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The World Is a Classroom for Yale School of Architecture Students


New Haven, Conn — In the final year toward completing their Masters degrees, students at the Yale School of Architecture are fanning out across the globe, from Shanghai to Rome, to visit sites they have been studying intensely for weeks.

The field trips are part of Yale School of Architecture advanced studios, a kind of master class led by such architectural notables as Leon Krier, Peter Eisenman, Tod Williams/Billie Tsien and Joshua Prince-Ramus, in which students are charged to plan a project specific to a particular site. Not necessarily intended to be realized, the projects range from presenting a redevelopment plan for a derelict district in London to creating a “dialogue center” for a Louis Kahn designed business school in Ahmedabad, India.

Before going to work on the specifics of the project, the student must become completely acquainted with the unique characteristics of the site, from its physical properties, history and scale to the social, political and economic conditions that influence it.

A landmark funerary complex at Saqqara in Egypt, for example, is rich in architectural history, which students should learn. Designed around 2650 B.C. E by the legendary, and by all accounts, first, architect Imhotep for King Djoser, the burial complex is the first construction in stone, contains the first Egyptian pyramid and is the first building on which the architect’s name is inscribed. Imhotep, who was also a physician, scribe and high priest, is credited as the innovator of ribbed columns and capitals that are unique to Egyptian art. “Saqqara is where all Greek architecture begins,” notes Timothy Newton, a faculty member who provides hands-on instruction for the studio of designer/scholar Massimo Scolari, a William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport Visiting Professor. In addition to planning the research center for this historic site, the students will have to design a chair for the center’s reading room.

A new opera house in Istanbul, the project of the studio taught by Prince-Ramos and Erez Ella, of the innovative design firm REX, challenges students to address the dual identity of the site. The Turkish city was chosen precisely for its contrasting properties, says Frederick Tang, a faculty member who assists in teaching the studio. Straddling two continents and bisected by the Bosphorus River, Istanbul, notes Tang, is a “hybrid” of Eastern and Western culture, Christian and Muslim religions and secular and religious politics. The role of opera in a society in the throes of a cultural identity crisis is one of the fundamental issues students will need to take into account when considering the project, notes Tang.

During the decade that urban planner and full-time Yale faculty member Alan Plattus has been taking his advanced studio class to Shanghai, that city has experienced explosive growth, due to an unprecedented influx of foreign capital. Addressing the realities of globalization in one of China’s most rapidly developing cities can be particularly valuable to his students, says Plattus, who notes that half of the students in his class hold foreign passports. Collaborating for the eighth year with architecture students and faculty from Hong Kong University and Tongji University, Plattus’ advanced studio team will consider a design for a million-square-foot city block in the historic French Concession. A central issue that students will have to take into account in proposing a plan for this eclectic district is how to balance local architectural traditions with principles of contemporary design. “Exploring the site will give us the opportunity to see what’s happening in Shanghai and what might loom in the future of China,” says Plattus.

The EUR quarter, a district on the outskirts of Rome, originally planned as a model city and the site of the 1942 World’s Fair (which never took place), is a possible dueling ground of ideas to be played out by students in the studios of Krier and Eisenman. Krier, a William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport Visiting Professor of Architectural at Yale School of Architecture, and Eisenman, the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Professor, famously espoused opposing theories of architecture and planning. Krier is closely associated with New Urbanism, which favors small pedestrian-friendly towns; Eisenman was long known for his deconstructionist approach to architecture, which sought to divorce form from meaning. Students in both studios will consider how to incorporate the extant structures of the EUR quarter into a design for a new urban development to serve as the southern extension of the ancient city. Their proposals may or may not reflect the differing points of view of their master teachers.


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