Art, Culture and the Neighborhood: The Hispanic Society, Audubon Terrace, and Civic Engagement in Washington Heights

Across the Americas, culture has been shaped by the co-mingling of Native American civilizations, Iberian influence, and the long history of African enslavement. The studio will explore the ways in which these shared histories can be woven into bonds, where previously divisions have been sown.

In this time of renewed urgency for equity and justice in our society, this studio will contemplate an architectural intervention at the Hispanic Society Museum & Library, exploring the rich history of Hispanic art and architecture, and its legacy in the Americas. This will include a survey of the ways in which Spain shaped the “New World” and vice versa, working with and reflecting upon historic maps, art works, and documents in the Hispanic Society’collections.

The studio will engage in a dialogue about how architects consider the long, rich history of architecture in generating new building designs – exploring the notions of the “Classical” and the “Modern,” two outsized architectural descriptors whose tension provides a deep reservoir of lessons, references, and inspiration that can lead architects to unusual insights—enabling a more sophisticated synthesis of the many visual, social, environmental and cultural influences that give places identity and meaning.

Through this project you’ll explore ways in which a 21st century addition to a long-established institution can be programmed and designed to foster evolving curatorial practices and educational outreach, forging deeper connections between the museum and the thriving Hispanic neighborhood that surrounds it, while developing the dexterity required to sensitively reinvigorate a fragile and important historic structure while adding something new.

The Subject

The Hispanic Society of America’s museum and library in the Washington Heights Neighborhood of upper Manhattan remains, for many, an undiscovered gem. However, it’s current facilities are too small and disconnected to properly display large portions of its holdings, or to host temporary exhibitions, and show the full depth and breadth of its collections.

Founded in 1904, the Hispanic Society Museum & Library was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012 for its important role in changing the attitudes and understanding of Hispanic culture and Hispanic-American history in the United States. No other institution approaches the Hispanic Society in the breadth, depth, and quality of its collections spanning over 4,000 years, which constitute a comprehensive survey of the arts, history, and cultural heritage of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America up to the twentieth century. The enormous wealth and complexity of the cultural heritage of Hispanics and Latinos only can be fully appreciated when viewed within the context of the convergence of numerous cultures over millennia, encompassing the Bell Beaker, Celtiberian, Roman, Visigothic, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures on the Iberian Peninsula, whose legacies were enriched in their convergence with indigenous, African, and Asian cultures in the Americas.
“Visions of the Hispanic World, Treasures from the Hispanic Society Library and Museum” Edited by Mitchell A. Codding, New York, 2018

Having developed a fascination with Hispanic art and culture as a young man on visits to Mexico, Cuba and extensive travels in Spain, The Hispanic Society’s founder Archer M. Huntington - adopted son of Collis Porter Huntington, a railroad and shipping magnate and one of the Gilded Age’s wealthiest men - had the resources to feed his passions, amassing a truly unique collection, and constructing the museum and library in which they’re now housed.

His stance on collecting was sensitive for the time. He spoke to the importance of building the collection in a way that would bring the elements of Hispanic culture to new audiences while protecting cultural heritage. In describing his collecting practices within Spain, he said:

I buy no pictures in Spain, having that foolish sentimental feeling against disturbing such birds of paradise upon their perches. Let us leave these beloved inspiration builders where they were born or dwelt, for to Spain I do not go as a plunderer. I will get my pictures, outside. There are plenty to be had.
“Visions of the Hispanic World, Treasures from the Hispanic Society Library and Museum” Edited by Mitchell A. Codding, New York, 2018

The Project

For centuries, the canon of western art and architectural history has been shaped by academics and museum professionals whose work has often overlooked the racial, gender, and economic diversity across the world’s cultures and populations, thereby limiting our understanding of the rich historical and creative variety in the visual arts. This has created a perpetual cycle where minorities have been, and continue to be, discouraged from entering a variety of arts and museum professions. With society increasingly recognizing that this condition requires urgent attention, museums are under immense pressure to reform curatorial policies and visitor experiences to welcome a diverse and inclusive audience in order to strengthen and sustain their institutions.

The proposed project focuses on a complex architectural problem - a renovation and addition to the Hispanic Society of America’s museum and library facilities at Audubon Terrace - a unique urban enclave of Classical buildings located within the largely Hispanic Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan.

The studio will examine elements of the Hispanic Society’s plans for its existing buildings, as well as the design of a hypothetical extension to the museum on the last remaining undeveloped lot within Audubon Terrace, while addressing meaningful connections between the two. In addition, you’ll be challenged to envision ways that the inward facing grouping of buildings at Audubon Terrace might better connect with the vibrant urban community that surrounds it both now, and in the future.

Audubon Terrace is an especially unique assemblage of buildings including the work of Charles Huntington, Cass Gilbert, McKim Mead and White, and H. Brooks Price. It offers lessons in composition and the creative possibilities of classical design, while simultaneously demonstrating that the use of a consistent architectural language can bring overall coherence to a site touched by multiple architects. This idea, in turn, opens the door to a more nuanced study of classicism — exploring how its manifestations might vary in response to cultural influences, climate, building program, and urban conditions, ultimately informing how your design might respond to this context.

Looking to Classical precedents across Spain and the Americas you’ll analyze how the language of Classicism is modified across continents and millennia to reflect specifics of culture, climate, and sense of place. The studio will consider Classical and Modern precedents not as opposing ideologies but as dynamic, conversational partners offering a rich array of lessons.

Integral to the studio will be interaction with the museum’s staff, and curators, as well as the architects currently engaged by the museum in the renovation and restoration project. Students will also meet with members of the Washington Heights community, school children who participate in museum education programs, and representatives from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Boricua College to discuss ideas for integrating activities across Audubon Terrace’s institutions, and to get a sense of the community’s aspirations for the space.

To further student’s understanding of best practices in museum planning and design, students will engage with curators and staff from the Yale Art Gallery and Wurtele Study Center to discuss their experiences renovating their spaces and working with architects to design spaces for in-depth scholarly research. Museum planners from Lord Cultural Resources will meet with the studio to discuss current approaches for planning and programming for diversity and inclusion.

The semester will be divided into four segments focusing on site analysis, site/landscape design and urban proposals, development of the building program for the museum annex, issues of restoration and renovation, culminating in design of the museum annex. Design exercises will build upon one another all contributing to the final project. Design work will be approached individually with group work focused on planning for the workshops with community members and museum staff. Students will consider all scales of design from the urban landscape, to museum planning including the design of a specialized gallery for a particular object or set of objects.

The studio will also explore architectural drawing as an art form that is critical to the expression of your ideas. You’ll be asked to develop an aesthetic for your presentations that supports the deeper meaning in your work, and to look to the rich tradition of architectural drawing for inspiration.

In lieu of travel, you’ll be immersed in Hispanic culture through a series of intimate conversations with practicing Spanish, Latin American and American architects, and artists, many of whom harness the dynamic between classical tradition and modern invention when developing their work.

All Semesters

Spring 2023
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Spring 2022
Advanced Design Studio: De/constructing Cultural Tourism
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Spring 2020
Advanced Design Studio: The Opera House of the Future
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Spring 2019
Advanced Design Studio
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