Selected Undergraduate Design Studio Projects--Thesis 2011-12

Explorations in Material Geometry - Rolando Vega, 2012 Coney Island: Shadows of a Spectacle - Andres E. Larrauri Two Places Are One–One Place is Two - Sean Gaffney, 2012

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Professors Anthony Vidler, Lydia Kallipoliti, Elisabetta Terragni & Stephen Rustow (with Kurt Forster, Fall and David Allin, Spring)

The Thesis studio is organized to support each Fifth Year student in the discovery of a broad topic of research and a valid axis of inquiry that will occupy the entire school year, gradually leading to a concisely defined project in the Spring term.  Pedagogically, the claim of the thesis, the refinement of an appropriate working method and the elaboration of a critical position with respect to the research are the most significant goals of the year.  This however in no way diminishes the enthusiasm and self-imposed pressure that students bring to the development of an architectural project that attempts to synthesize the year’s exploration.

The fall semester began with a series of brief “warm-up exercises” wherein the juxtaposition of a seemingly random group of buildings and objects was intended to help students extrapolate a plausible hypothesis along some clearly indentified line of inquiry. The semester was punctuated by a series of rich and suggestive lectures by Visiting Professor Kurt Forster, which provided a succinct overview of relevant methodological questions by tracing the evidence for an operative thesis in a series of projects by architects as diverse as Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.

As students began to determine their individual research agendas a broad range of subjects emerged; nevertheless, certain underlying similarities could be traced among groups of projects. For example, the significance of built or implicit axial relationships in the natural landscape was explored in settings as varied as the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas; the Australian desert site of the first continental telegraph; the regional habitats traversed by the transcontinental Canadian highway; and the trans-hemispheric latitudinal connection that juxtaposes the representational spaces of Lima, Peru with those of Washington D.C.  Similarly, a number of research efforts coalesced around the documentation of complex formal patterns in, for example, the traces of tools used both to map and to exploit the plains atop the Ogallala Aquifer; or the transposition of urban grid fragments to the geological strata of the Colorado plateau; or the random web of neighborhood sites where court witnesses have been murdered in Brooklyn. Yet another series of investigations sought to isolate the formal properties and generative potential of various architectonic fragments, in sources that range from the ecclesiastical structures of the French Gothic to the housing blocks of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Finally, a number of students began to experiment directly with specific materials and to examine their intrinsic formal qualities.

By mid-term review, students began to draw from their research a line of inquiry that would clarify the thesis as a concise claim and define the project to follow.  While the range of individual projects is ultimately as diverse as the students themselves, here again one may distinguish three broad types of proposals.  First there are those who posit their thesis as a project of documentation in which a deep understanding of a place, process or phenomenon in the real world will be presented in descriptive and analytical terms.  Their work has been focused on fashioning the set of documents and the hierarchical organization of material that most effectively conveys the narrative of their understanding. Next are those who see their project as a kind of experiment, or series of experiments, in which the creation of a controlled condition throws into relief the behavior of some variable. Their efforts are concentrated on refining the experimental procedures and the methods of observation so that some predictive understanding of behavior can be presented, whether the subject be light, structural stability or interactivity with virtual stimuli. Finally, there are those who are determined to push their inquiry to a conclusion in which a clear design project is discerned, with the questions of site, program, form and materiality all embodied in a suite of conventional architectural drawings and models.

In all of these theses there is strong evidence of structured design thought; taken together they document the breadth and diversity of interests that animate this graduating class.


Projects & Links

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.