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Building Biography: A Living Archive of Columbia GSAPP

May 12 – May 26, 2021
Across New York City
Research Question
When we think of the practice of ‘Architecture’, it must be defined by more than its physical structures. It must be centered around building networks, histories and identities. Taking-on this extended view of the discipline through a biographical lens, the project seeks to outline who we have been, who we are and who we will become, as an institution. Welcoming students from all programs and backgrounds, the workshop will be offered in a hybrid model, based upon active conversation, interviews, teamwork with guest speakers and at least one off-site visit, if possible. As a collective group, over the 2-week session, participants will work through a series of activities to produce a ‘living archive’ of Columbia GSAPP to reflect our space of progressive higher learning, interdisciplinary integration and critical engagement. The purpose of this workshop is to develop an expanded institutional biographical archive of GSAPP in order to highlight the rich histories of our diverse student body and the school’s presence as an important pillar in our University community, New York City and the Academy at large. The research undertaken hopes to advance the school’s mission of, “developing new forms of pedagogy, research, and practice to engage the crucial issues of our time across all scales of the built environment”, through creative methodologies and distinct interventions.

This work will be undertaken through three primary modes of research:

  • Timeline formation: Padlet construction

    • Develop visual model documenting the school’s historical trajectory.
  • Engaged connections: Consultation among current GSAPP affiliates, Faculty, staff, administration and Alumni.

    • Conduct interviews and / or survey work to develop platform of shared experience and collective histories.
  • Expanded archival Practices: Develop narrative historiography of the school’s legacy + connections outside the institution.

    • Adopt the 5 steps of the historical method (E.g., Collection Classification, Analysis, Interception, Reporting) to form an interactive collection of uncovered materials.
Critical Texts
  • The Making of an architect, 1881-1981: Columbia University in the City of New York, Rizzoli, 1981
  • When Ivory Towers Were Black: A Story About Race in America’s Cities and Universities, Sutton, 2017
  • Living Archive – Archive Work as a Contemporary Artistic and Curatorial Practice, Berlin, 2013
  • From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association, Harzinski, 2010
  • Curating America: Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past, Rabinowitz, 2016

Each student will be asked to bring in at least one visual reference and one written form of documentation or critical text to collectively engage with.


The two weeks will be broken up into 3 distinct sections:

  • 12th-14th: project familiarization & timeline development
  • 17th-21st: work/research, field trip, guest speaker
  • 24th-26th: deliverables/presentation

Sessions run 10:30am-4:30pm with a 45min. lunch break and at least one ‘coffee’ break, time dependent. Please note that the first and last session will be short days.

Output and Findings

Spanning themes and chronologies, the work will perform a tracing of GSAPP past, present and future, through:

  • A reflection of increasing consciousness in pursuit of a more equitable learning environment.
  • Collaborative problem-solving, creative curatorial programming and inclusive methodologies.
  • An excavation of the school’s founding and progression, featuring significant events, moments-in-time and people along the way.
  • Identification of key historical resources and tools available to best represent and document the diverse GSAPP community & landscape.
  • An alternative form of architectural production- and better understand what it “means” to do so.
  • Generating an ongoing (e.g., living) archive carried out over the workshop and which can be expanded upon in the afterlife the project.
  • Emphasizing a cross-disciplinary approach to narrative historiography.
  • Sharing different forms of visual material and documentation to create a non-linear, anti-monolithic depiction of the school.
  • Utilizing visual storytelling and oral histories to represent the colourful mosaic of GSAPP.

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