was challenged by the loss of the usual workspace in Rand Hall. In 2015, a car ploughed into the side of the building, and construction has rendered it unusable for the project.
Instead, most of the work had to be done in the foundry, a smaller building on University Avenue that overlooks the gorges. This new space put a literal ceiling on the dragon’s height, but did lead to one of the notable aspects, according to the construction team.
“People ask us how long it is and we just tell them it’s longer than the longest one. It’s gonna be long,” said Erin Huang ’21, co-president of the Dragon Day team.
Though the final form of the dragon has not yet been revealed, involved students gave some hints as to what students and faculty can expect besides the length.
“This year our theme is transparency. You’ll see it in the Dragon,” said head of the Dragon Day advertising team Justin Tan ’21, who declined to go into further detail.
Dragon Day’s roots trace back to “College of Architecture Day” in 1901. Since then, it has featured fire-breathing sculptures, war protests, outlandish costumes and brawls between architecture and engineering students.
Tan noted the outlandish history of the event, but expected a milder atmosphere this year due to more stringent administrative rules.
“They gave us all the rules going in so we basically had to design around what we had,” Tan said. “In the past it’s been pretty crazy … at the end they would burn their entire dragon.”
For such a large and well-known event, the responsibility of Dragon Day ultimately falls on the heads of only 58 first-year architecture students with little outside help and is funded entirely by t-shirt sales.
Jacob Swaim ’20, who was part of the Dragon Day team last year, said that older students are “absolutely not” involved in the process.
“It’s basically a surprise, we leave it up to them,” he said.
Despite the hands-off approach of older architecture students, Dragon Day has become a bonding experience and rite of passage for Cornell’s notoriously studio-bound and tight-knit ‘archies.’
“Since architecture is so small it’s like the second, third, fourth, fifth years have all gone through it so everyone is rooting for you, they buy your shirts, they come out and you see them in the parade,” Huang said.
As of noon on Thursday — exactly 26 hours before it was set to roll down East Ave — the dragon was still in various stages of assembly, with some of its components not even located in the same building.
Abram Collette ’21 said that construction typically went down to the wire in the past and predicted an all-nighter this year to finish on time.
“Last year they stopped building at 6 a.m.,” Collette told The Sun. “They build until the officers tell them to go.”
The dragon will be collectively pushed by the first-year students and will follow the now-established path of Dragon Day. The sculpture will leave Milstein Hall, work its way to the engineering quad and then proceed up Ho Plaza to the Arts quad.
According to Tan, the parade will be live-streamed through a link on the event’s Facebook page. It will also feature performance by Yamatai, a campus group that practices the Japanese drum style Taiko.
Upon reaching the Engineering Quad, the dragon will meet a rival phoenix built by engineering students in the Cornell Phoenix Society, a nod back to an intense Dragon Day rivalry.
As the construction team puts the final touches on their own Dragon, they intend to make their mark on a Cornell tradition that has lasted over a century.
Fernan Bilik ’21 summed up Dragon Day’s special meaning to AAP students: “Your dragon defines your year.”
The parade is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. Friday at Milstein Hall.