ARCHITECTS AND GEOGRAPHERS TEAM UP FOR JOINT MAPPING PROJECT
All maps are not created equal. When a geographer and an architect map the same geographic area, they may produce two very different-looking documents, each conforming to the traditional practices of their own profession. An interdisciplinary team of faculty members is using a University Vision Fund 2000 grant to explore mapping in ways that will serve the needs of both architects and geographers. “We felt there was a gap in contemporary mapping practices, which tend to be disciplinary bound, and in some cases may be blind to practices in other relevant disciplines,” says architecture professor Anne Munly. “In architecture you tend to map things according to spatial relationships of buildings, perhaps overlooking social, topographical, or even temporal conditions that may be mapped in other disciplines.”
Munly and fellow architecture professor Mark Linder teamed with Maxwell School geography professors Don Mitchell and Anne Mosher for the Urban Mapping Research Initiative (UMRI), which will create innovative digital maps of Rome, New York. “For a relatively small city, with a population of only about 40,000 people, Rome has a variety of infrastructures that interest us,” Munly says. “It has a base recently evacuated by the Air Force, and left to the city. It has the Erie Canal, a series of railroad lines, and an interesting urban plan. We were interested in it as a case study of the relationship of a city’s roles as a place to live and as a place of infrastructure.”
The group will use geographic information systems (GIS) software to produce the maps. “GIS attempts to bring different kinds of databases together on a single map platform,” Munly says. “You can take data about a city’s manufacturing practices, disposal of pollutants, and where its population lives, and load it into a single mapping platform. You can even watch changes in that data over time.”
While geographers have used the system for some time, it’s a new tool for architects. One goal of the UMRI project is understanding the system’s limits and possibilities. “GIS offers ways to not just investigate space but produce spatial representations that offer better ways to visualize how cities develop, how different cultural and political groups interact in space, and the role architecture plays in that interaction,” Linder says.
The project involves graduate students and undergraduates in research and field work, and the results will be used in both new and existing courses in architecture and geography, including interdisciplinary student research through independent study. The maps themselves will be shared with the City of Rome through a series of conferences and exhibitions, as well as an interactive digital archive.
‘THINKING COURSE’ CHALLENGES STUDENTS TO EXPAND THEIR KNOWLEDGE
A buzz of anticipation fills the air as a group of 18 students gather in the Hall of Languages for their weekly seminar, Mind Matters, a new elective offered through the College of Arts and Sciences. Among the assignments due to Professor Samuel Gorovitz this day is an essay in which no words containing the letter “e” can appear. The assignment grew out of a book the students read for class, Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, in which she mentions Georges Perec’s 1969 novel, A Void, written and translated into English without using the letter “e.”
“I failed you, Professor Gorovitz,” one student wails as she fumbles in her bag for the essay she wrote. “My essay is not completely pure.”
Failing to meet the high expectations set for them is the very thing all students try to avoid in this class, which they fondly refer to as the “thinking course.” “It’s not a question of grades,” says Katherine Moeller, a sophomore inclusive elementary education major. “That pressure was taken off the first day of class. It’s a matter of living up to the standards Professor Gorovitz sets for us. The course is challenging, and I go home from class exhausted.”
The students are enrolled in the one-credit seminar—the first of its kind offered at SU—at the invitation of Gorovitz, professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of public administration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Gorovitz is also a faculty scholar in the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University. “The course was designed to teach a diverse group of the University’s most promising students what it means to be a person with an insatiable, all-encompassing intellect,” says Gorovitz, who organized the seminar with Judy O’Rourke ’75, administrative assistant in the Office of Undergraduate Studies.
The course’s purpose is to identify early and then mentor a small group of students who have the potential to compete successfully for prestigious national fellowships, scholarships, and awards. Class readings are designed to stretch students’ minds and enlarge their scope of interest, Gorovitz says. The seminar is structured to provide students with “unrelenting, constructive criticism.”
Last May, Gorovitz wrote to 400 freshmen and sophomores with a 3.8 grade point average or better, inviting them to apply for the seminar. Two hundred students requested application materials and further instructions. To apply, students were required to write a 1,000-word essay that covered six areas—their aspirations, fears, humor, service to others, books that have informed their lives, and anything else they wanted to mention.
“I was honored just to get the first letter,” says Lauren Wong, a sophomore architecture major. “I dropped a three-credit psychology course to take this class. It is the kind of course I may never again have an opportunity to take. Professor Gorovitz encouraged us to question everything we take for granted as being true in fact, to verify what is fact, and to never be satisfied. There is always more to learn and new doors to open that lead to a whole new set of questions.”