Global Designs

by Record Staff

When the University opened Columbia Global Centers last month in Amman, Jordan, and in Beijing, China, the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation was already working at both sites. Beijing and Amman are the first two of a planned network of six to eight Columbia outposts in international capitals that will facilitate new research, study abroad and collaborations with other institutions.

While other universities have built branch campuses and degree-granting schools abroad, Columbia is taking a different path in enhancing its already extensive international academic programming. The global centers will be regional, flexible hubs that expand international opportunities for students and faculty in New York, while creating partnerships with universities and government, private enterprise and public interest organizations around the world.

Mark Wigley, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, in the new Studio-X space in Beijing, which officially opened on March 19, 2009.
Mark Wigley, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, in the new Studio-X space in Beijing, which officially opened on March 19, 2009

“The idea is to engage in serious research, working with local institutions and our own institutions and our own students and faculty, as well as interdisciplinary groups,” President Lee C. Bollinger told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Several Columbia schools have launched new programming at the centers. The Studio-X initiative, a global network of research labs first launched in New York several years ago by the architecture school, has opened at both sites. The Amman and Beijing studios “are in regions of the world that have in the last decade become the real laboratories for the future of the city, and therefore the future of society,” said Mark Wigley, dean of the architecture school. Fifty percent of new buildings built around the world are in China, Wigley said. Present-day Amman, he added, is just five kilometers from the birthplace of the city 10,000 years ago.
In Amman, Andrew Dolkart, the James Marston Fitch Professor of Historic Preservation, is working with five Columbia architecture students on the restoration of the historic home of a former Jordanian prime  minister. They also put together an exhibit titled “Amman: Then and Now.”

In an illustration of the region-wide focus of the centers, the architecture school has arranged for seven graduate students from Columbia to continue restoring the historic villa in Amman this summer with five architectural students each from Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. More such collaborations are in the works. Launch events in Amman reflected this multinational theme with programs attended by panelists and Columbia alumni from not only Jordan, but also Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria and the United States.

This month more than 90 Jordanian social workers completed the “Foundations of Social Work” course, devised and taught by Columbia’s School of Social Work faculty. The School of the Arts loaned works for exhibitions at the Amman center from its LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies and sent undergraduate members of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, a jazz instruction curriculum founded by music professor and trombonist Chris Washburne. Besides playing at the Columbia center receptions, the jazz band played a sold-out show at a local nightclub arranged by the U.S. Embassy’s cultural attaché. Columbia affiliate Teachers College has for the last two years been working on one of the public priorities of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah: training teachers and aiding reform in partnership with Jordan’s Ministry of Education.

Beijing launch events included a discussion of the current economic crisis and the global economy with economics professor and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and a discussion of perspectives on the Obama presidency featuring Susan Fuhrman, president of Teachers College, and Jeanette Takamura, dean of Columbia’s School of Social Work. President Bollinger also led a conversation focusing on universities in the 21st century joined by the presidents of two Chinese universities.

“Each global center has the flexibility to respond to its specific context, and the impact we can have on shared initiatives is tremendous,” said Safwan Masri, director of Global Center Amman and former vice dean of Columbia Business School, in an email interview.

A course on environmentally responsible development, for example, could be taught concurrently in New York, Amman, Dubai, Beijing and Guangzhou. “The opportunities for students to collaborate, utilize online resources and gain a broader understanding of the world are tremendous,” said Masri. Indeed, Masri attended the Beijing launch, and his counterpart there, former Weatherhead East Asian Institute director Xiaobo Lu, traveled to Amman for the Mideast kick-off event.

“When social challenges are global in their consequences, the intellectual firepower of the world’s great universities must be global in its reach,” said Kenneth Prewitt, vice president of Columbia Global Centers and the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs. “Columbia’s network of global centers will bring together some of the world’s finest scholars to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

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