Columbia University GSAPP
Director, Events and Public Programs
"Architecture + Verbs"
Gavin Browning interviewed by Andrea Marpillero-Colomina
Originally published in Architizer, September 20, 2012
Andrea Marpillero-Colomina: The theme of this calendar is action; fill us in on the thinking behind the curating of this semester’s events, from the format to the frequency to the framing.
Gavin Browning: The series is organized with the guidance of Mark Wigley, and during the 2012–13 school-year, each event in Wood Auditorium is framed as a verb. This was inspired by GSAPP’s beehive-like quality — people are constantly interacting and finding new connections — and the result is a provocative list of dares, commands, or calls-to-arms from speakers to those in the school, from “Harness” to “Make” to “Act.”
I really like Raymond Williams’s 1975 book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In it, he compiled, defined, and cross-referenced touchstone words and concepts for the then-emerging field of cultural studies, such as “Hegemony,” “Ideology,” “Nature,” “Culture,” and “Class.” We now have a set of GSAPP keywords (or keyverbs), and I’m interested to see how they will be defined and redefined in unexpected ways throughout the course of the year. At the inaugural event on September 12, for example, Mark Wigley and Peter Eisenman’s discussion of “Wobble” touched on Martin Heidegger and Elmer Fudd alike.
AMC: I noticed that this calendar contains a number of celebrations, from birthdays to new books. We are promised cake on at least one occasion. What do you think about the act(ion) of celebrating in the context of intellectual discourse? That is to say, can the smart zone also be the party zone?
GB: Denise Scott Brown makes a good case for this. She titled her 81st birthday celebration “Fuse: In, Re, De, Pro, Con.”
AMC: The design of the calendar itself is quite festive. I know you worked closely with the MTWTF team to develop it; what was the idea and intent behind this design choice?
GB: Glen Cummings, Aliza Dzik, and Tiff Hockin of MTWTF gave a lot of thought and care to the project, and the resulting two-sided poster is striking and beautiful. Along with the allusion to Raymond Williams, they looked at color interaction and overlays in the work of Joseph Albers, and the optical play between foreground and background in large, irregular shapes of Ellsworth Kelly. The large “f a l l” that traverses the poster creates spaces between letterforms that are as interesting as the letterforms themselves. MTWTF also looked at different uses of color and stacked words, from fashion house Pucci to Pop artist Sister Corita Kent.
AMC: Last year, a number of events brought together a stimulating and often feisty array of minds to duke it out in Wood Auditorium. Who are you most looking forward to seeing come together this Fall?
GB: With eleven lectures/conversations, ten panels, three conferences, two exhibitions, and one cake, there’s a lot to look forward to! Some of the twenty-six events organized with the help of Paul Dallas examine trade and neoliberal urbanism: “Shop,” on Walmart’s attempted entry into East New York, Brooklyn; “Box,” a screening of Allan Sekula and Noel Burch’s documentary on shipping containers and global ports, The Forgotten Space; “Gaze,” on photographic representations of Detroit as vibrant or vacant. The series also includes book launches for Mabel Wilson’s Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums, with David Adjaye, Saidya Hartman, and Gwendolyn Wright; Bernard Tschumi’s monograph Bernard Tschumi: Architecture Concepts: Red is Not a Color; and the first translation of Groszstadtarchitecktur, or, Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Metropolisarchitecture, led by GSAPP Books Director Craig Buckley. And finally, collaborations with Avery Library, Arthur Ross Architectural Gallery, Thomson Reuters, Committee on Global Thought, Steel Institute of New York, Museum of Arts and Design, and Visual AIDS.
AMC: You have twenty-six fabulous, exciting verbs here, with the promise of entertaining, energetic events behind them. Were there any that didn’t make it on the list this time that we might hope to see in the future?
GB: Yes, “Spring”
AMC: Oh, snap!