James Corner talks development and landscape at the final University Lectures Series

Renowned architect reflects on how design and development can bring people together.

This semester’s University Lectures series wrapped up with a presentation from internationally renowned architect James Corner. Corner, founder and director of Field Operations in New York City, discussed the importance of architecture and why it is environmentally, socially and economically relevant to urban development.

Corner began the lecture by walking the audience through traditional landscape and architecture styles, pointing out the basics like the scenic and visual aspects.

“ It’s all about exposing you to unexpected sounds, taste, and textures in context of the city."
-James Corner, founder of Field Operations, NYC

Corner said that in order to understand landscapes, you must be aware of their complex and rich textures. He went on to say that it’s important to recognize the tactility in other words the “squishiness and softness.”

While displaying his work on Seattle’s waterfront, he explained that it’s much more than a new pier, walking promenades and new gardens. Underneath the viaduct, which gives people access to the waterfront, he built a two-mile-long sea wall restoring what was once a natural habitat for baby salmon. Through computer analysis, Corner said he was able to optimize the amount of sunlight coming through the pier, which over time increased the number of algae and once again became a habitat from salmon to survive and reproduce in that area.

Corner said that landscapes and architecture can create a space for peace. Many people in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention expected to see riots and violent protest, but found that the openness of the public square created a serene environment for people to debate issues in a civilized way.

To that point Corner argued that urban architecture also has political significance and can influence the way communities interact. Lastly, he argued that architectural urbanism is socially relevant because it re-energizes what it means to live in a city. The idea behind The Manhattan High Line was building a society that emphasizes the joy  of being with other people.

“Landscape becomes sort of a tissue or framework that pulls the whole city together,” he said.

He explained that people across the city now come out to enjoy the view. No longer will anyone feel like they don’t belong and there’s nothing for them to do because The Manhattan High Line makes room for activities and groups of people.

Corner stresses the importance of creating “spaces where you can get people together in a way that is animated, lively, dynamic, and fresh.”

“ It’s all about exposing you to unexpected sounds, taste, and textures in context of the city,” he said.

Jan Pottie, a Syracuse resident, said she enjoyed the lecture and thought of how she could apply Corner’s lessons to infrastructure here in Syracuse.

“I thought it was interesting because we have places in Syracuse like Onondaga Lake which Destiny USA is built,” she said.

Tom Sherman, professor of transmedia at SU, said he enjoyed Corner’s lecture and hoped that the discussion could continue to include rural cities.

“Although it was an interesting lecture, I thought that he was creating social spaces in places for people to interact only in cities,” Sherman said. “But what about the counties and townships being abandoned?”

Corner’s projects include, but are not limited to: The High Line in Manhattan, Freshkills Park on Staten Island, Seattle’s Central Waterfront, Tongva Park in Santa Monica, London’s South Park at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Chicago’s Navy Pier.

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