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.

The footage I shot eventually became part of the documentary film A Hole in a Fence.

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