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J. Max Bond Jr. Inspires Reflections on Travel

Event: J. Max Bond Jr. Memorial Lecture: Conversations/Travel
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.06.10
Speakers: Peter Cook, AIA — Principal, Davis Brody Bond Aedas; Billie Tsien, AIA — Principal, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; Quilian Riano — Founding Principal DSGN AGNC; Ralph Appelbaum — Principal, Ralph Appelbaum Associates; Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP — Mentoring Chair, New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NYCOBA/NOMA)
Introduction: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Organizers: NYCOBA/NOMA; AIANY
Sponsors: NYCOBA/NOMA; AIANY; Center for Architecture; Design 360; City College of New York, The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture

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Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Davis Brody Bond Aedas

At the inaugural J. Max Bond Jr. Memorial Lecture, several designers paid tribute to the legacy of the architect, educator, and community activist by celebrating one of the things he loved: travel.

Accordingly, Peter Cook, AIA, principal at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, began his presentation by describing not only his own travels and his work on the Benning Library in Washington, DC, but also the life and journey of J. Max Bond Jr., FAIA, his mentor. Bond grew up in New Orleans, graduated from the Harvard GSD, traveled to Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship, and, after working several years in Ghana, moved to NYC. As a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, he designed buildings including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama. At the time of his death, he was working on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero.

Like Cook, Billie Tsien, AIA, principal of Tod Williams Billie Tsien, used her travels to illuminate the design process, as she showed personal photographs from her excursions throughout India. Color-saturated images of textiles, flora, step-wells, and traditional architecture alternated with projects by Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. When she ended her presentation with construction shots of her firm’s Banyan Park in Mumbai, an IT campus of Modern concrete buildings rooted in the local culture and climate, the distillation of influences was unmistakable.

Quilian Riano, founding principal of DSGN AGNC, demonstrated two projects for economically disadvantaged residents of the Colombian cities Buenaventura and Facatativa. At stake was the question: How can architects design for a culture of which they are not a part? “It’s about really listening,” he said, “and a dialogue back and forth.” He sees architecture as a mediator to change unjust situations and empower the users.

Ralph Appelbaum, of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, approached the theme through his own work in exhibition design: whereas artifacts once “traveled” from their native cultures to the museums of the colonial powers which seized them, he said, today the travel is more likely to come from the tourist interested in learning about the place he/she is visiting. He cited the Royal Museum of Scotland, which “went from ‘showing the world to Scotland’ to ‘showing Scotland to the world.'”

Panelists frequently returned to the theme of finding oneself while traveling. “You really can’t gain a perspective on where you’ve been until you’ve left it,” said Cook, relating his own journey from Washington, DC, to Detroit, to points abroad, then back to DC. Tsien agreed: “Traveling teaches you humility,” she said. “You think you’re the center of the universe… but when you go to another country, you’re nothing.”