Professor Frederick BIEHLE_Rome Program_Undergraduate Architecture

The UA Rome Program, all 39 students and visiting faculty from Brooklyn, ended up as Pratts frontline soldiers in the Covid-19 retreat. Having been settled in the eternal city for seven weeks, and preparing for their first extended field trip to the north of Italy, the initial Covid outbreak in Lombardy and the Veneto regions raised concerns about whether it was wise to move forward or reorganize instead. Over that first weekend in late February the trip was initially altered to avoid the two regions in question, then redirected to become a south Italy trip and then on the following Monday cancelled altogether. It would take the Institutes task force only three additional days to make the unprecedented decision to bring our students and faculty home even though the virus had little presence in Rome itself. By the ensuing weekend they were all on their way back to NY and into a 14-day home stay as recommended by the CDC, many in the dormitories supported by residential life. During those two weeks a space in the Pfizer building was identified and prepared with three studios, a fabrication space, and a common assembly room with links for bringing the Rome faculty in online,  all to allow them to continue their semesters work. The goal was to recreate something in Brooklyn that could still be identified as unique despite the disappointment of their time in Rome being cut short. A more local field trip was planned as well- Palladio and Scarpa in America visiting Philadelphia, Annapolis, and Charlottesville. Just as the Rome in Brooklyn space was completed the Provost announced his decision to take the Institute to remote learning. So, things had to change again. With the Pfizer building no longer accessible, the underlying strategy for teaching and learning was moved online. The important weeks that the students had spent in Rome could provide the knowledge base for the second half of the semesters work. Their memories of Rome able to trigger a recall and in turn support speculation leading to an even deeper understanding. Such an intellectual endeavor will provide us all with a sense of hope for the future to come.  

Because of these advance preparations, the Rome Program went live with our opening session on Monday March 23rd at 10:00 am EST (NYC) with an online group assembly attended by all of our students and faculty. It was an opportunity for Dean Harriss and Chair Hinrichs to simultaneously welcome them back and address the ongoing situation. Rome Program director Richard Piccolo and his wife Emanuela Ricciardi, our student affairs coordinator, were also able to say a few heartfelt remarks.

And so after this initial gathering we began with the first class, Modern Italian Architecture, with Lorenzo Pignatti, one of our resident Rome faculty members discussing the transformation of the city and other urban planning initiatives during the Fascist period.

Transforming a set of courses, almost all of which were based on the physical experience of the city of Rome into online platforms has been quite challenging. First some of the sections were revised to account for time zone discrepancies. Classes that normally depended on walking excursions (Jeffrey Blanchard looking at Renaissance and Baroque Rome and Jan Gadeyne presenting Ancient and Early Christian Rome as well as Lorenzo Pignatti) had to be converted to more traditional power point presentations. Emanuela Ricciardi is having her normal cacophony of Italian classes over ZOOM. Chris Pelley and Richard Piccolo are continuing their freehand sketching class, once planned for sites in NYC, now reduced to strategies for drawing at home using objects at hand the views still available. They still complete the class with the “throwdown” in which everyone gets to see what everyone else has drawn and discuss it. Urban Studies, a class built around five specific walks or routed experiences of Rome intended to communicate its superimposed identities pulled apart into separate layers, has converted to the Lecture-Lab model, with the three remaining “walks” generated with the assistance of Google Earth and then elaborations taking place within the studio setting. 

The design studios with Larry Zeroth, Beth O’Neil and Sophia Gruzdys are continuing online as is the rest of SOA working to complete their urban interventions at the base of the Capitoline Hill in the centro storico. Their final review will still be able to invite a number of the Italian architects and Professors that have been our guests during years past. 

One remarkable positive that has emerged is the sharing that is happening within the Rome faculty community. With a bit more time, everyone is attending each other’s presentations and this has lead to a weekly aperitivo on Sundays. We are all going through this together. 

The one event we will have to wait for is the traditional Last Supper gathering before everyone departs. 

Rome Program Video 01

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Professor Cathryn DWYRE_Undergraduate Architetcure

Design in the Time of Covid19

The following is a report from the Spring Semester of the Degree Project section FUTURE PUBLICS.  The studio spent the better part of the past year considering a few questions:

What is the future of public space?  and How do climate change and other global crises play a part in rethinking FUTURE PUBLICS?

SPRING SEMESTER

FEBRUARY 2020

The student’s projects are on course: inventing new ideas of public space: future hybrids of the ecological and the architectural, the human and nonhuman, and the political.  It’s the most intense part of this year-long studio, converting a body of research into a design proposal. Investigations of wired (and weird) collectivity have revealed a loss of old-world ideas of ‘publicness’. The invention of virtual and new physical forums challenge the old plaza or its urban DNA, the agora of Ancient Greece, esp. its romanticism. We encourage research-based invention, into the geologic and political, the architectural and urban.

WEEK OF 2 MARCH 2020

At first COVID-19 presents as a stealthy erosion of day-to-day collectivity in the design studio. (wearing gloves for desk critsnot sharing pens; a little more space).

9 MARCH 2020

We are still holding studio.  In addition, it’s a packed day at Pratt including events with guests Timothy Morton and Alessandra Ponte. Led by Dean Harriss and the Mistresses of Pratt, the Dinner Party was in the works for months.  An evening of collectivity and empowerment. https://www.pratt.edu/news/view/soa-launches-mistresses-of-pratt-to-recognize-the-work-of-women-educators

12 MARCH 2020

Pratt Institute went from in-person to virtual [thanks to the Institute from all of us]. Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth, a key text for the studio, now feels like a long premonition; the migration of this virus is reordering + destroying but also creating a new sense of global citizenship. Students and professors alike take in the unfolding global calamity, a radical transformation of planetary, urban and social life. To be physically in public now suddenly risks exposure to a deadly disease. 

30 MARCH 2020

After a few surreal weeks of adjustment to this strange new world, we’ve noticed the Spring blooms undeterred, yet public spaces usually teaming with life are eerily blank and disfigured, like pools drained of their water.  Michael Kimmelman, in his New York Times piece of 23 March The Great Empty, refers to photographs of vacant public spaces around the world with the observation that “They imagine an experience more akin to the wonder of bygone explorers coming upon the remains of a lost civilization.”  We are thankful that our students, now dispersed between family homes and NYC apartments, are for now, safe, healthy, and have access to good WIFI and technology. Many are not so lucky. Most of us at this point know someone with the virus, serious life consequences, and those who’ve lost their jobs.

Despite this context, we hold our Midterm Review. Our new public forums are put into play quickly, and they are branded: ZoomGoogle Hangouts, and Google MeetWebexFaceTime. The ‘setting’ is a grid of personal domestic environments, our new public space. Despite the techno-distance, we are ‘occupying’ one another’s domestic interiors, an interiority that’s now public.

A NEW QUESTION: What is public space in the time of COVID 19?

{Curiously, one FUTURE PUBLICS student team was consumed with the idea of public space without people during the fall research seminar. The drawings Minho Kwak and Irmak Ciftci produced now appear like portents of what was to come.}

Log by Cathryn Dwyre.  The FUTURE PUBLICS Degree Project section is taught by Cathryn Dwyre and Evan Tribus with writing instruction by Pierre Alexandre de Looz

Professor Jason VIGNERI BEANE_Undergraduate Architecture

The ARCH 102 Design Studio 2 team in PrattUA has used COVID-related campus closures as an opportunity to adapt its curriculum to digital design platforms as well as online learning augmentation. ARCH 102: Bodies-Materialities-Environments began the semester with an interest in working with students on the physicality of architecture by iterating digital models and then physically testing their stability by loading them with different materials. Students learned to develop digital-physical feedback loops between digital forms and intricate, physical structures that support them under different loads. As students are now dispersed across the world, in different spaces and with uneven access to modelmaking resources, ARCH 102 faculty are turning to digital simulation as a way of adapting their projects to relate to the world. Physical testing of structure and gravity is being replaced with digital testing of the environmental acuity of student’s projects through simulated sunlight systems and rising water levels. While Architecture Faculty see the equitably digital introduction of environmental simulation as an enhancement of the first-year curriculum, their 100-level partnership with Writing Faculty will work to create a strong sense of scenario design wherein students who are working as dispersed individuals will be asked to imagine environmental narratives that will breathe life into their digital models, graphics and improvised workspaces.

ARCH 102 faculty have also used this as an opportunity to create more digital content for students to capitalize on benefits of remote learning. Using the UA Core Commons website at Pratt, faculty have created micro-lectures on architectural topics for the year with video and imagery, recorded photography lectures with Faculty from the Photography department, posted framing and lighting tutorials produced by Photography and Representation Faculty, communicated curricular revisions and produced an extensive set of video tutorials for digital modeling, simulation and graphic production. These resources allow students to access content repeatedly and across multiple time zones and, learning from the flipped classroom model, create more time for students and faculty to focus on interactions with each other during classes carried out through a variety of online platforms.

Professors Michele GORMAN and Adam ELSTEIN_Undergraduate Architecture

Arch 503 Degree Project Design Studio: Architecture and Magic

The current health crisis has presented us with the challenge to move the architectural review online which has presented some opportunities for us to innovate and rethink our current out of date practices. Students are innovating on new ways to present that do not rely on elaborate physical models and printed drawings pinned to the wall, which is wasteful practice that only adds to the environmental crisis. Students in our Degree Project class, who will be graduating online in May, have pivoted their projects with ease to a Pratt Commons WordPress site. Existing infrastructure at Pratt, thanks to IT, was already in place to create a website. We have addressed bandwidth issues by embedded Kaltura, Vimeo, and You Tube pre-recorded presentations to the WordPress site which focus them on clarifying their narratives for a more global audience.

Alejandra Sanchez and Susana Chincilla: “Levittown is…” 

Matthew Malcom and Pintian Liu: “Alexitecture” 

Nora Walz and Zhiyong Chen: “Dwelling in the After Image” 

Elena Martinoni: “Rhizomatic Realities”

Joshua Cooper: “You Will Never Understand”

Lin Siu: “Ground-less” 

Michelle Antonorsi: “Upside Down Manhattan: Dream Space” 

Aisha Aljassim: “Closets and Veils in Queer Kuwait” 

In addition, using SketchFab and interactive 360 video for immersive experiences, including VR, have given new ways to non-linearly review their work outside of the linear presentation format within the syncronous review. Immersing the Critic in the world they have created for Degree Project takes them out of their “seats” and allows them to experience the spaces from a first person perspective.

We are experimenting with this new asynchronous review format, in this time of quarantine, and have created a Pratt Degree Project Magic and Architecture website to make work in progress public and open for comments. The incredible part of this new format is that we can tailor Critics to Projects in a way that we have not been able to in the past. Feedback from outside of the Institute, including the Global South, will bring new voices to the review. The outdated form of present and defend to a homogenous architectural review panel has been challenged and we are able to accelerate the decolonizing of the architectural review.

PIC 394 Gaming Architecture In addition, for my Pratt Interdisciplinary Course, Gaming Architecture, students are now using gaming platforms as a new way to interact with a site. Students have hacked location based games using Unity, Mapbox and uploaded to itch.io to prospose to forms of civic space within interactive maps.

Professor Maria SIEIRA_Graduate Architecture and Urban Design

I now have former students that are professors themselves and they have been getting in touch about distance learning. This, by the way, is a term I learned recently; “distance learning” and not “online learning” is what we are doing now. The distinction is a professor at the other end of the line, and in any case, I like how the word “distance” speaks about something that is both physical and philosophical. There’s the physical distance to cover, instantaneously, through videoconferencing, my screen now the only window to my teaching world; there’s also the felt distance to overcome in order to recover the in-sync-ness that organically emerges in the physical space of studios and seminars. On the Monday of spring break I started logging thoughts about this in a blog (link below), as a way to communicate with all my various communities, in particular with my former students who are now teaching themselves (actually, even those in offices are likely “teaching” their less experienced colleagues). I’m counting the days and it seems much more than three weeks since my first log on 200316. As of this writing, I’ve had six video conference class sessions, not to mention multiple meetings, and I’m looking forward to the next time those familiar faces populate my screen.

This is my first semester teaching at Pratt and never could I have imagined that our traditional model of in-person intimate teaching, that has been the practice of architecture schools for more than 100 years, would be moved with such speed to an online environment. No one could have anticipated this moment.

Professor Dale COHEN_Undergraduate Architecture

I feel fortunate that my class is intimate and that over our few months together I have had the opportunity to get to know my students and their work. During week two of quarantine I welcomed the chance to connect with my students during our zoom office hours, to check in with them and to see how each of them was doing under these extraordinary circumstances. One student had departed the Sunday following the end of classes from Brooklyn for her home in Tblisi where she was quarantined, alone, at her aunt’s house for the prior 12 days (she’s out of solo quarantine now). She was in surprisingly good spirits, ahh youth! Another student, who is from Turkey, was alone in her 3-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn as her roommates had all left for their parent’s homes. She too seemed happy and clear eyed, but it was only week two. Several students were living with their parents again in Long Island and Detroit. I found everyone’s resilience and buoyancy remarkable and uplifting for me.

The seminar I teach “Writing Women Architects ON Film” is a film production class where the subject of the short films is to be the life and work of a single woman architect, this semester we are focusing on Pratt educators and architects. Our seminar class time is broken up into two or three parts. Every second or third week we have an outside visitor who is involved in making / producing documentaries or video production. The second hour of class we view short films or feature films, and analyzing the design and content of the work. Each student responds to the work with their thoughts, criticisms and questions. And the third hour of class we screen and review each student’s homework for the week as a class.

Spring break was to be the time when the students would do the majority of their interviews and shooting. With Covid-19 shutting down all in person interviews which was to be the backbone of their films, the students are now at work re-designing their films to create the same content, in a new way. This will take more work and creativity on the part of each student because they will need to employ found and created imagery to replace the ease of in-person interviews. Each student’s film will be submitted to the Architecture Design Film Festival.

In our first class we spent a portion of time catching up / checking in. As a group we talked about how each student was going to have to modify their films to adapt for what the footage of the interviews would have been and recreate their films with voice overs, found images and graphic design work that they will now be using. This will require re-working / re-designing their anticipated films and I think their final work will be better for it.

As per usual we ended class with viewing films. I selected two films about the Bauhaus to talk about the powerful work of graphic design in film. We watched the short film “Bauhaus design is everywhere, but its roots are political” and then the feature film a BBC Documentary “Bauhaus 100 – 100 Years of Bauhaus”. I was surprised how easy it was to share my screen and stop and start the films and to invite collaboration, as I do during our usual in person class sessions.

While I find the situation we are in as educators imperfect, I am grateful to be able to connect virtually with my students. I respect the situation we are all in now and we are all at work creating a new way to teach and work with our students. And I am clear, that while there are some incredible opportunities in this virtual moment, the virtual world does not in any way replace the true connectivity we have when we share space with one another and the intimacy of connections that we as educators make with our students when we are in a learning environment such as Pratt Institute.  I miss the comradery I was beginning to develop with my peers and the greater connection with my students and I welcome the challenge to learn and develop new skills needed to meet the challenge of this daunting moment.

Professor Robert BRACKETT III_Undergraduate Architecture

When the first notification came that Pratt would be suspending classes on March 12th, 2019, just two days before the start of our scheduled Spring break, my impulse was to use our scheduled Representation class time on Friday, March 13th to connect with all the first-year students before they dispersed into uncertainty. Surveying our available telepresence tools, I quickly tested running a Google Meet with the faculty scheduled to give our lecture to the entire first-year class to figure out how to deliver an accessible like stream experience to our students. I informed the students and faculty of the plan, noting that the lecture was not mandatory, there would be no attendance, and students should prioritize organizing travel plans and personal safety. We held the lecture, probably Pratt Architectures’ first fully remote live lecture of the crisis, with about one-third of the over 150 students joining the stream. The recording of the lecture was also made available to all the students so they could catch up during the study week. The purpose of this rapid response effort was to quickly establish lines of communication with students and faculty, to be clear that we will work together to carry on with our shared goals and to find ways to complete the semester with consistency as a community.

Open, organized, and constant communication is essential in any crisis, it has been my priority to demonstrate this to our Representation faculty and students during these extraordinary circumstances and share my efforts with other coordinators and the department administration. While the current situation is unprecedented and indeed extraordinary, as coordinator, the goal of timely, honest, and transparent communication is always my priority and practice, it just takes a little more effort of organization, synthesis, and follow up during these weeks of rapid adaptations. It is the threads of consistency and responsibility that serve the community in response to uncertainty. Due to my role as a coordinator, studio faculty, and academic senator, I have access to many streams of information. This makes me able to collect, organize, and synthesize that information and deliver it with clarity and consistency to faculty and students so they can also participate in the knowledge of the committed community here at Pratt. The access to transparent shared information gives us all the ability to respond, allowing us to cooperate in the responsibility of a shared mission in whatever capacity we can.

Now that we are back in the flow of regularly scheduled classes, operating virtually, our efforts shift to discovering and integrating the exceptions. Finding students that are in greater need or distress due to the rapid changes and helping them reconnect with the community. Finding faculty facing new challenges of communication and access with their students and helping them find the tools that will serve their goals. The faculty is back to teaching, the students are back to learning, we are continuing to investigate and participate in architecture, and we are discovering new platforms for agency and self-efficacy as twenty-first-century people. With nearly one week of official classes complete, it is hard to see the results of our massive efforts reflected in the work, but it is clear that we are adapting, we are making the adjustment, and we are making progress. This is a lot to ask and it is inspiring to see how the strength of our community and normally high level of effort by everyone creates a resilient foundation for the entire school. Together our normal is extraordinary.

Professor Jonas COERSMEIER_Graduate Architecture and Urban Design

It is April 1, 2020, week two of remote studio collaboration. How is it going so far? Let us start with the practical. Here are some suggestions on how to navigate the virtual studio space:

10 Recommendations for Remote Studio

1 Take your time On-screen presentations and online meetings have been part of studio culture for decades, so it might come as a surprise that the shift to all-remote learning brings longer studio sessions. Yet more time together might just be what we need during social isolation.

2 Sketch like there’s no tomorrow Our current online studio settings present a great opportunity for everyone to embrace sketching as a primary form of communication. Everyone’s screen sketches look equally awful, so a certain parity is assumed. Maybe we’ll see more liberated scribbles when we return to our studios at Higgins Hall, and we’ll credit our period of Covid-19 isolation for it.

3 Inspire screen-time parity Just as clumsy remote drawing tools provide opportunity for those, who are not confident with real time sketching, the structured, sequential changing of speaker status creates parity among participants. It gives equal air time to those who tend to go unheard during in-person reviews.

4 Go ahead, take control of my screen An invasion of privacy for some, a helpful remote hand for others, handing over or gaining control can be an eerie experience. Yet, there are obvious benefits in allowing a collaborator to mess with your 3D model. Consider trust as the basis of all collaboration, remote or not.

5 Announce that you are recording a session Ask for permission before you record a session, or make sure all participants are aware that you plan to do so.

6 Unmute before you speak It is generally good practice to mute your mic while listening, yet even the most brilliant commentary will get lost if you make the rookie mistake of not unmuting before you speak.

7 The green screen will eat you Using a virtual background is as much about obscuring your actual one as it is making a statement about the environment you would like to be in or identified with. The virtual background will at times eat into your silhouette. Nothing wrong with that; embrace the effect.

8 The shock of seeing yourself on screen Yes, there is a secret Zoom filter that will make you look better (Preferences/video > ‘Touch up my appearance’) and it is subtle enough that it isn’t obvious you have it on – a bit unfortunate, because you can’t do a full-on Cindy Sherman (instagram.com/cindysherman)

9 Use the full screen Lay out your slides to wide screen aspect ratio 16:9 and present in full screen mode. Vector files are best converted to images to display proper line-weights. 1920×1080 pixels is currently a good resolution. When presenting from a 3D software, minimize the command line and tool bars and maximize the screen real estate for one view port.

10 Don’t drive while Zooming It seems obvious, but I just had to tell a student to pull over during a remote session. True story.