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"We are in an emergency, a climate and cultural crisis," says Mark Gardner, Director at The New School Parsons

Mark L. Gardner, Director of Parsons Masters In Architecture, speaks about culture, diversity, and his vision for his student's educations.

Mark L. Gardner

Director, Master of Architecture Program, The New School Parsons

Mark is a principal at NYC-based Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects (J/GA), an award-winning design practice and studio that works across scales from product design to interiors to buildings. Mark has led many of J/GA’s design initiatives, and works to best understand the role of design as a social practice. The firm has won an AIA National Honor Award and numerous AIANY design awards. The practice recently worked with a non-profit partner on a Honey Bee Study Center in Dodoma, Tanzania. Mark is currently an Assistant Professor of Architectural Practice & Society. He had been teaching part-time at Parsons, specifically courses in Construction Technology and Professional Practice in SCE. He previously taught Professional Practice at PennDesign (2007-2012).

He serves on the Advisory Board of MathMinds, 21st Century Schools Partnership, an afterschool program created to expose high school students of color to college coursework in engineering, computer science, and tech entrepreneurship. Mark is also Advocacy Chair for nycobaNOMA, the New York chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects; and past co-chair of the AIANY Diversity & Inclusion Committee. He is co-chair of the Van Alen Institute Program Leadership Council and a Member of the Board of Trustees, and a Fellow of the Urban Design Forum. Mark also serves on the Board of Overseers at University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. He has a M.Arch from University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Georgia Institute of Technology.

What 3 books, films, or other cultural elements have influenced your life in architecture and why?

  1. In film, Jacques Tati's Playtime. It is a a beautiful 1960's visual comedy about the new modern exurb/suburb of glass, It reminds me that the promises of modern transparency and non-specific form can be dystopic and absurd. The film brilliantly challenges the idea of the "Authentic"
    I also love "The Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of the Universe" by the Charles & Ray Eames. I am always trying to think about measure and scale.
  2. Books: S,M, L, XL This huge compendium has never gotten old to me. Also Delirious New York, I have always been a fan of the writing of Rem Koolhaas, These were both ways to read the city and the urban context of the building object.
  3. I have always struggled with representing identity through my work. The work of Artists who have tested these limits interest me- Martin Puryear and Isamu Noguchi The quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama have influenced me in terms  of the idea of field or pattern-making. Each is a beautiful work that tells its own story,

What do you encourage students to read or draw inspiration from?

I believe they should be observant and sketch the city around them. I tell them to get to know all of the Frank Ching books. We read "In Praise of Shadows" by Tanizaki, "Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino, "The Tell-tale Detail" by Marco Frascari. and the book, "The Working Drawing" by Annette Spiro and David Ganzoni. We do readings from "Design With Nature" by Ian McHarg and Bill Mckibben's, "The End of Nature".

How does your work in Black history and even economic development affect your vision for what architectural education should be?

I think we are in an emergency, a climate and cultural crisis. I believe that our profession should be representative of our society. I believe that the idea of Diversity that people and groups throw around is an outcome not a process. We have to attune our language. The process to Diversity must be about Inclusion, We must identify the problems and not fall back on the comfort of what we believe we know,

The difficulty in Architectural Education is opening/expanding the idea of Architecture to its future capacities and competencies. We must be more aware of the communities we work with and the histories and stories of those communities and treat them as our own, because they are our stories too. We must be more responsible stewards of the environment and learn that each of these, community and environment, are fundamental to each other.

What unique role do you see the New School M.Arch program playing in educating the next generation of architects?

I think our program is uniquely positioned in a school of art & design with programs around environmental education and issues of social justice. We are in a midst of a crisis that will require new ways of thinking, imagining and problem-solving.  We teach with all the tools at our disposal, whether sketching or writing, Virtual Reality or Augmented reality platforms and full scale prototyping.

At Parsons School of Constructed Environments, we have truly interdisciplinary programs- Lighting Design, Interior Design and Industrial Design. Our view of Architecture is an expansive one, which includes collaborations with these programs, with scientists and activists. We have resources across the New School- The Healthy Materials Lab (HML), Tishman Environmental Design Center (TEDC) and Our Making Center.

Mark Gardner New School ParsonsMark Gardner New School ParsonsMark Gardner New School ParsonsMark Gardner New School Parsons
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