Spring 2018 Urban Design Semester Update
From the Director

Greetings from Morningside Heights, New York City!

Our Spring semester just ended, and graduation was a mere few weeks ago. In their final semester, the class of 2018 broke new ground in our Water Urbanism studio, now in its third year. At this year’s sites in Aqaba, Jordan and Varanasi, India, students integrated mapping and analysis of physical infrastructure, social life, landscape and built systems to generate urban design visions and strategies. And now, as you read this, members of our incoming class of 2018-19 are just starting their new life here at GSAPP. It is always a thrill to meet them, and to map the journey ahead.

We are proud that this year we developed substantial research and work with our regional think (and act!) tank, the Hudson Valley Initiative. The HVI’s director Kaja Kuhl is helping develop community outreach and projects in Poughkeepsie, Hudson and Newburgh, and elsewhere in the Valley, with the aim of bringing the skills of urban design to positively impact and change the region.

We also launched the Columbia Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, with a focus on global cities. The Center’s inaugural project, the groundbreaking Resilience Accelerator, in partnership with Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) will leverage the research, planning and design expertise at Columbia with the local knowledge and relationships of partner cities to advance high priority resilience projects confronting the impacts of climate change. The Center will overlap with UD program teaching, including a new focus on urban resilience for our Spring studio and an interdisciplinary ecology seminar in the Fall semester.

The Summer semester is packed with field trips and lectures. Check out the ever-growing Events link on the GSAPP website.

I wanted to write a special thank you to David Smiley and to all the Urban Design faculty, whose hard work, dedication, and talent continues to be a source of inspiration for our students.

With appreciation,

Kate Orff
Associate Professor
Director, Urban Design Program

Program Updates

The Spring travel studios in Varanasi, India, and Amman and Aqaba, Jordan concluded with robust final review discussions at Avery Hall, and at the Indian Consulate. Student work spanned a range of spatial and programmatic strategies. Studio faculty included Kate Orff, Petra Kempf, Geeta Mehta, Dilip da Cunha, Nora Akawi, Ziad Jamaleddine, Laura Kurgan, and Julia Watson. We were joined by “roving engineer” Jason Loiselle. Student work was displayed during the End of Year Show, and will soon be available as an eBook on the GSAPP website. In addition, the work will be exhibited in the Fall at the Columbia Global Center Mumbai and Studio X AmmanColumbia Global Center Amman.

The Summer Five Borough Studio includes new and returning faculty including, Tricia Martin, Brian Baldor, Hayley Eber, Shachi Pandey, and some of our UD’s own graduates, Sagi Golan and Austin Sakong. We’re excited for all of them to be part of the team as they introduce the new students to New York City as a learning lab, examining biophysical infrastructures, conflicting public and private interests, and ongoing socio-spatial change.

Lectures & Events

This Spring semester at GSAPP has been busy! Across the semester, the UD program sponsored a series of school-wide lectures.

In February, UD faculty Dilip da Cunha presented “River vs. Rain” and afterwards discussed the role of water in urbanization with Rosalie Genevro, the Director of the Architectural League of New York. His most recent book, The Invention of Rivers: Alexander’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent, is forthcoming from University of Pennsylvania Press later this year. Laura Kurgan organized the Ways of Knowing Cities, a multi-disciplinary conference exploring questions of representation and knowledge in shaping urban practices.

In March, UD faculty Nora Akawi presented Mapping Borderlands, a discussion of the problems embedded in the ways in which territories are created, understood and shift. UD faculty Cassim Shepard discussed his new book Citymakers: The Culture and Craft of Practical Urbanism, an examination of the work of non-traditional actors in the making of cities and places – the array of citizens engaged in diverse practices, from community gardeners to architects to housing advocates. Cassim recently received an Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Architecture.

UD visitor Dr. Syste de Maat presented his work, The Perfect Slum, seeing in such places not disarray or even merely informality but a range of practices and forms of knowledge demonstrating the fruitful building and social interactions outside of institutional and regulatory bodies. Janette Sadik-Khan, the world-renowned (former) head of NYC’s Department of Transportation, presented her book Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, the story of the ways in which city policies, agencies, and designers have been able to dramatically shift popular and scholarly thinking about streets, public spaces and urban mobility.

In April, the Buell Center and the UD program sponsored a lecture by Pierre Bélanger, Associate Professor of Landscape and Urbanism at Harvard’s GSD, titled The Decolonization of Design. Through his work and research, Bélanger raised the question of why the discourse on climate change has failed to acknowledge the dire effects of territorial sovereignties and political geographies that confront the bounded systems and perceived permanence of the nation-state. UD faculty Ziad Jamaleddine presented Building the Arab City, an examination of the complexity and fluidity of the politics of mapping the Middle East – shifting over time between fragmented and unified territorial claims, between the pushes and pulls of Nation-States, Pan-Arabism and political Islam, and including deep divides over modernity, transnational economies, and varied claims to power.

The Hudson Valley Initiative

During the Spring semester the HVI continued outreach and research. On March 31, the HVI convened a Gallery Meet, the second gathering designed to bring people and organizations together for an exchange of ideas, projects, and opportunities. Held at the Hudson Valley Design Lab in Poughkeepsie, New York, three conversations were framed by student work of the UD Fall 2017 studio, on display in the gallery. Michael Murphy of Mass Design Group and Kaja Kühl, introduced the day and conversations included: Regional Ecologies, moderated by Caitlin Taylor, MASS Design Group; Social Infrastructure, moderated by Lee Altman, SCAPE Landscape Architecture and UD faculty; and Alternative Economies moderated by Chris Kroner, Mass Design Group and UD faculty.

In addition, UD and the HVI screened Lost Rondout: A Story of Urban Removal, a story of the logics and effects of urban renewal as experienced in one city, Kingston, New York, and how one neighborhood survived the destruction. The film and the following discussion made clear that, today, gentrification and redevelopment are also powerful disruptions in community life.

Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes

On March 27, Kate Orff and the GSAPP launched a new Center with a panel discussion about Columbia’s role in bridging research and policy, and bringing science and design expertise to real challenges in cities around the world. Joining Kate in discussion were: Sam Carter, Director, Resilience Accelerator, 100 Resilient Cities; Radley Horton, Lamont Associate Research Professor and Co-Chair, Climate Adaptation Initiative; Upmanu Lall, Director, Columbia Water Center, The Earth Institute; Thaddeus Pawlowski, UD faculty and Managing Director, Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes. Discussion included the variety of resilience strategies, the differing roles of design, infrastructure and policy, emerging climate hazards and stresses unique to cities and the very meaning of the term resilience in an age of financial globalization.

After UD & GSAPP

Meanwhile, in April, the GSAPP Career Services and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations held a Speed Networking event, in which students had the opportunity to test and improve their interviewing skills and to discuss their work. If you are interested in participating as an alumni mentor or connecting your firm with GSAPP - or if have or know of opportunities to hire our grads, please let us know. Francesca Fanelli in the Career Services Office wants to hear from you.

Faculty Updates

Justin Garrett Moore, the Executive Director of the NYC Public Design Commission, recently launched a new guide for the design of affordable housing, Designing New York: Quality Affordable Housing. He also serves as a member of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, recently leading to the removal of the controversial J. Marian Sims monument in Central Park. This semester, Justin delivered the Eero Saarinen Lecture at the Yale School of Architecture, titled, “Urban Fields and Design Tools;” he presented his work at an international conference about Urbanism in the Anthropocene at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. As a member of the NYC-based collective of black urbanists, BlackSpace, Justin helped organize Spaces and Places: Community-Led Initiatives in New Orleans, and helped secure a grant from the J. M. Kaplan Fund for community-centered heritage conservation, planning and design initiatives in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Later this month, Julia Watson’s work will be shown at an exhibition at NYU, Collapse: Climate, Cities & Culture; she was assisted by GSAPP student Jane Chongsuwat (CCCP ’19), and funded by a Tamer grant from the Columbia Business School. Julie will be lecturing this summer at the University of East London’s Tangible – Intangible Heritage(s) conference, and will be presenting at Navigating Complexity, the XXIII International Conference of the Society for Human Ecology in Lisbon.

Asia Initiatives, co-founded by UD faculty Geeta Mehta, is among the six winners of the “Happy Cities” competition for the Indian city of Amravati. The State government plans to implement Social Capital Credits as part of a new capital complex currently being designed by Norman Foster and Hafiz Contractor.

Faculty Geeta Meta and Kate Orff have been appointed to New York City’s Waterfront Management Advisory Board by the Office of the Mayor of New York.

Spring studio faculty Nora Akawi was part of a team that received the President’s Global Innovation Fund at Columbia for Co-Creating an Urban Displacement Solutions Alliance. She is also co-curator of Friday Sermon, shown at the 2018 Venice Biennale, for the Kingdom of Bahrain with Noura Al Sayeh, assisted by Gizem Sivri.

Kaja Kuhl started a podcast series last year called the UD Sessions: The Expanded Field of Urban Design, featuring conversations with urban designers around the globe who graduated from GSAPP’s Urban Design program. By discussing their current work and reflecting on how their experience at GSAPP shaped their thinking about design, cities, and politics, the conversations explore the ways in which the field of urban design has expanded in recent years. Listen to the first episodes from 2017, conducted by UD faculty Grahame Shane, and stay tuned for more as we reach out to other voices. For suggestions, contact Kaja or Grahame.

Grahame Shane continues to roam the globe, lecturing on urbanism at the Architectural Association, Milan Polytechnic, Seville University, and the University of Pennsylvania. At the same time, he taught his Recombinant Urbanism seminar at GSAPP as well as an undergraduate urban history course at Pratt Institute with Professors Federica Vannucchi and Gonzalo Lopez.

Damon Rich has also been traveling a lot, lecturing and giving keynotes about urbanism as well as the work of his firm. He spoke at a Newark Conservancy event about community gardens; at a Denver ACSA and AIA event about urbanism and teaching; and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wingspread (conference center), on “Beyond Resilience.” Damon gave the inaugural Clarence S. Stein lecture at Cornell School of Architecture, Art and Planning. He and his partner Jae Shin, lectured about their firm – Hector Design Service – at MIT and in Baltimore, hosted by the AIA and ASLA.

Nans Voron, UD faculty and class of 2015, works at SCAPE, and was the project manager and lead designer for “Ecological Citizens,” the firm’s contribution to Dimensions of Citizenship at U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. The project combined maps and images of systemic marshland loss with on the ground actions. Nabi Agzamov (‘17) was one of the designers on the project team.


Iñaki Echeverria (‘98) is currently working on several urban design and park projects in Mexico. Atlacomulco Park, opening later this year, combines sports and wastewater infrastructures. Coatzacoalcos Park, soon to begin construction, combines existing public facilities in the old center of the town with new landscape, water and sports facilities. Parque CDT in Tijuana has been submitted to the city’s authorities; it will bring green infrastructure to the city, including a lake, a botanical collection, nursery, sports infrastructure, and a solar farm that doubles as shading structure.

Dongsei Kim (‘09) was​ selected as the 2018 Sherman Family Emerging Scholar by the Korea Society. The award encourages new American thought leadership about Korea. Kim will present his work on the Korean Demilitarized Zone at the Korea Society in September.

Daniel Montes-Santamaria (‘09) works for Gene Kaufman, Architect, and has just completed the New York City filings for a new “privately owned public space” as part of an incentivized hotel development. The plaza is designed to serve pedestrians and hotel guests with seating and tables, urban lighting and light posts, a drinking fountain, a bike rack, and extensive planting beds of bushes and trees.

Hive Public Space, founded by Alexandra Gonzalez (’11) and Racha Daher (‘11) was selected by NYCxDesign to redesign street furniture for the Times Square Design Lab (TSQDL) program. The Hive piece, “Title Wave,” will be part of the seating and display of the Strand Bookstore pop-up shop in Times Square. Gonzalez also spoke at the NYCxDesign panel “Creating the Times Square Design Lab.” Gonzalez was part of the inaugural Women-Led Cities (#womenledcities) conference in Philadelphia, where 30 women leaders from around the world gathered for discussions and agenda-setting.

Noor Makkiya (‘13) has been conducting research – mostly about Iraq – for her “Architecture in War” project, in collaboration with GSAPP’s Studio-X in Amman. She has also started to blog about her thoughts on architecture, urbanism and war, here and here. She has lectured on these issues in the UAE and in Maryland. She recently co-founded Triplicity Architects, an all-female, research and design group focusing on Iraq.

Samarth Das (‘13) has been working on a Vision Plan for the Juhu neighborhood of Mumbai and, as part of the plan, a test project to re-think the Irla nullah, one of many natural water courses taking stormwater to the sea. The old nullah system, once running 300 km through the city, suffered from channelization and drainage, with most becoming open sewers and garbage dumps. The Irla Nullah project is a test case to show that the system can be re-envisioned as networks of public spaces – including recreational and park uses – working through the city’s neighborhoods and nurturing the city’s development plans.

Abhijeet Shrivastava ('14) is currently an urban designer and resiliency planner with WSP, New York. His recent projects include, East Parcel Redevelopment in Sleepy Hollow and Brooklyn-Queens Connector Streetcar.

Silvia Vercher ('14) has been working with Marco Sosa (‘13) and Margarita Papadimitriou (‘09) at Perkins Eastman on a large scale new district in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, addressing population growth, pollution, flooding, public space, mobility and safety.

Grace Pelletier (‘14) is a senior designer at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and is currently managing urban design studies along Sims Bayou in Houston, Texas. The study is part of the larger Bayou Greenways 2020 project, transforming 3,000 underutilized acres of land and connecting parks and communities with 150 miles of hike-and-bike trails.

Julio Cedano (‘15) has been working as an urban designer for the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department. He recently completed a framework plan with Goody Clancy (Boston) for the Southwest Detroit Neighborhood. He is also working on a form-based code for the neighborhood of Brush Park, with Utile (Boston) and Hamilton-Anderson (Detroit).

And last but not least, one of our most recent grads One Lea (‘18) has exhibited his drawings – while in school! About the drawings (which you can find on Instagram), he says: My work focuses on digitalization in architecture and urbanism by showing an evolution from free-range and free-form expression to a methodology for organizing and drawing relationships between ideologies, materials, culture, and theologies. One now works at Haenglim Architects.

Have a great Summer and we’ll see you in the Fall. And don’t forget, let us know what you are up to! Send info to: ud@arch.columbia.edu.