Letter from the Dean

Dean Amale Andraos portrait

At Columbia GSAPP, the only constant is change. As a leader in shaping the fields of architecture and the built environment, the school combines playful experimentation, unbridled imagination, disciplinary expertise, and incisive critical thinking and practice together with an uncompromising engagement with the world.

Located in one of the most vibrant global cities, Columbia GSAPP’s learning environment enables every student to design their own journey of proliferating ideas, inspiring work, and important new questions, all committed to exploring the future of architecture, cities, and the environment in a spirit of intellectual generosity that strives to imagine new forms of practice, knowledge, and collaboration for the expanded disciplines of architecture and the built environment.

In this unique time when many of the challenges facing the world are inseparable from the built environment, the School gathers some of the world’s greatest practitioners and scholars to create an unprecedented opportunity for convergence of its disciplines and practices. Climate change and its impact on cities requires us to re-imagine infrastructure, housing, questions of density, and new possibilities for urban ecology. Such questions are inevitably global, inviting us to think relationally across cities, cultures, and contexts, and to rethink the changing dynamic between the urban, the rural, and the natural.

At GSAPP, a building is never just a building — it is also a concept, a set of material practices, a staging of relationships, an encounter of species, an aesthetic and lived experience, and an economic reality. Buildings are the embodiment of the conflicts we negotiate through design, they are a bundle of energy, a maintenance concern and an object that is once bounded and porous; they seem whole but are in fact only ever a collection of parts that happen to organize themselves in a certain way for a time. We can take all those ingredients and scale them down to re-invent a brick or scale them up to re-imagine a city. This thinking across scales — spatial scales but also temporal scales — is one of our most critical and distinctive expertise as architects and planners, designers and developers. We move from one scale to another through drawing, we transform material realities through building, and we visualize endless amounts of information to project new realities through design.

Our simultaneous focus on the real outside and its abstraction inside the school is an immensely productive tension that reflects a very particular combination of continuity and change. Most of Columbia GSAPP’s programs are among the first of their kind in the United States and date back to the origins of professional practice in architecture, urbanism, planning, and preservation in the country. From the earliest days of the school, these were incredible experiments weaving together European artistry and American pragmatism, professional training and liberal education, echoing the best Columbia University had and continues to offer.

Today we continue this experiment, very aware of the architectural history that has taken place inside Avery’s walls. And yet, a defining trait of our school’s past is that it has also led the constant change of the disciplines and practices it holds. The ongoing work of the school is a constant reminder of this process of re-invention, as it registers not ‘what architecture is’ but rather embodies the disagreements about what it may have been, fosters debates on what it could become, and empowers passionate pleas for what it could do and how.

And so, this is what we do best: with the particular chemistry that comes from our unique combination of our classical American campus and the density and diversity of the city it exists in, we strive to hold things together, to draw connections, to make relations visible, and to imagine how we can transform them. We synthesize past and future, the possible and the impossible, the material and the imaginary, the urban and the natural, art and life, the outside and the inside, continuity and change.

Learning to hold things together, and especially the idealism and freshness with which our students approach their work and thinking here at the school, is the most important gift they leave us with. Our role at Columbia GSAPP is to give them the means and knowledge to preserve this ability, freedom, and conviction for the future.

—Dean Amale Andraos, Spring 2017