Harvard GSD — "The pandemic has caused an unprecedented reckoning with digital culture"

"If the COVID-19 pandemic is enabling a reckoning with digital culture that is more thorough than any that has come before, this is because it is the mundane aspects of architecture that have been most affected. Critical reflection on forms and methods is being eclipsed by an overwhelming reconfiguration of the practices of daily life in architecture. Our first impulse may be to capture the moment. Fleeting occurrences on screens, for example, can be captured in screenshots. The next step is to classify. What are we seeing? Are there distinct species of life online? Then we can begin collectively to theorize our situation. Are we seeing new forms and vehicles of architectural knowledge? How does virtual social life compare with the communities they replace? What may be the lasting impact of this pandemic on architecture?

To sort these questions out, I spoke with members of the GSD community. It was reassuring to see so many things continuing roughly as planned—or at least within the range of our ability to adjust. First I spoke to Jeanne Gang (MArch '93), founding principal of Studio Gang, who is teaching an option studio with a site in Paris. Students are asked to adapt a set of buildings from the brutalist era in La Défense that have been slated to be torn down. Luckily, the studio was able to visit Paris before the lockdown, so only relatively small adjustments had to be made, like finding an alternative to the elaborate physical models that had been planned. 'The idea was that each student would have to take apart and add to it, thus revealing the amount of deconstruction necessary to achieve their design,' Gang says. 'We had to scratch that physical model and we will try to calculate of the amount of carbon spent on each of the student’s schemes instead.'

The propitious choice to have students work in pairs has meant that fewer changes were required to maintain a sense of collaboration as work shifted online. 'Working in pairs has turned out to be a social lifeline for the students who would otherwise now be solitary and working on their projects alone.' Gang says that individual deskcrits and group pinups continue. She, like many architects, is familiar with running a firm that is geographically distributed. 'Because our teams are located in four different cities, we already made use of virtual meetings extensively. In fact, we grew this way so that each office could be more local and we wouldn’t have to fly everyone around as much.' Despite missing the camaraderie of physical gatherings, Gang guesses virtual togetherness may become the norm: 'Everyone has familiarity now across the board [with the necessary technology], so perhaps the benefits of saving the carbon and cost of travel will become more widely accepted.'"

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Architectural Record — "The Pandemic Is Changing How We Practice and How We Live"

"Jeanne Gang has brought her firm’s experience with advanced digital tools to the GSD studio she is teaching and believes her students are transitioning easily to remote learning. . . . They are being encouraged to make 'analog models at home' or find 'other inventive forms of making.'"

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Jeanne Gang at University of Michigan Taubman College
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"Pandemics and the Public Realm"

April 7, 2020
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Zoom Video Webinar