True Green Cities / Back To School

Back to School
The 7th Avenue limestone "megastructure" buildings that frame the entry portal to FIT's Chelsea campus.  Photo courtesy FIT.

The 7th Avenue limestone "megastructure" buildings that frame the entry portal to FIT's Chelsea campus. Photo courtesy FIT.

It’s been decades since “back to school” really meant back to school for me. While I’ve been teaching one class a semester in the past few years at two different colleges, it still didn’t have that rigor and anxiety that comes with really going back to school at the end of summer. But this August, I did find myself going back to school in a real and profound way. Why Sustainable Interior Environments at FIT? A new graduate program in sustainability opened at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in 2011. FIT is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and while it is primarily known as one of the top five fashion design schools in the world, it is also a wonderful design school with undergraduate offerings in interior design, toy design, graphic design and related programs. Most people do not realize it is also one of the oldest State University of New York colleges as well. Located in the heart of Chelsea and the fashion district in Manhattan, just two blocks from the High Line, FIT could not be better placed for design. But why sustainability? A tenured professor in the Interior Design program, Grazyna Pilatowicz, worked for years to start a graduate program in sustainability at FIT, as an outgrowth of her design thesis. Grazyna published a book in 1994 entitled Eco-Interiors: Environmentally Conscious Interiors years before anyone else was talking about “green” or healthy materials.
First year students learning about garden cities in a historic Sunnyside Gardens home.

First year students learning about garden cities in a historic Sunnyside Gardens home.

Introduced by a mutual friend, Grazyna invited me to create and teach a class I have loved since the minute she explained it to me – Survey of Sustainable Architecture & Interior Design Historical Origins, a survey of the history of architecture and interior design through a sustainability and preservation lens. This is the third summer I have taught the class, and I learn as much as the students each time. When Grazyna decided she would like to return to full-time teaching again in the Interior Design program, I was honored and shocked when she asked me if I might consider taking over as Chair of the program. So it is ironic that just as I am settling into life in my downtown Buffalo loft, I find myself back in NYC now, splitting my time in both cities. A Master of Arts in Sustainability at FIT A central component of FIT’s mission, and woven throughout the college’s strategic plan, is a commitment to sustainability, diversity and civility. Through the establishment of various councils, task forces, and committees, President Joyce F. Brown has provided opportunities for members of the FIT community to incorporate sustainability into both operational and curricular activities. The Sustainable Interior Environments program offers the only degree in sustainability at FIT and is one of only a handful in New York City colleges and universities.
Students and the programs two chairs (Barbara and Grazyna in the center) on the annual summer visit to the Cloisters Museum in upper Manhattan.

Students and the program's two chairs (Barbara and Grazyna in the center) on the annual summer visit to the Cloisters Museum in upper Manhattan. Photo courtesy Grazyna Pilatowicz.

The program marries advanced professional skills with strong personal values—and opens pathways to making a better world. It is for working professionals who want to create better-built environments and increase their industry leadership potential. The program focuses on exploring social impact, refining aesthetics, and fostering a sense of delight about how people live and work. Our students are conducting leading-edge research that increases their industry leadership potentials.   With masters’ theses on topics as diverse as integrative design, daylighting in historic sites, worker safety and health in labor practices in residential buildings and fire retardants in commercial furnishings, our graduates came to us as interior designers, architects, exhibit designers, planners, and environmental scientists and leave as experts in sustainability topics that no one else has researched yet. Modern and Sustainable
FIT's "C" Building on W. 27th Street, designed by architects de Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg, opened in 1959.

FIT's "C" Building on W. 27th Street, designed by architects de Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg, opened in 1959.  Photo courtesy FIT.

I’ve always loved the modern campus of FIT and indeed, on our business cards we choose a word for the back of our cards (FIT Is….) and I chose “modern.” The campus is a self-contained two full square blocks between 7th and 8th Avenues, West 26th and 27th Streets. Its well-known face is the two limestone somewhat Brutalist-style buildings, or “megastructures,” that border 7th Avenue between 26th and 28th streets, joined by a bridge. NY Times writer, Christopher Gray, has described the FIT campus as this “unusual burst of modernism that defines the campus.” Most of the key buildings, including these on 7th Avenue, were designed by the architectural firm de Young, Moscowitz & Rosenberg between 1956 and 1972. While other critics have called the buildings “dated,” “derivative,” and “confused,” Christopher Gray called it a "smorgasbord" and I am proud to now call it my professional home. Using the New York City metropolitan region as our laboratory, our students are learning about sustainability in what I consider one of the great modern existing building campuses in Manhattan. And if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that learning how to “green” and maintain our existing buildings, especially our modern era buildings, is key to saving our planet. So next time you have a few spare minutes and you find yourself in Manhattan, please stop by to see all we’re doing at FIT. And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.  
© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013