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College of Architecture Art and Planning, Cornell University
by Meejin Yoon, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Dear AAP community,

Over the past several weeks, we have all had to make major adjustments to our lives and learn how to live with a new normal—one that is constantly shifting and adapting to unknown territory. New knowledge, new models, and new practices are informing the responses of countries, cities, and communities to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and limit the loss of life to COVID-19. Each of us has been challenged in new ways toward that effort. Despite these uncertain times and upended expectations, I have seen our community come together not only with great care and compassion, but with remarkable resilience. For this, I want to express my deepest gratitude to our students, staff, and faculty.

Some members of our community and their loved ones may be on the front lines of the public health crisis performing essential services; many have friends and family who are healthcare professionals under increased risk as they work tirelessly to save lives; and all know someone who is among the most vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic. These concerns are likely at the forefront of our minds, and I am hopeful that our efforts to keep people safe will be increasingly effective as we continue to respond and adapt with care and concern.

Amidst the urgency and magnitude of these challenges, we are also all being asked to learn in new ways. Globally, there are over 890 million displaced learners. Distance learning across time zones and hemispheres comes with distinct challenges for our community and our spatial, material, and socially based disciplines. It will not only take practice to teach well and learn well but it will also take creativity and ingenuity to translate our pedagogical forms and formats for virtual instruction.

Jan De Vylder’s lecture on April 20 was broadcast live from Milstein to a distributed virtual audience that included the Cooper Union and Harvard GSD—over 1000 participants tuned in. I’ve been in contact with the deans of other schools to find other forms of “lateral” learning and resource pooling. I’m hopeful that current limits imposed by COVID-19 will spur new and creative ways to connect across boundaries and form new networks. We have an opportunity to re-learn how to learn.

Recently, I came across an article by urban planner and former faculty member Ann Forsyth, who specializes in public health. Professor Forsyth noted that while the vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop, the current means of flattening the curve is a spatial one—one that the design fields are ideally suited for. Space, shelter, community, neighborhoods; those are our mediums. Now is a time to ask how we should think about those basic units of our communities and how we can think about design for public health.

When designer Charles Eames was asked to identify the limits of design, he responded by asking, “What are the limits of problems?” We are now facing what seems to be a limitlessness problem—a problem where our solutions may also bring new problems. From containment to mitigation, health care infrastructure to supply chains, and social distancing to social welfare, we are witnessing a problem of global scale with local impacts. How we act on this problem, not only as global citizens, but also as planners, makers, researchers, and designers will have a lasting influence on how we emerge from this crisis into a new context and potentially, a changed world.

As we consider our circumstances and response, we are increasingly reminded of challenging moments in our history where unprecedented challenges were met with bold thinking and imagination. While many have cited Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal, and his inaugural address where he famously states that “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself,” I think Eleanor Roosevelt’s words might be as poignant. In Learning by Living, she shares, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…” preparing us to take on “…the next thing that comes along,” and, the many things we do not yet know we can do.

At AAP, we share a commitment to doing things we do not yet know we can do—trusting in processes of investigation and imagination. And though we are now dispersed at a time when we may feel we need each other most, I have complete confidence that we will continue to come together in new ways—to act on our most caring and creative instincts, in solidarity with one another across the country and the world. Just as other generations have come together to face unprecedented challenges, we will not only get through this, we will learn to think boldly and imaginatively to solve problems and push past limits. We will adapt and be stronger for it because we will have learned essential lessons about resiliency and community.

Please take extremely good care of yourselves and one another, and continue to check for updated information from the university and the college. AAP now has a dedicated webpage where you can access updates and other useful resources related to adjustments for coronavirus and COVID-19 mitigation and we are sharing a number of perspectives on the many changes and challenges via the college’s social media platforms. We will also be connected with a new AAP weekly e-newsletter, a platform to share your stories and insights during this trying time, so please watch for calls for submissions and related messages. And, as we continue to adjust and transition to virtual instruction, please be patient with bumps along the way.

Finally, I’ll add that while we are all practicing social distancing and separation, I am again truly grateful to be part of this AAP and Cornell community where we can lean on each other—albeit virtually.

Warmly,

Meejin

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