Major construction projects double as classroom tools

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Photo by Eisenman.

Every Thursday, Peter Eisenman assumes his role as a professor at the School of Architecture. But Friday through Wednesday, he works at his New York-based firm designing large-scale international architecture projects.

As head of the globally-renowned Eisenman Architects, Eisenman has been developing a master plan for the waterfront of Pozzuoli, Italy since 2009. From Oct. 8 –11, Eisenman presented his plan in a public hearing in Pozzuoli before Italian officials and at least 500 citizens. For students at the School of Architecture, the opportunity to learn from professional architects such as Eisenman forms a central part of the program’s curriculum.

Pozzuoli, a seaside town just north of Naples, is home to about 100,000 people and a waterfront that is currently filled with old industrial buildings, Eisenman said. Because the buildings are becoming obsolete, he said the town is searching for a new economic base.

As part of the city’s effort to address both public and private needs, officials commissioned Eisenman’s firm to design a plan for the town’s coastal area, according to the firm’s official project description. The plan for the 165,000-square-meter site will incorporate new hotels and residences, shopping venues, cultural and aquatic resources and a refashioned marina. The plan must take into account factors such as Pozzuoli’s shifting volcanic ground, changing shorelines, and Roman ruins, the description explained.

Eisenman said the project will cost about 1.5 billion euros altogether and 550 million euros in its first phase, which will commence within the next month. The plan for phase one, he said, is still pending final approval based on Eisenman’s recent presentation to the city council.

Eisenman said his involvement in the project may lead to significant opportunities for his students. The students in Eisenman’s advanced design studio class will travel to Italy to see the Pozzuoli site once construction begins, he said, adding that the experience will allow them to interact firsthand with the site and discuss the project with the architect himself.

Bringing professors’ professional architectural projects into the classroom for discussion is a key part of Yale’s architecture curriculum, School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said. In hiring professors, he said, the school looks for instructors who also have also had significant careers in the field.

Eisenman said practical lessons from an active career in the profession augment theoretical learning in the classroom.

“Critics have said that theory is interesting,” he said. “But if you don’t build, it doesn’t mean anything.”

With New Haven’s abundance of architecture firms and New York a realistic commute for professors working at architecture firms in the city, the School of Architecture has an advantage over its competitors, Stern said. Many of these schools are located in areas of low architectural activity, Stern said, leading many professors to serve exclusively as instructors.

The professional experience of the school’s faculty can benefit undergraduates as well, despite the divide between preprofessional and liberal arts modes of thinking, said Bimal Mendis, director of undergraduate studies for the major and assistant dean of the professional school.

“Given the instability of the current economic, environmental and political context, we want our students to thrive in this rapidly evolving global terrain,” Mendis said. “In this light it’s important to have faculty who have been exposed to the diverse possibilities, problems and conditions that arise from the [profession’s global nature].”

Becoming acquainted with practicing architects in the classroom also benefits students’ professional lives, Stern said.

Professional architecture students are required to intern at a firm before taking their architecture licensing exams. Many Yale students are able to secure internships at the firms of Yale’s pre-eminent professors, Stern said, allowing them to build on their knowledge before the exams.

“Professor Eisenman’s built and unbuilt projects provide an incredible source of information and go in conjunction with his theoretical writings and architectural investigations,” Miroslava Brooks ARC ’12 said in an email.

Eisenman’s other projects include the City of Culture, a complex of cultural buildings, in Galicia, Spain and the Pompei (Italy) Stazione Santuario. He is also known for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Comments

  • Really32

    I really wish the *YDN* would stop acting as the architecture school’s in-house organ. As is typical of architects, those people publicize their everyday tasks as if they were innovations.

    Think about the subject matter of some of the stories we’ve gotten: a famous professor teaches and practices (as is true of most studio instructors, anywhere in the world), the architecture school had midterm reviews that brought in outside critics (they always do, at Yale or anywhere else), or my personal favorite, from a few years ago, a few professors from a few different Yale departments got together and talked carelessly about architecture (with all but Eisenman admitting they knew nothing about it).

    If this is the standard, then it should be applied equally throughout the Yale community. I’ll expect headlines straight out of the *Onion*: “College master knows junior by face,” “English department grades students’ papers,” “Dining hall workers wash trays,” “Comp lit professor’s lecture incomprehensible to non-majors”….

    Seriously, let the blowhards from the architecture school do their own trumpeting.