The William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship
The William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship program was established in 2008 by John and Harriet Mack at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture in memory of their son William Cooper Mack, class of 2006. Cooper, as he was known to all, first entered The Cooper Union in the School of Art, where he studied for one year before transferring to the School of Architecture. His work to weld tradition and research, technology and science, art and architectonics in the search for new answers to longstanding questions in architecture was recognized through awards and prizes that included the American Institute of Architects Henry Adams Certificate of Merit, the Peter W. Bruder Memorial Fund Structures Prize and the Bert L. Stern Architectural Award from the Lotos Club Foundation.
The Thesis year affords each student in the School of Architecture the freedom to shape, in every sense, a project that stands as a culmination of the design sequence. Thesis students are encouraged to deeply examine personal as well as broad cultural, social and environmental concerns toward an architectural solution incorporating program, site, technologies and poetics. William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowships are awarded each year to support primary research and inquiry in the development of significant and original thesis projects.
Over the past four years, the William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship program has had a significant impact on many thesis projects. Eighteen students have received the award, with research conducted in thirteen countries, at locations as diverse as Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; the disputed territory of the Bakassi Peninsula; the Jabalia Refugee Camp, Gaza; Zarazoga, Spain and Cuba. Students have conducted site surveys, oral histories, research at local archives, photographic documentation, studies of indigenous building practices and interviews of community leaders, as integral components toward the making of architecture.
We invite you to support the efforts of our thesis students to broaden the reach and impact of architecture through a contribution to this important program. To make a donation, please click here; make sure to select Named Endowment and specify William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship in the additional comments / preferences box.
Projects & Links
2013-Jeremy Jacinth, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
I began my thesis project by thinking about the issue of water distribution in California; through this investigation I realized the importance of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to California’s struggling water infrastructure. Through my research, I began to grasp the sensitivity of this ecosystem, specifically looking at it from its time as a marshland to its conversion to an agrarian landscape and now a vital means of water export for 96% of all Californians. During my initial study I realized that the Dutch have faced very similar issues, the only difference being that they were much further along in terms of mitigating disaster, and are now the most referenced example for water management infrastructure. It is for this reason that I proposed to travel to the Netherlands, specifically Rotterdam – a major port city – to immerse myself within a delta culture where the issues of flooding, subsidence and brackish waters are common knowledge and the infrastructural systems play out as active cultural monuments within the landscape.
I traveled to The Netherlands in order to obtain a better understanding of a way that a landscape completely below sea level deals with the issues of water management, as well as urban and rural inhabitation. The majority of my trip was spent riding a bike through the countryside and documenting the everyday life of its inhabitants. I also took the opportunity to visit exhibitions that discussed the Dutch relationship between water and the landscape. The observations gained during this trip have become an integral part of my Thesis project. Through conversations with author and architecture critic Tracy Metz and others, I was able to gain a new understanding that pushes for systems that are passive and dynamic, rather than rigid and static, in managing landscapes.
2013-Teddy Kofman, Houston, Texas
With the future expansion of urban centers around the world, my project hypothesis is that a new equilibrium between nature and human habitation must be achieved in order to adapt to a changing climate, environment and society. My thesis project proposes examining the possibility of reorganizing the urban form of Houston through the restoration of the prairie and the creation of a continuous urban forest. I intend that these two ecosystems will be integrated within the urban fabric and used as an environmental, social and architectural tool to create new spaces in the city and improve existing ones, both private and public.
I chose the city of Houston, Texas, as it has one of the harshest climactic environments in the country and yet one of the largest growth expectancies in the US. As a major Sunbelt city, located on the Gulf of Mexico, Houston suffers from high temperatures most of the year, constant flooding, hurricanes and extreme air pollution. It is also the only major city in the US that has not instituted zoning laws. With no limitations of this nature, Houston's forceful economy and dependency on vehicular travel have shaped its urbanity, giving preference to commercial spaces and highways over public spaces and pedestrian pathways.
In an attempt to study Houston in the most intimate scale, I tried to construct a daily routine that enabled me to become immersed in the city. Among other tasks, such as grocery shopping and filling gas, this routine included daily site visits and interviews with local professionals from different fields. Through photography I documented the physical relationship between the different components of the city such as roads, streets, parks and buildings of different types and programmatic uses. Understanding these components and the way they relate to one another was a means of exploring how they form the city, and by this understanding I identified the procedures and locations for my intervention.
The nine interviews I conducted with architects, academics, planners and environmentalists had a large influence on the research and design proposal. Each of the interviewees, from the perspective of their respective profession, broadened my view and understanding of the sociological, urban, economic and legal aspects of the ways in which the city is operating at the moment – and how they might be developed in the future.
While conducting active research and gathering information, the most fascinating discovery for me was experiencing the culture and city life of Houston, and realizing the direct relationship it has with the form and grain of the city. Through my different explorations and conversations with locals, I found cultural centers, cityscapes and trends that revealed to me the city life that was hidden from the maps and reports I had been reading. Moreover, I was able to experience some of those discoveries in the parks, museums and streets of Houston. These experiences helped me to thread the pieces of information I had been gathering into a complete story. From this I was able to start drawing conclusions and forming my own idea of Houston, ultimately allowing me to form a design approach that addresses the most meaningful issues of the place.
2013-Eze Eribo, Bakassi Peninsula
2012-Daniel Wills, Cuba
The William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship granted me the opportunity to travel to Cuba to study and map the urban agrarian culture currently thriving in many Cuban cities, in order to bring back lessons and models of invention to the U.S. agrarian system. The Fellowship not only granted me the financial ability to make this study possible, but also the legal ability—without this educational grant, official travel to Cuba as an American citizen would not have been possible.
Originally my plan had been to travel to Havana and Cienfuegos, two of the largest urban farming cities. While this goal was still accomplished, my travels took me all over the island, studying not only the dense infrastructural, agrarian fabric of cities, but also the more rural, traditional farming communities like Vinales. With this rich travel schedule, I was able to see all aspects and degrees of agrarianism in Cuba.
Traveling around these various cities taught me about the infrastructure of food and how it produces new patterns of community organization and economies based entirely on the many varieties of land production. By patterns of community organization, I refer to the multiple scales of urban farms, markets, cafeterias, mobile food vendors and family-run restaurants. By land production, I refer to the farms that both produce and sell, but also everything from produced soils, compost and humus, to seeds, animal feed, oils and herbs – even the technologies of organic farming.
During my trip I had the opportunity to volunteer on an organoponico (organic urban farm) in Alamar, a Soviet-designed housing block community outside Havana. For three days I worked on various tasks, from planting seeds, to harvesting vegetables and plowing the soil for the next planting. The organoponico is completely efficient in the way it handles all resources across the 11 hectares of land. The farming system does not rely on any external inputs and produces an economy from its productive landscape, at the same time striking a balance with the resources.
My experiences in Cuba had a direct impact on my thesis, which focuses on industrial agrarianism in the Great Plains of the United States, a region threatened with the cumulative adverse effects of resource extraction. With Cuba able to do so much with so little, my hope is that the U.S. can begin to strike a balance with its own resources, before it’s too late.
2012-Jessica Russell, New Mexico
2012-Jae Won Chang, Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea
2011-Jesus Yepez, Salton Sea, California
2011-Janice Chu, Macau
The William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship allowed me to travel to China. Through my research of the city Macau, I was able to understand the city and broader questions of urbanism in a much more nuanced way. I explored two neighborhoods–the North Area and Camoes Garden.
Like many other Asian cities, Macau is on the cusp of great change. In the North Area of Macau Peninsula, the answer to the need for development has been generic housing blocks. The North Area is a catalog of how the city has grown, with 8-story buildings from the 1970s and 16-story housing estates from the late 1980s and early 1990s, where each block measured 125 meters by 125 meters. The newer 40-story luxury apartment buildings adjacent to the water’s edge pose a marked juxtaposition to the older buildings with lower income tenants.
Camoes Garden is located in the mid-west zone of Macau Peninsula. It is an older area of the city that tourists seldom visit, but it exhibits a real sense of character and history. There is a diversity of architectural scale in this neighborhood; 6-story residential buildings, temples, structures dating back to the Qing Dynasty and the occasional 40-story building.
The Venetian Casino and the luxury high-rise buildings in the North Area demonstrate the new amount of wealth and the enormous growth that Macau is undertaking. Yet, they both deny the history of the city and what it already has to offer. The housing estates in the North Area feel like any other Asian city. Through my primary research of this condition, I saw the need to resist this generic approach to building, which seems to plague many growing cities.
The scale of the blocks in the North Area offer some advantages in that they have more organized streets that allow for ease of transportation, although the attempt to bring a local character to these housing estates through street level storefronts was not successful. The North Area and Camoes Garden seem to stand in opposition to each other, but in traversing these parts of the city, and, upon further reflection, I realized that there could be a hybridization of the two. Macau should be able to grow while retaining its cultural history.
My thesis project provides an alternative to the conditions I found in Macau through the introduction of 125 meter by 125 meter housing blocks, grafted onto the urban fabric of Camoes Garden. This proposal breaks the isolating nature of these blocks creates continuity with the smaller streets, while at the same time maintaining the density of an enclosed housing block.
2013-Oliver Antoniu, Venice, Italy
I stayed for nearly two weeks in Venice, Italy, traveling through the city and the lagoon in an inflatable kayak, in which I could move freely through high and low tides, day and night, the lagoon and the open sea, and various abandoned islands. The city also hosted many opportunities for research, particularly the Museum of Naval History and the Biblioteca Marciana. A naval bookstore I discovered early on in the trip became ‘home base,’ the owner frequently advising me throughout my stay.
A number of architectural revelations crucial to the reframing of my project were documented through photography, video, and drawing:
- Structures and landforms can assemble/disassemble the horizon. On grey days the sky and sea bend in continuum, erasing it.
- Tidal currents, asynchronous with the solar day, provide a pendular rhythm and directionality of movement within the city. Waves provide a truly topological spatial medium in aural, visual, and kinetic terms.
- The high tide fills and floats the city; massless, it reads in terms of surfaces. The low tide reveals a continuous ‘base’ element which structures sit on, rather than floating against the water. This allows the city to become readable in terms of mass.
- Algal vegetation that grows on surfaces exposed to water emphasizes this base. The color and density of the vegetation varies due to the amount of time it is exposed to air and sunlight or submerged underwater. This allows an observer to read the behavior of the tides outside the temporal realm.
- Between low and high tide, elements such as stairs, ledges, walls, etc. measure the datum of the water and merge into one another. Certain spaces and passages become accessible or inaccessible depending on the tide. The ground of the city is this indeterminate zone between high and low tides.
What has always been of key importance to my thesis is the way that edges between land and water are articulated. Being able to observe this site first-hand has supplemented large-scale geological phenomena, swathes of history, suppositions of science, and telescopic hunches with an architectural repertoire of parameters. These parameters were used to relate my utopian project with the spatial medium of water, the tide mediating between the two.
2011-Emily Nguyen, United States Monuments
A monument has been defined as a structure erected to commemorate an idea, person, place or event. Or, it is a site that is marked and preserved because of its importance to a group of people. In both cases, the making of a monument requires a mental leap. A community must collectively project meaning onto a structure or place in order to define it as a monument. In America, these monuments can range from sites made significant by tragedy, natural beauty, cultural movements or historical events. In some cases, the construction and artifice made in order to signify a monument is elaborate. Monuments can be indicated by signs, promenades or entire structures. However, in some cases, the demarcation of a monument is invisible and the monument is identified through a collective consciousness.
The William Cooper Mack Thesis Fellowship allowed me to further investigate many American monuments and it also led me to unexpected discoveries. Through the fellowship I was able to travel to Appalachian country, Washington, D.C., and Plymouth, Massachusetts. In the Southwest I visited the Hoover Dam, the Vegas Strip, Route 66, Grand Canyon, Navajo Nation, the Four Corners, Topaz Internment Camp, an Indian reservation, the Great Salt Lake and the Salt Lake City Mormon Tabernacle. In San Francisco I saw various sites like Coit Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Cable Car Museum, Mission Dolores, and Tanforan.
From my travel experiences, I began to envision the monument as part of the American collective unconscious, represented in my project through an archipelago of models. These objects and dissections of icons led to the design of four spaces that investigate American memory and contradiction. The series of models and the four proposals represent the Hall of Record, and examine the idea of the index, the relationship between the souvenir and the monumental, and the hand-held and architectural scale.
2011-Fabio Alvino-Roca, Alcañiz, Spain
THE FRAGILE HOUSE
My site was the Spanish desert – rural, now abandoned, a site of nothingness. For three weeks I lived in a cabin made of stone. As I lived in this modest dwelling, no larger than a small room in a Manhattan apartment, I studied the enormous site and put my building methods to the test. This is a short narrative of the things I built with my hands.
In the desert, the present becomes the past; these structures are both witness to and evidence of such a process. My site visit yielded a proposal for the appreciation and regeneration of this process—the exploration of a fragile culture of obsolescence, varying in function, form and history. Each structure audits the role it will have at a new point in time. Each structure is essentially a literal ruin, devoid of function. They are seen, therefore, not as objects in the landscape, but as objects becoming the landscape. And as landscape, they are ready to be claimed and possessed by the individual. The structures stand alone, each of them presenting a program, function, philosophy. They are not created to last an eternity, but only as long as the materials they were constructed will allow. Collectively, the structures comprise the program of house, ‘The Fragile House.’
To smell, hear, taste, see and feel what the chosen site had to offer was essential for these creations to be more than just forgotten dreams. I have come to realize that for a project to be loved by its creator or persecutor, it cannot just be a study. It needs to be sensed, to become a marriage of the body and mind. My travel experience allowed me to fall in love while continuing my pursuits.