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 these 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), in digital and environmental design, and in engineering.

2017-2018 Courses

Romanesque and Gothic: Art and Architecture at the Birth of Europe

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course explores the powerful architecture, sculpture, and painting styles that lie at the heart of the creation of Europe and the idea of the West. We will use a number of strategies to explore how monumental architecture and expressive narrative painting and sculpture were engaged in the formation of a common European identity and uncover, as well, the architectural vestiges of diverse groups and cultures that challenge that uniform vision. These are arts that chronicle deep social struggles between classes, intense devotion through pilgrimage, and the rise of cities and universities that could both advocate genocide and nurture enormous creativity, in styles both flamboyant and austere, growing from places as diverse as rural monasteries to Gothic cathedrals. The course will explore those aspects of expressive visual language that link the buildings to social history, the history of ideas, and political ideology.

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A Paradox for Painters: European Art of the 16th and 17th Centuries

Open , Seminar—Fall

In Annibale Carracci’s painting of St. Margaret—an Early Christian martyr—an altar is inscribed, “Sursum Corda” (Lift Up Your Hearts). An exploration of the multiple meanings of this admonition, epigram, and emblem form the basis of this course. How is 17th-century art to achieve this lifting up? Lifting up from what and to what? Are all the arts and all the subjects of the visual arts supposed to serve this same purpose? Does this admonition pertain to aesthetic, social, and historical issues, as well as the theological and political? What about the linguistic implications: Can an exalted language exist side-by-side with a dynamic, naturalistic vernacular? The course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy as it frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects throughout Europe mediated in the following era, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included will be studies of major artists such as Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, and Rembrandt, among others.

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More or Less: Architectural Theory From Modern to Contemporary

Open , Seminar—Fall

Readings in this course will focus on major statements made by architects, critics, and philosophers dealing with the built landscape from 1900 to the present. Authors include Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin Heidegger, Jane Jacobs, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, and Bruce Sterling; readings will range from Ornament and Crime (1909) to Junkspace (2000) and beyond. Emphasis will be on close reading of texts, historical context for ideas, and buildings that are prescribed, described, or proscribed by theory in practice. The first assignment will deal with the generation of critical theory in a manifesto; the second will be about pragmatic design practice; the last, green design. Class will be broken into firms that will develop a response to a particular architectural program and project: the sustainable design of a retrofitted cultural center and residential/commercial area at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Exhibition as Form

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This seminar examines the history of exhibition making as an artistic technique from the interwar avant-gardes to the present. We track this most cross-disciplinary medium as it evolves from the space of public debate, propaganda spectacle, and scientific demonstration to a technology of display and curation. Special attention will be paid to instances in which artists mobilized the exhibition form to construct new experiences of space by constructing utopian environments, staging spaces of debate and agitation, or imagining new forms of communication between and among objects, images, and viewers. The following figures will be among those we examine in detail: El Lissitzky, Marcel Duchamp, Frederick Kiesler, Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Hamilton, Marcel Broodthaers, Louise Lawler, Group Material, Fred Wilson, Mike Kelley, Fia Backström, and Camille Henrot. Major questions include the following: On what formal grounds can we conceptualize exhibition design as an aesthetic medium? What are the relationships between exhibition designs and other artistic techniques, such as photomontage, film, performance, installation, and Web-based art? What forms of sociality and types of subjectivity are staged in exhibition spaces? And finally, what is the relationship between curating and the design of exhibitions? We will couple discussion with visits to exhibitions.

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Understanding Property: Cultural and Environmental Perspectives

Open , Seminar—Fall

Perhaps few issues are more contentious in the environmental arena than those surrounding struggles over rights to private, as well as common, property resources. What is property, and how is it made? Who makes property? How are property rights performed, publicized, and enforced? What is a commons, and what is common property? Debates over the “commons” implicate ideas of citizenship, community, the public good, justice, and governance. Controversies over public space and community gardens, genetic recombinant research and rights to the genome, and North-South disputes over rights to biodiversity in the geographic South, as well as debates over property in the Middle East, form some of the hotly contested terrain of property rights and the commons use and ownership. Property rights on a variety of scales, from the biomolecular to whole organs and organisms, from individual trees to whole ecosystems, are examined in varied geographic, biological, cultural, and historical contexts. This course is an introduction to ideas and cultures of property (private, public, and collective); debates, claims, and arguments over the commons; and the environmental and social consequences of different property regimes.

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Landscapes in Translation: Cartographies, Visions, and Interventions

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Background in humanities, social sciences or arts preferred. Advanced, open to students with developed skills in critical thinking and analysis of texts.

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. The literatures of critical geography and political ecology provide theory and cases illuminating connections between the position of the cartographer and presuppositions about the nature of the territory being mapped and managed. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape design in colonial New England and Indonesia and on contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Control: Emerging Security-Scapes, investigates the rise of militarized “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. We analyze the visual surround and landscapes seen by remote drone “pilots” scanning Los Angeles and Somalia and surveillance of the occupied Palestinian landscapes; we draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, media studies, and social theory.

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The New Elements: Mathematics and the Arts

Open , Lecture—Spring

This lecture will explore the bearing of modern mathematical ideas on 20th-century Western creative and performing arts. Euclid’s collection of geometric propositions and proofs, entitled The Elements, is an archetype of logical reasoning that, since antiquity, has had a broad influence beyond mathematics. The non-Euclidean revolution in the 19th century initiated a radical reconception of not only geometry but also mathematics as a whole. We will investigate, on the one hand, mathematical content as a source of new forms of expression, including non-Euclidean geometry, the fourth dimension, set theory, functions, networks, topology, and probability. On the other hand, we will study mathematical practice and the artists and writers who, intentionally or not, reflect modern mathematical attitudes in an attempt to break with the past. While this lecture does not aim for a comprehensive survey of the entire last century, we will investigate a sequence of case studies, including: Russian Suprematist art; the Bauhaus school in Western European architecture and design; Serialism in Western music; OuLiPo, “a secret laboratory of literary structures” in post-war French literature; and the origins of postmodern dance in 1960-70s North America, among others. This course assumes no particular expertise with mathematics or cultural history. Course readings and a program of art and performance viewings, both in lecture and off campus, will establish a basis for investigating the relevance of fundamental mathematical concepts to modern literature and the arts. Group conferences will provide practice for students, working with such mathematical concepts as they relate to particular artistic practices.

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Mathematical Modeling I: Multivariable Calculus

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: successful completion of Calculus II or the equivalent (a score of 4 or 5 on the Calculus BC Advanced Placement exam).

It is difficult to overstate the importance of mathematics for the sciences. Twentieth century polymath John von Neumann even declared that the “sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which…describes observed phenomena.” This two-semester sequence will introduce students to the basic mathematical ingredients that constitute models in the natural and social sciences. This first course in the sequence will concentrate on extending the concepts and tools developed in single-variable calculus to work with multiple variables. Multivariable calculus is a natural setting for studying physical phenomena in two or three spatial dimensions. We begin with the notion of a vector, a useful device that combines quantity and direction, and proceed to vector functions, their derivatives (gradient, divergence, and curl), and their integrals (line integrals, surface integrals, and volume integrals). The inverse relationship between derivative and integral appearing in single-variable calculus takes on new meaning and depth in the multivariable context, and a goal of the course is to articulate this through the theorems of Green, Gauss, and Stokes. These results will be of particular interest to students pursuing physics, engineering, or economics, where they are widely applicable. Students will gain experience developing mathematical models through conference work, which will culminate in an in-depth application of seminar ideas to a mathematical model in the natural, formal, or social sciences, based on student interest.

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Mathematical Modeling II: Differential Equations and Linear Algebra

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Mathematical Modeling I or the equivalent (college-level course in multivariable calculus).

At the center of many mathematical models, one often finds a differential equation. Newton’s laws of motion, the logistic model for population growth, and the Black-Scholes model in finance are all examples of models defined by a differential equation; that is, an equation in terms of an unknown function and its derivatives. Most differential equations are unsolvable; however, there is much to learn from the tractable examples, including first-order equations and second order linear equations. Since derivatives are themselves linear approximations, an important approach to differential equations involves the algebra of linear transformations, or linear algebra. Building on the study of vectors begun in Mathematical Modeling I, linear algebra will occupy a central role in the course, with topics that include linear independence, Gaussian elimination, eigenvectors, and eigenvalues. Students will gain experience developing mathematical models through conference work, which will culminate in an in-depth application of seminar ideas to a mathematical model in the natural, formal, or social sciences, based on student interest.

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Wherever You Go, There You Are: An Exploration of Environmental Psychology

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course explores the relationship between physical and social environments and human behavior. Utilizing qualitative methodologies (autoethnography and photovoice), 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 that may include food (in)security and alternative food networks, informal family caregiving, urban/rural/suburban relationships, gentrification, urban planning, environmental sustainability, globalization, social justice, and varying conceptualizations and experiences of ”home” based on gender, race, class, and people with disabilities. Topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Films and a field trip will be incorporated. Students are encouraged to participate in service learning through local community involvement facilitated by the Office of Community Partnerships, with the possibility of conference projects resulting from that experience.

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Art and Visual Perception

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how visual neuroscience and art-making can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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3D Modeling

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course introduces students to the process of constructing digital objects and environments in the virtual space of the computer. Emphasis will be on a strong grasp of form, space, and composition. Fundamentals of hard-edge and organic surface modeling will be thoroughly exercised, while further exploration of the digital tools will cover shading and texturing, lighting, and rendering with the virtual camera. Over the course of the semester, students will be challenged to create increasingly complex objects, environments, and imagery. Through readings and discussion, students will also be encouraged to consider the conceptual ramifications of working in computer space. Contemporary examples of computer-generated imagery in art, film, and media—juxtaposed with historical views on visual illusion from art and philosophy—will form a broader context in which to examine the medium.

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Introduction to Digital Imaging

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course covers contemporary digital practice, with an emphasis on Photoshop skills and imaging techniques from scanning to printing. Proper digital workflow is the focus, while working through the basics of image manipulation tools, color correction, and retouching. The skills covered will build a solid basis for further exploration of photography, fine-art printing, and more radical digital experiments. The broader classroom discussion emphasizes computer-generated and -manipulated imagery as a new paradigm in contemporary art, photography, and culture in general. Students are encouraged to explore the potential of digital tools in the context of their personal work—visual arts-related or otherwise—stressing open-ended visual possibilities, as well as technical and conceptual rigor.

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Architectural Design Studio: Shaping Space, Site, and Environment

Open , Seminar—Spring

This studio course is a hands-on introduction to design at the scale of the architectural environment. Emphasis is on the tools, methods, and concepts involved in the design and representation of architectural space, the manipulation of site, and the shaping of local environmental conditions. This course asks students to consider the designer’s role in producing meaningful, healthy, and sustainable environments in light of pressing challenges like climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and habitat loss. Could buildings be conceived as productive participants in an ecosystem instead of obstacles to a healthy environment? And what might the architectural implications of such a strategy be? Readings, discussions, site visits, and case studies help us consider these as cultural questions as much as technical challenges. Alongside a series of exploratory design exercises, students are asked to examine and assess a selection of writings by architects positing nature and architecture as being either intrinsically opposed on the one hand—or in harmonious equilibrium on the other—and, through a final design project, to invent richly productive hybrid assemblages of built forms and natural processes. This is a project-based studio balancing collective and individual efforts. Experimentation with drawing, diagramming, model building, storytelling, and collage encourages students to think through making and to take creative and intellectual risks in service of invention and discovery. Experience with drawing, modeling, and other analog or digital design media is helpful but not required.

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Urban Design Studio: Ecologies of Public Space

Open , Seminar—Fall

This studio course is a hands-on introduction to urban design as a situated cultural practice. Using New York City as our living laboratory, we explore the life and design of its many public spaces. From parks, plazas, and open spaces to public institutions and infrastructural landscapes, our goal is to examine urban forms and processes in relation to wider social, political, and environmental concerns. In positing the contemporary city as a dynamic but legible formation subject to ongoing and perpetual change, this course explores the tensions between contemporary culture’s progressive dynamism—our ceaseless need to renew, refresh, and reinvent ourselves—and the material inertia of our architectural inheritance. Through a structured process of research, observation, and analysis, we uncover and interrogate New York City’s myriad social, cultural, and ecological networks; situate them in their historical and architectural contexts; and then record, reimagine, and ultimately reconfigure them using the tools of urban design. Experimentation with drawing, diagramming, mapping, model building, storytelling, and collage encourages students to think through making and to take creative and intellectual risks in service of invention and discovery. Studio work balances collective and individual efforts, while site visits, case studies, readings, and discussions provide support by raising issues of environmental sustainability, urban climate resilience, and social and economic justice in city planning and development. Experience with drawing, modeling, and other analog or digital design media is helpful but not required.

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