Homeless in Red Hook
The Cornell Years
During my first year of grad school at Cornell, I had an architecture professor for design studio who I couldn’t stand. He gave us Red Hook, Brooklyn as a semester-long project and challenged us to come up with an urban design masterplan. It’s the type of project that I think encapsulates everything that is wrong with architecture schools. The idea that an individual can create a masterplan for a massive city does a disservice to all the professionals that actually shape cities, not through strokes of a pen, but through tireless research and community-oriented processes. I decided right away I didn’t want to make massive design moves in an area I didn’t know, even if it was just a hypothetical student project. I began to think about how I, as a student with no money, could design a project that had a real impact. I began to think about TV shows like Jackass and Survivor and got inspired by the idea that I could create media content that could generate leverage and capital that I could use to create an architectural intervention. So, over spring break, I left Ithaca and lived on the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn for a month. My brother Nate came along to help with filming. It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much from my new neighbors. I ended up producing a short documentary, as well as, some design ideas for quick, warm shelters that could be made from readily available urban artifacts like paper towels, trash bags, and chain-link fencing. The video attracted a lot of attention back on campus, and I was able to recruit other students to create new and better designs. I learned that design could generate media content that could then create leverage for those designers.