Campus Pavilion Results From Unique Student Collaboration

June 01, 2011
After decades spent studying indoors in separate buildings, students from the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning (GSAPP) and the School of the Arts got a chance to put theory in practice by collaboratively building a structure outside for public use on the Morningside campus.

As a class project, 12 students from each school built a temporary pavilion in the courtyard between Avery and Fayerweather Halls. The pavilion, which is known as BOB, is an open space without walls with a mushroom cap-shaped canopy that reaches 28 feet at its summit, stretches some 50 feet across and is anchored to the buildings on either side.
 
The inflatable nylon canopy shelters a projector tower for nighttime film screenings and solar-powered plastic seats resembling giant, triangular cushions, which can be stacked to form tables and are designed to glow after dark.
 
“Architects and artists are always inspired by each other’s work,” said Mark Wigley, dean of GSAPP. “If you look inside the studios of the architecture students you might think you are in some kind of art school … If you look inside the studios of the art students, you might think you are in some kind of architecture school … Yet they so rarely get to collaborate.”
 
The idea of the collaboration began to take shape in 2007 when Wigley proposed that he and Carol Becker, dean of the School of the Arts, apply for a grant from the Office of the Provost to create a series of interdisciplinary programs involving both schools. The pavilion and the class are a culmination of this joint effort.
 
The schools’ partnership officially launched in 2009 with a series of lectures, performances and screenings featuring renowned artists and architects including German sculptor and photographer Thomas Demand, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, composer DJ Spooky, multimedia artist Doug Aitken and others.
 
“The 21st century is and will continue to be a time when all categories are morphed, imploded and re-imagined,” said Becker. “This is because the problems facing the world today cannot be solved within categories of thought as we have known them—the questions are too complex, the world too interconnected and in need of solutions.”
 
This spring, the 24 students involved in the project—half from the Visual Arts Program, the other half from architecture—took a class together taught by the British artist Liam Gillick and Galia Solomonoff, an assistant professor in architecture. The aim of the class was “to expose each side to the different stresses and dynamics of their own field,” said Gillick. “Many ideas were proposed, and at every level professor Solomonoff and I encouraged the students to work out their own direction. In the end what we have is their work—not ours.”
 
The class, which began building April 15 and completed the structure on May 14, wrestled with “the nature of university open space,” said Solomonoff. The pavilion is expected to remain up until July 25, and will serve as a venue for a series of events including University commencement activities. After the pavilion is deconstructed, the students will donate and recycle as much of the materials as possible. Wood from the pavilion will be salvaged and the inflatable roof will be re-used for end-of-year exhibitions held by GSAPP.
 
“It’s a historic first to have students of Columbia’s schools of architecture and the arts working together under the guidance of a brilliant artist and a brilliant architect on a real project,” said Wigley. “The goal for both schools … is to find new territory together and explore it. I think it will be the first of many such joint explorations.”
 
For upcoming events taking place at the pavilion, please check arts.columbia.edu.