Using the design of a new NYC Technology campus and research facility for Cornell University as a foil, the studio, Ungers vs. Rowe, attempted to produce a theoretical argument about two divergent Cornell legacies: one, O.M. Ungers and the other, Colin Rowe as exemplary urban design positions that after some forty years remain still operative in today’s context. Their respective attitudes and ideas toward urban design and the metropolitan city at large acted as the theoretical foundation for the studio. Both Ungers and Rowe sought alternatives to the top-down methods of modernist urban planning, social realism, and the utopian speculations of megastructures. Both began their work on urban form from an observation of the failure of modern architecture to articulate an urban project. Yet, there are both clear and ambiguous divergences between their approaches to the city.
Given the number of years that have passed since crucial debates in the 1970s on the relationship between architecture and the city, the studio was premised on the idea that the shadows of Ungers and Rowe are arguably still lingering within today's contemporary discourse. In addition to revisiting - and thus recuperating - these two architects from architecture's not-so-distant past, the studio attempted to position them within contemporary discussions on architectural and urban form. While the disciplinary and personal disagreements between Ungers and Rowe are well known and well documented, there is a surprisingly small amount of writing that has attempted to locate and understand their overlapping ambitions. As Pier Vittorio Aureli has outlined in his recent book The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture - a sustained investigation of the archipelago in a number of different registers - both Ungers and Rowe shared a desire to interpret “architectural form as the index for the constitution of an idea of the city.”
Through various analytic methods that interrogated and documented the metropolitan city, both Ungers and Rowe sought morphological principles and processes that shaped the making of urban form and space. More importantly, they each differently understood that these principles are founded upon the transformation and distortion of precedents; ie. a historical past that holds value structurally, formally, and urbanistically. Therefore, the mode in which the studio chose to investigate these two architects was similar to the methods that Ungers and Rowe used themselves, as architects interested in continuity with past manifestations of urban form rather than as historians working directly from the archives. Working analogically and analytically through a study of precedents, methods, and ideas, the studio’s re-considered critical projects and extracted principles as the basis for the architectural design of the new campus. While much of today’s discussion on urbanism comes to terms with an increasingly complex number of different forces, the paradox of the studio’s tabula rasa site condition on Roosevelt Island - an island with a low density, a discrete number of building typologies, and minimal infrastructure - became a testing ground for strategies that “reflect the urban forms of the city through architecture.”
Given that the new campus was to be sited on the southern portion of Roosevelt Island - and island within a metropolitan island - the design of the urban campus also must address its proximity and development in the shadow of Manhattan, and its past as an incubator of urban polemics and manifestos. Roosevelt Island’s unique position as both an autonomous, entirely separate landmass and a conceptual extension of the Manhattan street grid creates a dialectical position as both discontinuous and continuous from its neighbor: as island and virtual extension, as connected and disconnected. The dialectic between autonomy from and engagement with the city can be seen as a dominant concern shared by both Ungers and Rowe. Secondly, the design of the urban campus necessitates an attitude toward the the dialectic between the irreducible formal and spatial autonomy of each part (or building) and the possibility of conceiving of the different parts as one coherent structure, as a larger part of the urban context.
These lessons and more underpinned the work in the studio, and hopefully serve to elucidate both its theoretical basis and problematics for the student projects below.
Ungers Project 1:
Gunho Kim + Hyun Chung
Rowe Project 1:
Vivian Shao Chen + Henry Adam Weber
Ungers Project 2:
Ryan Glick + Julia Pascutto
Rowe Project 2:
Armando Rigau + William S. Smith
 Pier Vittorio Aureli. The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture. Cambrige: MA. MIT Press, 2011.
 Joan Ockman. “Form without Utopia: Contextualizing Colin Rowe.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Volume 57 Number 4, Dec. 1998.