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Graduate Programs Spitzer

Unit System

Title 2020 Graphic

Welcome to the GPS, Graduate Programs Spitzer, and to the first year of the world-renowned Unit System. We're proud to be the first school of architecture in the US to roll out the ground-breaking teaching, research and design environment known as the Unit System, first developed at the Architectural Association in London in the 1970s. Listen, watch, consider your options and choose the Unit that you feel is right for you!

The Body's

Space

“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
— Walt Whitman
Jeremy EdmistonFabian LlonchNoneNoneNone
Unit Leaders: Jeremy Edmiston & Fabian Llonch
Image illustrating Unit 20: The Body’s Space

It is estimated that there are more microbial cells in the human body than there are human cells. If cell count is a unit of measure, then we are made of both the microbiota living in the environment around us and human biology. These invisible communities living within us and around us are part of our mood, our eating habits, and our health. By recognizing this relationship, how can we avoid designing adjacencies that lead to pandemics? With multitudes of life forms living within us, does identity derive from within or outside us? If the body is host, is it architecture? By investigating the body and its environmental relations, can we devise a manifesto for architecture? How shall we understand ourselves and our fluid relationship to the environment? Unit 20 will start by investigating a way of measuring or “seeing” the body, that is:

Body in movement (dance, ballet, capoeira, at play)
Body in armor (war, battle, costume, masks)
Body in the book (literary figures, narrative, storytelling)
Body and other bodies (protest, congregation, demonstration, urbanity)
Body in environment (land, forest, ocean, air)
Body in dwelling (house, home, belonging)

The Unit’s investigations are not only about human anatomy and ergonomics. They investigate the body as a device for thinking, feeling, understanding, and imagining its environments. Research will range from anthropometrics and biomechanics to fashion designs and artists’ investigations of space. We need to clearly express a statement of our time. Students in Unit 20 must take a clear path of investigation: from literature, science, music, and phenomenology; from metaphor to concept; from a map of intertwined human activity to literal environmental research.

Jeremy Edmiston is a principal at System Architects and an associate professor at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture. System Architects has won many awards including the AIA Wilkinson Award and the AIA New Housing New York Competition. Perhaps his most influential work is BURST*008, a prefab house commissioned and fully constructed by the Museum of Modern Art. Edmiston received his B Arch with honors from the University of Technology Sydney and an MS in advanced architectural design from Columbia University GSAPP.

Fabian Llonch is a principal of llonch+vidalle ARCHITECTURE (LLV) and an associate professor at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture. LLV has been recognized with national and international awards such as the Millennium Plaza at the Crossroads in Chicago, Illinois; Rock Bridge Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri (built); the West End Bridge Pedestrian Bridge, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Museums Connection in Cordoba, Argentina, as well as the Nuevo Centro Cultural Rafaela, Argentina. This competition-winning commission was built in 2014 and was awarded in the Biennale Internacional de Arquitectura in Cordoba, Argentina, and in the Bienal Iberoamericana in 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His projects have been exhibited in the United States, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Ecuador, and at the Venice Biennale (2018 and 2020) and have been published in magazines, newspapers, and books in Italy, Spain, Canada, Germany, Argentina, and in the United States, including three magazine covers. LLV monograph [Dis]PLACED was published in 2015. Fabian is currently working on his second monograph.

Unit 21

Spaces

of Exception

“Spaces of exception deviate from formal, social, cultural, and/or political norms of their surrounding contexts; they are spaces where one or more of the normal rules simply do not apply.”
Lindsey HarkemaHenry Marc GrosmanNoneNoneNone
Unit Leaders: Lindsey Harkema & Henry Marc Grosman
Image illustrating Unit 21: Spaced of Exception

Faced with novel circumstances, spaces of exception in which normative rules do not apply are the quickest to adapt; they become ground zeroes for alternative realities. Today, an ongoing global health crisis and national political reckoning demand a radical rethinking of previous modes of collectivity, public space, social discourse, and equity. Unit 21 will operate as a laboratory for speculation about these spaces of exception as a means to produce physical, digital, and hybrid architectures capable of responding to rapidly changing social, political, and cultural phenomena.

Lindsay Harkema is a New York-based architect and educator and founder of WIP: Work in Progress | Women in Practice, a collaborative design-research studio and community centered on the in-progress nature of architectural practice and the collective power of women engaged in it. Her work focuses on spaces of exception that deviate from their surroundings in formal, social, and/or political ways and open up new territories for rethinking those contexts. Her projects engage architecture and the public realm at a range of scales, from private rooms to public venues. Lindsay holds an M Arch from Rice University and a BS in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and was previously a research fellow at the Strelka Institute in Moscow. Her recent work has been exhibited at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Priscilla Fowler Art Gallery in Las Vegas, and the Centre de Design in Montreal, and her writing has been published by Madame Architect, Project, Bracket, Architecture Media Politics and Society, and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

Henry Marc Grosman, RA, NCARB, is a registered architect and the founding principal of Henry Marc Design Studio, a multidisciplinary design firm utilizing innovative technologies and novel techniques to produce work at a variety of scales. Before starting HMDS, Grosman practiced as founder and co-principal of BanG studio from 2010 to 2017. Grosman received his BA in computer science from Columbia University and his M Arch from Columbia University GSAPP. He has worked in such diverse fields as interactive media, game design, and telecommunications. His academic and design work explores the intricate relationship between emerging computational techniques and design culture.

Unit 22

Disturbance

& Dissonance

“Contaminated diversity has no self-contained units; its units are encounter-based collaborations.”
— Anna Tsing
Andrea JohnsonLen HopperNoneNoneNone
Unit Leader: Andrea Johnson
Unit Collaborator: Len Hopper
Image illustrating Unit 22: Disturbance & Dissonance

Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, disturbance and the notion that ecosystems are constantly in flux remain the dominant concerns of ecological theory, yet our built environment continues to reinforce the status quo of stability and outward economic growth. Inhabiting an increasingly messy and uncertain world requires a new lexicon and a new set of practices. Anthropologist Anna Tsing’s notion of “contaminated diversity” offers one in which we might explore the impure and inseparable networks of humans and nonhumans while reimagining alliances operable in what Tsing regards as landscapes in the ruins of capitalism. Drawing on these insights, the Unit is constructed around a series of design probes that explore various overlapping forces of disruption — from the material agency of recalcitrant forms of nature (pests, toxins, etc.) to the geophysical processes that shape the Earth’s surface. Exercises in critical cartography will also show that disturbance is always in the eye of the beholder.

The unit’s major design inquiry will focus on New York City’s infrastructural systems of waste, water, food, parks, and power, which are each undergoing distinct jolts of disturbance across space and time as a result of everyday conditions such as CSO overflows to the longer-term demands of environmental- and climate-justice organizers. From curb cuts to power stations, infrastructure is an imprint of our attitudes toward nature and four centuries of embedded neocolonial policymaking. We will explore not only the disproportionate impact of flows of trash and climate stressors across the five boroughs but also the hidden and intangible networks enabling socially unjust patterns of development. Through individual and collective experimentation with a range of analog and digital media techniques, students will be encouraged to interject new, and perhaps dissonant, narratives of society into the built environment.

Andrea Johnson is a lecturer in the Master of Landscape Architecture Program, of which she is also an alumna, and the research director at Terreform, a nonprofit design studio, where she conducts speculative research and design and supports community-driven planning initiatives. She is currently coordinating the organization’s forthcoming book on food systems, entitled Home Grown, and has worked with food-justice activists, planners, and designers to develop novel approaches to connect infrastructure along the food chain to larger aims of social justice and environmental performance. Andrea was selected for the 2020-2021 Landscape Architecture Foundation Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership to investigate decentralized community power networks in New York City and in 2015 was named a National Olmsted Scholar Finalist. Andrea is a member of ASLA and the Planners Network.

Len Hopper, RLA, FASLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, ISA, has more than 40 years of landscape architectural experience. As a landscape architect with Weintraub Diaz Landscape Architecture, PLLC, he has been involved in a wide range of landscape projects including urban streetscapes, waterfront development, green streets, multifamily residential developments, retail centers, university campuses, corporate plazas, parks, schools, green roofs, and projects built over structure. He focuses on ways that sustainable practices and strategies can be integrated with site designs that enhance the environmental, social, and economic value of a project. Len served as a technical advisor with the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a multidisciplinary partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden. Len served as the editor in chief of the first edition of Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards and authored the Graphic Standards Field Guides to Both Hardscapes and Softscapes. Hopper is an active member of ASLA, serving as national president in 2000-2001. He served as president of the Landscape Architecture Foundation in 2005-2006. In recognition of his accomplishments and contributions, Len was elected to ASLA’s Council of Fellows in 1994 and was recipient of the President’s Medal in 2005. He received the ASLA New York Chapter Education Award in 2011.

Unit 23

Unbuilding

“Each epoch not only dreams the next, but also, in dreaming, strives towards the moment of awakening.”
— Walter Benjamin
Elisabetta TerragniAnna BokovAshleigh BancelNoneNone
Unit Leader: Elisabetta Terragni
Unit Collaborators: Anna Bokov & Ashleigh Bancel
Image illustrating Unit 28: Unbuilding the City

New York (might have been) the capital of the 20th century. We ask: What will it be in the 21st? The Unbuilding the City Project for New York is a dialectical conversation between landscape and architecture. The unit will explore design unbounded by disciplinary protocols and bias. We will read and expect to understand texts that are not texts at all, in an age (certainly) without magic we will continue to read things and phenomena. In the Benjaminian manner, we will bring to the table the capability of "endless interpolation." Like in a surrealist device of shock we will remove phenomena from their familiar contexts and juxtapose them in bewildering contrasts, making them reveal themselves as other than what we believe to know. We will frame our conceptual and physical propositions with Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project. Parisian arcades, mostly unbuilt when Haussmann reordered the city to support centralized authority — an act of “modernization” — were indeterminate spaces: both inside and outside, ordered and ad hoc. As such, they opened opportunities for interruption, enabling eruption of social, environmental, and cultural processes. Student propositions will — like the Exquisite Corpse — unfold in an initiating project documenting New York City through Benjamin’s tactics of juxtaposition and splicing images in collage. We will work with the understanding that we are not removing, we are pushing aside and uncovering, to open spaces for new urban life in all biotic forms: animal (including human and microbial) and plant. We will delve into memory, illusion, and reality. This project will be developed conceptually, adventurously through representation in emergent digital media, and through understanding technical aspects of unbuilding to rebuild New York.

Elisabetta Terragni is an associate professor at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and an architect practicing in Italy, Switzerland, Albania, and the United States. Her work extends from the analysis of hand-motion to the transformation of abandoned industrial and military infrastructures in places of memory. In 2020, the Council of Europe awarded its Museum Prize to her firm’s National Museum of Secret Surveillance, “House of Leaves,” in Tirana, Albania, for its contributions to understanding Europe's cultural heritage.

Anna Bokov is an architect, historian, and educator. She holds a PhD from Yale University, an M Arch from Harvard University’s GSD, and a B Arch from Syracuse University. She has taught at the Cooper Union, Parsons, Cornell University, Yale University, Northeastern University, and Harvard University. She is a member of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. Her book Avant-Garde as Method: Vkhutemas and the Pedagogy of Space, 1920-1930 (Park Books, 2020) focuses on groundbreaking experiments in design education.

Ashleigh Bancel is a landscape designer in New York City. She holds a BSLA from the University of Connecticut and an MLA from CCNY. At CCNY, Ashleigh was awarded the Rachel Carson Prize for outstanding achievement in ecological and urban design. Her thesis project, “Building Wasteland: Terraforming and Carbon Capture in the Florida Everglades,” was selected as one of the transformative projects exhibited at the 2018 International Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona, Spain.

Unit 24

Instrumentality

of Architecture

“A practice of the self is of equal urgency as engaging oneself in the practice of architecture.”
— Anna Tsing
Jerome Haferd Mitchell SquireNoneNoneNone
Unit Leaders: Jerome Haferd & Mitchell Squire
Image illustrating Unit 24: Instrumentality of Architecture

Unit 24 will concentrate on the instrumentality of architecture, specifically, the capacity and limitations of its techniques, procedures, and representational modalities to be vehicles for speculation on important issues shaping the world and its people. Unit 24 will act as a creative incubator for progressive agendas within and beyond the discipline of architecture, and it will encourage innovative research that is academically rigorous, critically informed, speculative, and design-led. In that sense, the studio seeks and demands imaginative and unconventional responses to complex social, geographic, political, cultural, and environmental concerns and subject matter. But while our unit views the world through the lens of architecture, our work should be willing to redefine what architecture (and the architect) can and must be in the praxis of the now. Unit 24 will also form a conversation “table” around which to gather, read aloud, perform, and freely discuss the issues that impact our world and bodies. Employing the discourse and language of geology, race/indigeneity, art, fiction, and others, this table will engage a wide range of contemporary theoretical debates about matter, making, and the material effects of the ethical, political, scientific, environmental, and other cultural practices surrounding us.

As events unfolding in 2020 have demanded us all to change, students enrolled in Unit 24 can expect to achieve greater insight into the cultural agency of creative practice and how “architecting” a practice of the self is of equal urgency in the 21st century as engaging oneself in the practice of architecture.

Jerome Haferd is an architect and educator based in Harlem, New York. He is cofounder of the design and research practice BRANDT : HAFERD. Jerome’s work focuses on how architecture establishes a dialogue between contemporary phenomena and nonhegemonic histories, users, and spaces. His writing on archaeology, blackness, and speculation has recently been published in the journals Log and Project. Jerome is currently an adjunct professor at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture, Columbia University GSAPP, and Barnard. Jerome received his M Arch at Yale University and his BS in architecture from the Ohio State University. He has worked in the offices of OMA/Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi Architects. His collaborative studio, BRANDT : HAFERD, won the first annual Folly competition held by the Architectural League of New York (2012). The practice was awarded the grand prize for the 2019 ZeroThreshold competition with a multiabled, intergenerational housing prototype. The studio is one of the 2020 winners of the AIA New Practices New York award. His work has been exhibited widely including at AIA New York and the Storefront for Art and Architecture.

Mitchell Squire is an artist and educator whose practice encompasses architecture, visual art, and the study of material culture. He has mounted solo exhibitions at CUE Art Foundation (New York), White Cube (London), Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha), and the Des Moines Art Center, and has had work included in signature group exhibitions across the United States. He has completed residencies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency, and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and has been an invited participant in educational programs at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), New Museum (New York), Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the Venice Biennale. Squire is professor of architecture at Iowa State University and has been visiting professor at University of Tennessee, University of California Berkeley (2012, 2015), University of Michigan (2009), and University of Minnesota (2000), and he taught abroad in Rome, Italy (2004, 2007).

Unit 25

Building

Culture

“Culture in all its early uses was a noun of process: the tending of something . . . ”
— Raymond Williams
Nandini BagcheeVyjayanthi RaoNicolas LosiNoneNone
Unit Leaders: Nandini Bagchee & Vyjayanthi Rao
Unit Collaborator: Nicolas Losi
Image illustrating Unit 25: Building Culture

Unit 25 will explore the multiple ways in which architectural actions and practices are connected to the processes of tending and cultivating values, networks, and practices critical to nurturing social life. In these times of precarity, marches and rallies are a visible sign of the ongoing struggles against racism, financialized urbanism, climate change, and other forms of uneven development. However, behind these insurgent scenes unfolding across the streets of our cities, there are long histories of self-organized municipal action. Citizen-activists have contributed to the civic realm through a range of actions — from creating spaces for communal gatherings, to generating new streams of income, to reshaping policies and norms that disenfranchise their varied constituencies. Our unit focuses on how architecture, as practice and profession, can contribute to these struggles to build new cultures and processes for tending to the infrastructures of collective life.

Moving away from the conventional idea that architecture naturally expresses collective values in built form, we will explore new venues for architectural practice within an expanded field of actions toward the construction of an equitable and rich collective life. As an active collaboration across the disciplines of anthropology and architecture, our unit draws on alternate ways of thinking about culture as an emergent dimension embedded in social and material forms. Thinking anthropologically and acting architecturally, we propose to examine the potential for architecture to engage meaningfully in our current context, marked as it is by risk and unknowability.

We will engage with a range of art and design practices in places as different from one another as Tijuana, Amsterdam, Chicago, Cape Town, and Mumbai. At the same time, working within New York, we will build our own urban ethnographic research archive at different scales, from the personal and autobiographical to the collective and systemic. This assembled archive will suggest a type of architecture aimed at activating emergent and/or hidden cultural dimensions inherent in the fabric of different localities. The work produced in the unit will take the form of a building, an event, or an alternative proposal for a spatiotemporal intervention that supports and situates collective life in the altered context of bottom-up transformation.

Vyjayanthi Rao is an anthropologist, writer, and curator. An ethnographer of urban life, the built environment, memory, and heritage in India and elsewhere, she also writes regularly about art and the role of creativity in urban life. She is specifically interested in the practice of speculation across different sectors of contemporary life, and her research combines ethnographic fieldwork with mapping, film, and other forms of visual research. In addition to teaching at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture, Vyjayanthi is a senior editor of the journal Public Culture and a member of an artist-activist collective called Samooha, based in Mumbai, exploring practices of self-reliance, self-making, and self-building vital to cultures fostered within informal settlements across the globe. She is the author of numerous articles and is the coeditor of two books, Speculation Now: Essays and Artworks (Duke University Press, 2015) and Occupy All Streets: Olympic Urbanism and Contested Futures in Rio de Janeiro (UR Books, 2016).

Nandini Bagchee is director of the Master of Science in Architecture Program at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and principal of Bagchee Architects. Her research focuses on activism in architecture and the ways in which ground-up collaborative building practices provide an alternative medium for the creation of public space. Nandini is the author of a book on the history and impact of activist-run spaces in New York City, Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side (Fordham University Press, 2018). Nandini’s design work and writing has been published in the New York Times, Interiors Now, Urban Omnibus, and the Journal of Architectural Education. She is the recipient of grants from the New York State Council of the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Graham Foundation. Her research-based architectural work involves an engagement with grassroots organizations such as South Bronx Unite, Interference Archive, the Loisaida Center, and the Laundromat Project in New York City. In her capacity as architect and educator, Nandini also collaborates with Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi, on an ongoing basis to advance the project of building a solidarity economy anchored in a community land trust.

Originally from Seattle, Nicholas Losi has spent the last six years living in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. He received his Master of Architecture from CCNY in 2020. His education, both from school and living in New York, has catalyzed a deep and relentless curiosity in the ecology of the city, the complex forces and invisible infrastructure that affect us, and how architecture can redefine its role in society.

Unit 26

Design

Anarchy

“To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world — and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.”
— Marshall Berman
Shawn RickenbackerCarlo BaileyNamon FreemonNoneNone
Unit Leader: Shawn Rickenbacker
Unit Collaborators: Carlo Bailey & Namon Freemon
Image illustrating Unit 26: Design Anarchy

Unit 26 will operate under the premise of “design anarchy,” defined as a state of design being freely constituted without authorities or a governing body. Borrowing from the anarcho-liberal architect Giancarlo De Carlo, the studio will implement an architecture of participation where an information-rich and technologically deep methodology will reposition the role of the architect as a “tester of hypotheses.” Ideas and forms of practices will be forged via forensic-type investigations and research with all entities involved in the architectural operation. We aim to celebrate not only finished final objects but to illustrate a permanent process of exchange, capable of soliciting new policies and new spatial constructs that meet the needs of a diversity of users.

We will interrogate the current state of design to ascertain a better understanding of its role as a complicit agent of bureaucracy and thereby ineffective in achieving equity, sustainability, and a more just society. To instigate viable alternatives to and of “design” and the role of the designer, the unit will explore anarchy as a strategy. As a mandate, our strategies will borrow from Marshall Berman and his critique of bureaucratic materialism and Forensic Architecture and their use of technology and data to expose the causes of institutional and spatial injustices. We will look more generally at anarchists and the production of alternative spatial processes and typologies. Our goal is to explicitly craft new public imaginations of architecture and spatial equity across a wide range of spatial imperatives. As a point of departure, we will fully embrace the concept introduced by Buckminster Fuller of the “comprehensive designer” in which he/she/it “is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.” To this list we imagine including agitator, analyst, and activist, among others. The unit’s research, work, and deliverables will address real-world, funded research including old and new paradigms of urban data, architectural and urban design, urban policy, equity and spatial justice, forensic and strategic design, and, perhaps most importantly, actionable speculation.

Shawn Rickenbacker is an associate professor at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and director of its J. Max Bond Center for Urban Futures. His work directly confronts the complex intersection of spatial equity and the social and economic impacts of place-based policies, programs, and design through the lens of urban data, forensic architecture, and design research. He has served as senior research fellow at the Taylor Institute for Social Innovation, where he researched artificial Intelligence and the future of social urbanism, the Favrot Chair in Architecture at Tulane University, Gensler Distinguished Professor at Cornell University, and director of the Motorola-sponsored Future Interactions Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. His work and research have been published in the New York Times, New York Daily News, and Global Architecture and exhibited at the Studio Museum of Harlem and Temple University, where he also recently lectured. Shawn holds a B Arch from Syracuse University and an M Arch from the University of Virginia, where he was the Dupont Scholar.

Carlo Bailey is an architect turned researcher and data scientist currently building products at Topos, a location-intelligence start-up bringing advanced machine learning to the commercial real estate industry. Previously, he was a lead researcher in WeWork’s applied sciences team. His work focuses on machine learning, agent-based modeling, architecture, and creative coding. He holds ARB/RIBA Part 1 from Kingston University, London, and his M Arch from Columbia University GSAPP, where he was the recipient of the Kinne Traveling Fellowship and multiple design awards. He has worked at Foster and Partners in London and the Middle East office, where he was involved in the building of King Abdullah's new financial district for Samba Bank. He also had stints in the research groups at SHoP Architects and KieranTimberlake performing computational design. He has taught graduate design courses on spatial analytics and physical computing at GSAPP and has lectured widely on the applications of machine learning in the AEC industry. He has been published in numerous scientific journals, including design modelling symposium and the International Journal of Architectural Computing, and his work has been featured in publications like Wired Magazine, the New York Times, and AD.

Namon Freeman is an urbanist committed to fostering an equitable and sustainable society. Currently working as a policy consultant at Grounded Solutions, Namon is a trained architect and urban planner. He has worked in cities such as Cape Town, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis to develop affordable housing policies that address racial disparities in housing and economic opportunity. Prior to joining Grounded Solutions, Namon worked with the NYC Department of City Planning and contributed to the adoption of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) text amendments. Later he oversaw the agency’s internal review processes and implementation of the Comprehensive Neighborhood Studies/Rezonings. Namon also spent time at UN-Habitat’s City Planning Extension and Design (CPED) unit in Nairobi where he worked on city expansion and land-use plans across Egypt, Ghana, Rwanda, and Mozambique. Additionally, Namon worked for several architecture firms and for city governments in Washington, DC, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Namon received his MUP from Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and M Arch from Hampton University.

Unit 27

Toxicity

“So-called ‘weedy species’ — aggressive, prolific, and ready to travel — flourish within toxicity, as their adventive capacities of both plasticity and resistance are the very characteristics necessary for living in a radically new and climate-adaptive future.”
Catherine Seavitt NordensonBrad HoweMichael KingMichael TantalaAndrew Lavallee
Unit Leaders: Catherine Seavitt Nordenson & Brad Howe
Unit Consultants: Michael King & Michael Tantala (Fall), Andrew Lavallee (Spring)
Image illustrating Unit 27: Toxicityn

The word “toxic” suggests the material presence of a poison harmful to humans, plants, animals, or the environment. It might also characterize a behavioral condition — the concentration of a harsh, malicious, or colonizing individual or practice. “Toxic” often qualifies a contentious subject about which opinion is so strongly divided that it is impossible to discuss it reasonably. Etymologically, “toxic” brings us directly to the seventeenth-century landscape: the adjective comes from the medieval Latin word toxicus, meaning poisoned — an apt metaphor for contemporaneous settler-colonialism.

This unit will explore the notion of “toxicity” by addressing both the possibility of landscapes, communities, and ecologies to regain value and by redefining the very terms of the word “value.” Unit 27 will delve into the toxicity of New York City’s fringes, revealing its colonial past; the emergence of its constructed ballast grounds and brownfields; the development of industrial sites of labor, production, and unequal exchange; and the radical shift and dislocation of these territories. It is often here, at these “disturbed” ruderal sites, that the most resilient ecologies — plants, animals, and humans — emerge. So-called “weedy species” — aggressive, prolific, and ready to travel — flourish within toxicity, as their adventive capacities of both plasticity and resistance are the very characteristics necessary for living in a radically new and climate-adaptive future. We will explore Staten Island’s “Chemical Coast” industrial shoreline along the Arthur Kill and the Kill van Kull, conveniently positioned far from Manhattan’s gaze while integrally linked to maritime, rail, and truck transshipment. Our investigations and major design project will land at the 675-acre former GATX petroleum tank farm at the conflux of the Arthur Kill and Old Place Creek, now the site of Amazon’s massive new JFK8 Fulfillment Center.

Catherine Seavitt Nordenson is a professor and director of the Landscape Architecture Program at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture. Her work explores adaptation to climate change in urban environments and the novel transformation of landscape restoration practices. She also examines the intersection of political power, environmental activism, and public health, particularly as seen through the design of equitable public space and policy. Her books include Depositions: Roberto Burle Marx and Public Landscapes under Dictatorship (University of Texas Press, 2018), Structures of Coastal Resilience (Island Press, 2018), and On the Water: Palisade Bay (Hatje Cantz, 2010). A registered architect and landscape architect, she is a graduate of the Cooper Union and Princeton University and a fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

Brad Howe is a landscape designer and senior associate at SCAPE Landscape Architecture, New York, and leads design efforts for a number of large-scale waterfront and resilience planning projects. His work focuses on creating ecologically vibrant waterfronts and public spaces, working from large-scale planning to detailed design. In addition to his role in design and project management, he has also helped drive community and stakeholder engagement processes related to these projects. Brad earned his MLA from Harvard University’s GSD in 2015 and a BS in design from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2012.

Michael King is a PhD candidate in landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the history and theory of landscape architecture in the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States with special attention given to the professionalization of landscape architecture; the formation of professional and national identity; and the interplay of law, literature, and landscape in the United States. His dissertation, “Measured Shadows of Thomas Jefferson,” considers Jefferson’s influence in the formation of a professionalized landscape architecture, the history of the conservation movement, and the establishment of a national park ideal.

Michael Tantala is a civil engineer and principal of Tantala Associates, LLC, Engineers & Architects in Philadelphia. His research includes GIS/geospatial modeling of urban infrastructure systems and their interactions. He recently collaborated on the Structures of Coastal Resilience project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop resilient and adaptive coastal design strategies addressing climate change.  He received both an MS in engineering and an MA from Princeton University in 2000 following a BS in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998.

Andrew Lavallee is a landscape architect and partner with SiteWorks Landscape Architecture, LLC, in New York City. Prior to joining SiteWorks, Andrew oversaw the design and construction of several high-profile New York City projects including the Tribeca section of Hudson River Park, the reconstruction of Rockefeller Park, and the PlaNYC Reforestation Initiative. He manages his firm’s public realm design, green infrastructure, urban forestry, and coastal resiliency design projects. Andrew is the coauthor of the High-Performance Landscape Guidelines: Parks for the 21st Century (Design Trust, 2011), as well as numerous technical articles ranging from sports facility to design development of economically sustainable parks

Unit 28

Unbuilding

the City

“Politics has to get to work without the transcendence of nature.”
— Bruno Latour
Denise Hoffman BrandtMichael KingMichael TantalaAndrew LavalleeChristine Facella
Unit Leader: Denise Hoffman Brandt
Unit Consultants: Michael King & Michael Tantala (Fall), Andrew Lavallee (Spring), Christine Facella
Image illustrating Unit 28: Unbuilding the City

New York (might have been) the capital of the 20th century. We ask: What will it be in the 21st? The Unbuilding the City Project for New York is a dialectical conversation between landscape and architecture. The unit will explore design unbounded by disciplinary protocols and bias. The language of sustaining and adaptation, which seemed reasonable in response to climate change’s environmental volatility, has been extinguished by a pandemic and images of systemic, horrific police brutality. These phenomena evidence social failures and destructive cultural biases. Rewriting our future must not mean rehashing a reactionary plotline written by the few for the many. We will explore design as the medium for multiple voices to conspire in a continuously inventive process of unbuilding and rebuilding our collective urban landscape. We will frame our conceptual and physical propositions with Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project. Parisian arcades, mostly unbuilt when Haussmann reordered the city to support centralized authority — an act of “modernization” — were indeterminate spaces: both inside and outside, ordered and ad hoc. As such, they opened opportunities for interruption, enabling eruption of social, environmental, and cultural processes. Student propositions will — like the Exquisite Corpse — unfold in an initiating project documenting New York City through Benjamin’s tactics of juxtaposition and splicing images in collage. We will work with the understanding that we are not removing, we are pushing aside and uncovering, to open spaces for new urban life in all biotic forms: animal (including human and microbial) and plant. We will delve into memory, illusion, and reality. This project will be developed conceptually through adventurous representation in emergent digital media and through understanding technical aspects of unbuilding to rebuild New York.

Denise Hoffman Brandt, RLA, is professor in the Landscape Architecture Program at the CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and principal of Hoffman Brandt Projects, LLC. Her work focuses on landscape as ecological infrastructure — the social, cultural, and environmental systems that generate urban form and sustain urban life. Current projects include an upcoming Everyday Ecologies symposium, an Atlas of Uncertainties, and contributing to a Terreform UR book begun by Michael Sorkin on redesigning NYC’s food system.

Michael King is a PhD candidate in landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the history and theory of landscape architecture in the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States with special attention given to the professionalization of landscape architecture; the formation of professional and national identity; and the interplay of law, literature, and landscape in the United States. His dissertation, “Measured Shadows of Thomas Jefferson,” considers Jefferson’s influence in the formation of a professionalized landscape architecture, the history of the conservation movement, and the establishment of a national park ideal.

Michael Tantala is a civil engineer and principal of Tantala Associates, LLC, Engineers & Architects in Philadelphia. His research includes GIS/geospatial modeling of urban infrastructure systems and their interactions. He recently collaborated on the Structures of Coastal Resilience project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop resilient and adaptive coastal design strategies addressing climate change.  He received both an MS in engineering and an MA from Princeton University in 2000 following a BS in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998.

Andrew Lavallee is a landscape architect and partner with SiteWorks Landscape Architecture, LLC, in New York City. Prior to joining SiteWorks, Andrew oversaw the design and construction of several high-profile New York City projects including the Tribeca section of Hudson River Park, the reconstruction of Rockefeller Park, and the PlaNYC Reforestation Initiative. He manages his firm’s public realm design, green infrastructure, urban forestry, and coastal resiliency design projects. Andrew is the coauthor of the High-Performance Landscape Guidelines: Parks for the 21st Century (Design Trust, 2011), as well as numerous technical articles ranging from sports facility to design development of economically sustainable parks.

Christine Facella is a designer, maker, and founder of Modest, a recently launched design and education entity that works to strengthen maker communities by providing skill-building training to artisans in underserved communities, specifically promoting the use of native plant-based resources cultivated locally in restoration scenarios that help rebuild natural systems. Modest’s work is done in partnership with on-the-ground nonprofits, communities, professional makers, and design students. Christine has 15-plus years of experience working with nonprofits, global artisans, and a slew of design firms. She is also a maker of porcelain skulls and is a seasonal pigeon rehabber.