Architecture and Design Studies

Architecture and design studies at Sarah Lawrence College is a cross-disciplinary initiative that offers a variety of analytical approaches to the cultural act of constructing environments, buildings, and aesthetic, yet functional, objects. Courses in architectural and art history and theory, computer design, environmental studies, physics, and sculpture allow students to investigate—in both course work and conference—a wide range of perspectives and issues dealing with all facets of built design. These perspectives include theoretical explorations in history and criticism, formal approaches that engage sociopolitical issues, sustainable problem-solving, and spatial exploration using both digital and analog design tools.

Courses of study might include structural engineering in physics and projects on bridge design that reflect those structural principles in courses on virtual architecture and sculpture; the study of the architecture and politics of sustainability in class and conference work for art and architectural history and environmental studies; and sculpture and art history courses that engage issues of technology, expression, and transgression in the uses of the techniques and crafts of construction. When coordinated with participating faculty, programs of study offer an excellent preparation for further engagement in the fields of architecture (both theory and practice), digital and environmental design, and engineering.

Architecture and Design Studies 2024-2025 Courses

First-Year Studies: Anthropology and Images

FYS—Year

Images wavered in the sunlit trim of appliances, something always moving, a brightness flying, so much to know in the world. —Don Delillo, Libra

A few cartoons lead to cataclysmic events in Europe. A man’s statement that he “can’t breathe” ricochets across North America. A photograph printed in a newspaper moves a solitary reader. A snapshot posted on the Internet leads to dreams of fanciful places. Memories of a past year haunt us like ghosts. What each of these occurrences has in common is that they all entail the force of images in our lives, whether these images are visual, acoustic, or tactile in nature; made by hand or machine; circulated by word of mouth; or simply imagined. In this seminar, we will consider the role that images play in the lives of people in various settings throughout the world. In delving into terrains at once actual and virtual, we will develop an understanding of how people throughout the world create, use, circulate, and perceive images—and how such efforts tie into ideas and practices of sensory perception, time, memory, affect, imagination, sociality, history, politics, and personal and collective imaginings. Through these engagements, we will reflect on the fundamental human need for images, the complicated politics and ethics of images, aesthetic and cultural sensibilities, dynamics of time and memory, the intricate play between the actual and the imagined, and the circulation of digital images in an age of globalization and social media. We will also consider the spectral, haunting qualities of many imaginal moments in life. Readings are to include a number of writings in anthropology, art history, philosophy, psychology, cultural studies, and critical theory. Images are to be drawn from photographs, films and videos, paintings, sculptures, drawings, street art and graffiti, religion, rituals, tattoos, inscriptions, novels, poems, road signs, advertisements, dreams, fantasies, and any number of fabulations in the worlds in which we live and imagine. The seminar will be held during two class sessions each week during the fall and spring terms. Along with that, students will meet individually with the instructor every other week through the course of each semester to discuss their ongoing academic and creative work. In the fall semester, we will all also meet every other week in an informal group setting to watch films together, discuss student research and writing projects, and engage creatively with images and imaginal thought.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a blind person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular lived realities in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such realities in terms that more general social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology offers an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try their hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific social or subjective reality through a combination of ethnographic research, participant observation, and ethnographic writing.

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First-Year Studies: Art and History

FYS—Year

The visual arts and architecture constitute a central part of human expression and experience, and both grow from and influence our lives in profound ways that we might not consciously acknowledge. In this course, we will explore intersections between the visual arts and cultural, political, and social history. The goal is to teach students to deal critically with works of art, using the methods and some of the theories of the discipline of art history. This course is not a survey but, rather, will have as its subject a limited number of artists and works of art and architecture that students will learn about in depth through formal analysis, readings, discussion, research, and debate. We will endeavor to understand each work from the point of view of its creators and patrons and by following the work's changing reception by audiences throughout time. To accomplish this, we will need to be able to understand some of the languages of art. The course, then, is also a course in visual literacy—the craft of reading and interpreting visual images on their own terms. We will also discuss a number of issues of contemporary concern; for instance, the destruction of art, free speech and respect of religion, the art market, and the museum. Students will be asked to schedule time on weekends to travel to Manhattan on their own or in the College van to do assignments at various museums in New York. You will need to leave several hours for each of these visits and will keep a notebook of comments and drawings of works of art. There will be weekly conferences first semester and biweekly conferences second semester in the first-year studies.

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Art and Society in the Lands of Islam

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course will explore the architecture and visual arts of societies in which Islam is a strong political, cultural, or social presence. We will follow the history of some of these societies through the development of their arts and architecture, using case studies to explore their diverse artistic languages from the advent of Islam through the contemporary world. We will begin with an introduction to the history surrounding the advent of Islam and the birth of arts and architecture that respond to the needs of the new Islamic community. We will proceed to follow the developments of diverse artistic and architectural languages of expression as Islam spreads to the Mediterranean and to Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America—exploring the ways in which arts can help define and express identities for people living in multiconfessional societies. We will then draw this exploration into the present day, in which global economics, immigration, and politics draw the architecture and artistic attitudes of Islam into the global contemporary discourse. Our work will include introductions to some of the theoretical discourses that have emerged concerning cultural representation and exchange and appropriation in art and architecture. One of our allied goals will be to learn to read works of art and to understand how an artistic expression that resists representation can connect with its audience. And throughout this course, we will ask: Can there be an Islamic art?

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Choreographing Light for the Stage

Component—Year

This course will examine the fundamentals of design and how to both think compositionally and work collaboratively as an artist. The medium of light will be used to explore the relationship of art, technology, and movement. Discussion and experimentation will reveal how light defines and shapes an environment. Students will learn a vocabulary to speak about light and to express their artistic ideas. Through hands-on experience, students will practice installing, programming, and operating lighting fixtures and consoles. The artistic and technical skills that they build will then be demonstrated together by creating original lighting designs for the works developed in the Live Time-Based Art course.

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Natural Hazards

Open, Lecture—Spring

Natural hazards are earth-system processes that can harm humans and the ecosystems on which we rely; these hazards include a wide variety of phenomena, including volcanoes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, heat waves, and hurricanes. The terms “natural hazard” and “disaster” are often used interchangeably, and many examples of natural hazards have resulted in disastrous loss of life, socioeconomic disruption, and radical transformation of natural ecosystems. Through improved understanding of these phenomena, however, we can develop strategies to better prepare for and respond to natural hazards and mitigate harm. In this course, we will use case studies of natural-hazard events to explore their underlying earth-system processes—covering topics such as plate tectonics, mass wasting, weather, and climate—along with the social and infrastructure factors that determined their impact on people. We will also discuss related topics—such as probability, risk, and environmental justice—and the direct and indirect ways that different types of natural hazards will be exacerbated by global climate change. Students will attend one weekly lecture and one weekly group conference, where we will discuss scientific papers and explore data on natural hazards processes and case studies. This lecture will also participate in the collaborative interludes and other programs of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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The Strange Career of the Jim Crow North: African American Urban History

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

For decades, historians sought the origins of Jim Crow in the South; however, Jim Crow was born on the stage and in the streets of places like New York City. Thus, recent historiography focuses serious attention on the rise of the Jim Crow North, beginning with northern slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade in important port cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Some historians think that interrogating those neglected northern roots will fill serious gaps in our knowledge of how racial oppression took shape in American democracy.

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Multivariable Mathematics: Linear Algebra, Vector Calculus, and Differential Equations

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Rarely is a quantity of interest—tomorrow’s temperature, unemployment rates across Europe, the cost of a spring-break flight to Fort Lauderdale—a simple function of just one primary variable. Reality, for better or worse, is mathematically multivariable. This course introduces an array of topics and tools used in the mathematical analysis of multivariable functions. The intertwined theories of vectors, matrices, and differential equations and their applications will be the central themes of exploration in this yearlong course. Specific topics to be covered include the algebra and geometry of vectors in two, three, and higher dimensions; dot and cross products and their applications; equations of lines and planes in higher dimensions; solutions to systems of linear equations, using Gaussian elimination; theory and applications of determinants, inverses, and eigenvectors; volumes of three-dimensional solids via integration; spherical and cylindrical coordinate systems; and methods of visualizing and constructing solutions to differential equations of various types. Conference work will involve an investigation of some mathematically-themed subject of the student’s choosing.

Time to Tinker

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Do you enjoy designing and building things? Do you have lots of ideas of things that you wished existed but do not feel you have enough technical knowledge to create yourself? Do you wish you could fix some of your favorite appliances that just stopped working? Do you want to help find solutions to problems in our community? This course is meant to give an introduction to tinkering, with a focus on learning the practical physics behind basic mechanical and electronic components while providing the opportunity to build things yourself. The course will have one weekly meeting with the whole class and three smaller workshop sessions to work on team-based projects. (You are expected to choose one of the three workshop sessions to attend weekly.) The course will be broken down into four primary units: design and modeling; materials, tools, and construction; electronics and microcontrollers; and mechanics. There will be weekly readings and assignments, and each unit will include both individual and small-group projects that will be documented in an individual portfolio to demonstrate the new skills that you have acquired. For a semester-long, team-based conference project, your team will create a display of your work that will be exhibited on campus and provide a description reflecting on the design, desired functionality, and individual contributions that led to the finished product. Let’s get tinkering!

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A Film Historian, a Psychologist, and an Artist Walk Into a Class: Laughter Across Disciplines

Open, Lecture—Spring

Why is the topic of laughter so often siloed or scorned in discussions of high art, literature, and the sciences? Why don’t we take laughter seriously as a society? How many professors does it take to teach a course on laughter? (Two more than usual...) In this lecture-seminar, students will develop a highly interdisciplinary understanding of laughter as a human behavior, cultural practice, and wide-ranging tool for creative expression. Based on the expertise of the three professors, lectures will primarily investigate laughter through the lens of psychology, film history, and visual arts. The goal of the course is to think and play across many disciplines. For class assignments, students may be asked to conduct scientific studies of audience laughter patterns, create works of art with punchlines, or write close analyses of classic cinematic gags. Over the course of the semester, we will examine the building blocks of laughter; classic devices of modern comedy; and laughter as a force of resilience, resistance, and regeneration. Topics to be discussed include the evolutionary roots of laughter as a behavior; the psychological substrates of laughter as a mode of emotional and self-regulation; humor in Dada, surrealism, performance art, and stand-up comedy; jokes and the unconscious; comic entanglements of modern bodies and machines; hysterical audiences of early cinema; and how to read funny faces, word play, spit takes, toilet humor, and sound gags.

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Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course explores human-environment interactions and the relationships between natural, social, and built environments in shaping us as individuals. We will critically explore human interactions from the body, the home, and the local to the globalized world, with a return to the individual experience of our physical and social environments. As a survey course, we will cover myriad topics, which may include urban/rural/suburban relationships, gentrification, urban planning, environmental sustainability, globalization, social justice, and varying conceptualizations and experiences of “home” based on gender, race, class, age, and for people with disabilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will give special consideration to public space and home environments. As a discussion-based seminar, topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Several films will be incorporated into class.

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Urban Voids: The Commons and Collectivity

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course reexamines the notion of the void not as land ripe for building real-estate capital but as space for cultural expression. Students choose a void from infrastructural areas, parks, empty unused buildings, or land that has often transformed with histories of erasure and dispossession. We can discover the urban void in many forms, from abandoned retail spaces to empty lots. Urban planner Bernardo Secchi in 1984 described urban voids concerning industrial typologies as “urban fractures, areas with no current function or use or character,” while architect Ignasi de Sola-Morales in 1995 described them as “terrain vague,” which were abandoned “land in its potentially exploitable state.” How can we define “the void” without understanding a solid? The solid and void relationship can be observed in the Nolli Map of Rome, with a solid-void/figure-ground representation of urbanity. One can argue that this fundamental tool is also used in suburban and rural areas to record and derive data for our use to plan, build, design, and destroy more buildings and irresponsibly inhabit the land. The idea of representing a solid as private and void as public is key, given that the public has a notion of belonging to the people of society and perhaps their perception of the environment that they shape. On the other hand, private is not private. An individual or a group can own a specific property. Is this true? And if so, how can we elaborate on these relationships toward a definition of the void that transgresses this limited solid-void notion? The course will unfold, analyze, and investigate the primary case study through its history, present, and eventual future by developing research through exercises that include, but are not limited to, drawing representation, experimental collages, and photomontages using the readings at its core. Questions arise about the aspects that characterize the voids and the contextual clues related to the community and cultural sedimentation. The goal is to put forth a project to design an intervention as a response to the research and promote commoning practices, whether it be housing, economic solidarity, or a place of care. What does the context need? Who is it for, and why? Responses could interface with political, economic, and social concerns with the varying matters that exist but also with an underlying conceptual underpinning of their interconnectedness of site, land, and the collective.

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Transcending the American Dream: Redefining Domesticity

Open, Seminar—Fall

Traditionally, we refer to the house as the structure to protect the intimacy of the family. It provides shelter and separates us from work but also supports it. The house is the space that protects the biological life of the occupants and encompasses an envelope with subdivisions into smaller spaces—what we call rooms. Such rooms present a defined hierarchy—what we call privacy, set forth by the homeowner, allowing individuals to separate from the rest of the occupants—a value directly connected to the notion of the “traditional family.” The division of rooms and their functions reiterates the nuclear-family structure. It allows for the separation of the family from the outside world and of each individual within the house. This course explicates the house, home, and housing as a space we all inhabit and sometimes take for granted. We live in times of housing scarcity, climate adjustments, new family structures, and real-estate development that hinder architects, planners, and designers from proposing spaces for non-homogenized living based on the traditional family and the work-life paradigm that fuels our current housing. This course aims to question the house, its form, sustainability, temporality, production, and reproduction, as well as how to answer, propose, and study its elements for better living not only for “one family” but for all.

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New Genres: Fold and Transform

Open, Seminar—Spring

While sculpture adds and subtracts, folding transforms. In fact, folding is everywhere in nature, science, and especially the art studio. In this class, we'll turn to the experimental world of paper mechanisms through an exploration of folding, pleating, and crumpling, using a range of materials such as paper, fabric, and filament. We’ll dive into the world of ordered space, kinetic devices, reconfigurable objects, and auxetics, using paper to explore the new technologies of transformation important to contemporary artists and scientists.

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Free-Standing: Intro to Sculptural Forms

Open, Seminar—Fall

This introductory course will explore the fundamentals of sculpture, with an emphasis on how objects function in space and the connections between two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms. This class will focus on the process of building and constructing and working with varied materials and tools. Students will explore various modes of making, binding, building, fastening, and molding, using wood, cardboard, plaster, and found materials. Using Richard Serra’s Verb List as inspiration, students will use verbs as a guide for building. Technical instruction will be given in the fundamentals of working with hand tools, as well as other elemental forms of building. This course will include an introduction to the critique process, as well as thematic readings with each assignment. Alongside studio work, the class will look at historical and contemporary artists, such as Jessica Stockholder, Martin Puryear, Judith Scott, Rachel Whiteread, Simone Leigh, Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Eva Hesse, and Louise Bourgeois, among others.

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Introduction to Rhino and Digital Fabrication

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course is a comprehensive introduction to Rhino7 for Mac OS X and additive digital fabrication. 3D software and digital fabrication have a variety of uses in contemporary art and the real world. The course covers basic model manipulation, rendering operations, and 3D printing; we will also explore ways of adapting more advanced 3D modeling techniques. In the first half of the semester, students will gain the technical knowledge needed for a rigorous exploration of 3D modeling in Rhino through a series of small projects. The second half of the course will focus on working toward the student’s approved project of their choosing. By course end, students will have the opportunity to output their work via 3D printing, 2D rendered visualization, and more. This multidisciplinary digital sculpture studio is open to interdisciplinary projects. Although not required, students are welcome to pursue the digital fabrication of the whole or part/s of their final projects.

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Push and Pull: SubD Modeling in Rhino

Open, Concept—Spring

This course suits students seeking to create organic forms in 3D modeling—for free-form jewelry, furniture, architecture, sculptural objects, and more. By the time the course ends, students will have the opportunity to output their work via 3D printing. If you enjoy pull-and-push components as in clay modeling, SubD is the method for your 3D modeling. It is a new geometry type that can create editable, highly accurate shapes. In this course, students will learn SubD basic commands through small modeling projects such as simple characters, jewelry, or other organic shapes (TBA). The second half of the course will focus on working toward the student’s approved project of their choosing. Ideally, you should have basic knowledge of Rhino NURBS modeling—but it is not required.

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Assemblage: The Found Palette

Open, Seminar—Spring

Layered, built, found, saved, applied, collected, arranged, salvaged...Jean Dubuffet coined the term “assemblage” in 1953, referring to collages that he made using butterfly wings. Including found material in a work of art not only brings the physical object but also its embedded narrative. In this course, we will explore the various ways in which the found object can affect a work of art and its history dating back to the early 20th century. We will look at historical and contemporary artists, such as Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Hannah Höch, Betye Saar, Richard Tuttle, Rachel Harrison, and Leonardo Drew. This course will tackle various approaches, challenging the notions of “What is an art material?” and “How can the everyday inform the creative process?”

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Introduction to Rhino and 3D Fabrication

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course is a comprehensive introduction to Rhino7 for Mac OS X and additive digital fabrication. 3D software and digital fabrication have a variety of uses in contemporary art and the real world. The course covers basic model manipulation, rendering operations, and 3D printing; we will also explore ways of adapting more advanced 3D modeling techniques. In the first half of the semester, students will gain the technical knowledge needed for a rigorous exploration of 3D modeling in Rhino through a series of small projects. The second half of the course will focus on working toward the student’s approved project of their choosing. By course end, students will have the opportunity to output their work via 3D printing, 2D rendered visualization, and more. This multidisciplinary digital sculpture studio is open to interdisciplinary projects. Although not required, students are welcome to pursue the digital fabrication of the whole or part/s of their final projects.

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Experiments in Sculptural Drawing

Open, Concept—Spring

This course is an open-ended exploration of the links between drawing and sculpture. Students will explore drawing as a means of communicating, brainstorming, questioning, and building. Assignments will promote experimentation and expand the ways that we use and talk about drawing by interrogating an inclusive list of materials. The course will consider unusual forms of mark making, such as lipstick left on a glass and a tire track on pavement. Each student will cultivate a unique index of marks, maintaining his/her own sketchbook throughout the course. The class will provide contemporary and historical examples of alternate means of mark making, such as John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Ana Mendieta, Robert Smithson, Fred Sandback, Gordon Matta-Clark, David Hammons, and Janine Antoni, among others.

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