Tschumi Steps Down

On June 30, 2002 Bernard Tschumi, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation announced he will step down from his position next year. “Fifteen years is an architectural generation,” said Tschumi in a press release put out by the university. “It is time for a new person to take over, and for the school to enter a new phase in its evolution.”

During his tenure at Columbia, Tschumi made the architecture school one of the most advanced in the country. Computers updated student work in 1994 when the digital “paperless” studio was created. He also designed the controversial Alfred Lerner Hall, the university’s student center that was completed in 1999.

Galia Solomonoff, class of 1994, recalls the radicalism and passion of Tschumi’s theoretical work, as a refreshing alternative to what she calls the “commodity-based” architecture of New York City firms like Richard Meier, I. M. Pei, SOM, and Gwathmey-Siegel. Tschumi’s “event-cities” architecture, based on Situationist and French Deconstructivist theories, looked at people as participants in a city’s architecture and pointed to the idea that architecture is both an open work and an event . “There is no architecture without action,” Tschumi writes in his book, “Event-Cities” (MIT Press, 1994). But his greatest contribution, recalls this former student, is fostering a spirit of openness and diversity at the school.

Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation: www.arch.columbia.edu
Tschumi: www.tschumi.com
SYSTEMarchitects; www.systemarchitects.net
MESH: www.mesh-arc.com
OpenOffice: www.open-office.net
Cho/Slade: www.choslade.com
Archi-tectonics: www.archi-tectonics.com
Lot/ek: www.lotekarchitecture.com
SHoP: www.shoparc.com
Urbanlab: www.urbanlab.com

“Coming from the Architectural Association, Bernard saw architecture differently from many other people in the city,” Solomonoff says. “And, he allowed people, who saw it in different ways than he did, to be part of the faculty, all at the same time.”

Gregg Pasquerelli, a 1994 graduate and now a partner at SHoP, agrees. “He executed a pedagogy of total openness,” he says. “He let us find our way as students and he let us have our own voices as faculty members, completely. The environment he fostered was pure inspiration.”

It was that open environment back in 1992 that led Pasquerelli and Ed Keller, then second year architecture graduate students, along with faculty member Greg Lynn, to propose the purchase of Silicon Graphics International (SGI) computers and animation software for the school’s studios. “Bernard would listen to a second year graduate student who said, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on,’” says Pasquerelli. “There was never a top down philosophy.”

Solomonoff, who was on the student council at the time, remembers debating the use of SGI and Alias as software. “Everyone was thinking we should be using AutoCAD,” she says. “I remember Bernard saying that ‘It is not an issue of representing architecture or drawing differently. It’s an issue of a conception of a space.’” A decade later, most architectural schools are using animation software as part of their curriculum.

Meetings at the school could be tense, Solomonoff remembers. “You had Kenneth Frampton and Steven Holl holding one position at one end, Bernard and Greg Lynn at the other end, Stan Allen and others in the middle,” she explains. It was a strange diversity and it worked. Students could study with Bob Stern, Steven Holl, and Victoria Meyers, or they could take Greg Lynn, Hani Rashid, and Ed Keller, and end up with a completely different education.

“In the five years I taught there, Bernard never once told me what I should teach.” Pasquerelli states. “Actually, when the school was really hot on the whole paperless thing and I told him my second studio was not going to be paperless anymore, he had a big smile on his face. He totally supported anything I wanted to do.”

Tschumi steps down from his position June 30, 2003. In the meantime, he’ll be working to expand his architectural practice, which includes designing new architecture schools in Miami and in Marne La Vallée, France. He will remain on the Columbia faculty.

When the news broke of Tschumi’s resignation, the cocktail conversation in New York architectural circles, aside from who will succeed him (I’ve heard everyone from Enrique Norten to Zaha Hadid), turned to Tschumi’s legacy at the school.

Was it his introduction of Deconstructivist and French intellectual theory? Perhaps.

Was it his promotion of the blob and the bleb? Probably not.

Or, was it his creation of the “paperless” studio? A safe bet.

Tschumi’s greatest contribution to Columbia will be the work of his students. If you look back at the school’s golden years between 1991 and 1996, those graduates are only now starting to emerge with a solid body of work. Architects like Douglas Gauthier and Jeremy Edminston of SYSTEMarchitects; Eric Liftin of MESH; Galia Solomonoff and Lyn Rice of OpenOffice; Min Cho and James Slade of Cho/Slade; Lindy Roy, Winka Dubbeldam of Archi-tectonics; Laura Kurgan; Dan Wood of OMA; Guiseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla of Lot/ek; William Sharples, Coren Sharples, Christopher Sharples, Gregg Pasquarelli and Kimberly Holden of SHoP; and Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen of Urbanlab are some of the architects and architectural firms now coming of age. All of them studied at Columbia. And they’re all producing strong work.

Tschumi’s legacy, like his theory of architecture, is an open work, one that awaits the next generation of Columbia architects to take his call to action.

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