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Welcome to GSAPP’s Spring 2021 Semester

January 11, 2021

Dear GSAPP Community,

As we launch into the Spring Semester, I want to first wish all of you a Happy New Year and welcome you either back or, if you’re just joining us now, for the first time, hopefully refreshed from a well-deserved break and energized for an exciting, galvanizing, and optimistic semester ahead.

In this hopeful start of a new year, I share with many the contradictory feelings that we find ourselves experiencing: on the one hand, I feel a readiness for the global tragedy that is COVID to finally be over and experience optimism and eagerness at the knowledge that vaccinations have started in New York and around the world. On the other hand, I live with the anxious knowledge that cases are rising, a more contagious strain of the virus has emerged, and we must continue to be extremely vigilant, keeping ourselves and each other as safe as possible—a social responsibility I hope we will continue to share for each other even once the pandemic has passed.

We begin the year looking forward to the swearing-in of President-Elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman of color and Black woman to reach this level of office; nevertheless, we remain shaken by the violence that took hold of the Capitol in a brazen assault on the U.S. democratic process, a day that revealed again, in the starkest terms, the long road still ahead in achieving social and racial justice and equity in this country. While we brace ourselves for more uncertainty in the coming weeks, months, and well beyond, we are also fortunate in having immense opportunities to contribute ideas and knowledge on the intersection of climate, social and racial equity, and the impact of novel forms of technology on the built environment.

In light of this multiplicity of feelings, we remain absolutely committed to providing a safe and vibrant home for ongoing discussions about the role of the built environment in our ever-changing world, as well as the best possible academic experience. We are especially driven to continue to find new ways of creating collaborations, social encounters, and a sense of building community even as we remain, and in great numbers, physically and geographically dispersed. To this end, and thanks to the invaluable feedback we received throughout the Fall, we have prepared a range of activities that will help us connect with one another particularly during these first weeks while the University remains on remote operations. New opportunities this semester include virtual “Mentor Tours,” which will help students discover places around campus and the city, “Ask a Recent Grad” sessions for informal discussions allowing you to connect and learn from our alumni in new ways, and social “Cocktails and Conversations” sessions hosted by faculty. You can find details, dates, and zoom links on the password-protected GSAPP intranet page. As students, you should have already received information on the next round of our Peer Pairings mentorship program, and I hope that this gives you further opportunities to connect with your fellow students across our programs.

These virtual efforts are further supported by creating additional spaces for in-person social interactions to the degree permissible. With the return to campus on January 25, we will launch a temporary GSAPP tent installed on the Avery Plaza between Fayerweather and Schermerhorn Halls. This 30’ x 30’ tent will include heating fans, lighting, and AV capability to ensure that both in-person and remote students have access to the activities taking place in the tent, which can include reviews, social gatherings, or class meetings. Use of the tent will be managed through the room reservation process via rooms@arch.columbia.edu, with occupancy based on physical distancing requirements. This first tent will act as a temporary ‘placeholder’ for a second tent and events pavilion which will be designed and constructed in a Spring seminar led by Professors Laurie Hawkinson and Galia Solomonoff and titled The Outside In: Thinking and Constructing the Event Tent. This seminar will build upon ideas generated in the start of the Spring’s Advanced Studios Charrette and will work closely with others across the School’s programs to create a space of coming together and sharing ideas.

This semester we also have an exciting schedule of public programming, which extends the School’s commitment to exploring the intersections of racial equity, social justice, and climate change across the built environment throughout this academic year. The series begins this Friday with a discussion about two trailblazing GSAPP alumnae, “Norma Merrick Sklarek and Beverly L. Greene: New Research in Black Women’s History in Architecture,” hosted by Professor Mary McLeod with Victoria Rosner, Patricia Morton, and Roberta Washington. Next week, two back-to-back programs offer a range of ways to take action on climate change: on January 21, we will welcome Katharine Wilkinson, co-editor of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, in conversation with Professor Kate Orff and additional contributors to the book; on January 22, I will have the pleasure to welcome pioneer Edward Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, joined by Earth Institute director Alex Halliday. I encourage you to browse the full event calendar for more details and very much hope you will continue to join us often for what will surely be important and inspiring conversations.

We understand that many students continue to experience financial difficulties that are exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Please know that the School will continue to support students in need throughout the Spring semester. Requests for emergency funding can be made through this online form and will be reviewed by the Financial Aid office on an individual basis. Additionally, GSAPP has received an allocation through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds, to which students who are eligible for federal aid may apply. The website posting includes details on qualifying expenses and the application form, which is due January 24.

Please continue to visit the University website for guidance on a safe return to campus, and I very much look forward to this special semester as we begin to transition together from the most difficult circumstances of the past year to a hopeful end of spring in which we can start to imagine, and act together towards, a more sustainable, equitable and creative future for the built environment around the planet.


Amale Andraos