arriving at cornell

25 Feb 2019. Cornell — a university located in the state of New York, five hours northwest of NYC, two hours southeast of Rochester, in the Finger Lake region, in the city of Ithaca at the south tip of one of those fingers, Lake Cayuga, on seized Haudenosaunee land which then became the Ulysseus Township, now close to places Etna, Ovid, Homer and Seneca…

Yet, for most people, Ithaca is Cornell; a campus with a town attached to it. There are other aspects though, including tensions and friction of different kinds. A city disrespectfully erected on top of indigenous burial grounds. An academic mountain overlooking a town in the swamps. A rural remoteness crisscrossed by fairytale gorges with hypnotic waterfalls. A vineyard landscape (believe it or not) swept by Arctic winter winds (as now). A split university, not only by its waterfalls, but divided into on the one hand the private and prestigious faculties and others, with a dubiously public mission… For a newcomer, it is hard to know.


Also the town has a certain twisted quality, on the one hand the obligatory shopping mall landscapes, on the other a downtown “commons” where organic hipster beer deliveries bump into four-wheel pickup trucks equipped with home snow plows, right outside of the Víva Taquería… 

OK, I have not been here for more than two and a half weeks so I shouldn’t claim a grip on the environment, not even some corners of it. What I do know though, is that the university campus is vast and sits on top of a very steep hill, the East Hill, and I know this because it means a daily morning mounteneering effort, which sometimes, like this morning, due to snowfall, has to happen, despite limited visibility.  

What I also know is that Cornell has around 23 000 students, 1700 faculty and another 8000 employees; in other words, in student and faculty numbers quite similar to MaU. It feels much bigger, though, and as an “Ivy League” university, it has a pedagogic and research infrastructure of another magnitude. My activities so far have included various contributions, such as to the broad MA program in landscape architecture (including students also from many other fields) run by associate professor Maria Goula, who invited me here. I also took part in studio critique in the course Integrating Theory and Practice  dedicated to the development of a green corridor in neighboring Buffalo (some three hours from here); today a socio-economically strained city suffering from de-urbanization (and from the whimsies of Elon Musk). At the landscape department, I also gave a public lecture on the topic of environmental value and eco-criticism, to be followed up in a second one on “design thinking” and concept development. At the adjacent College of Art, Architecture and Planning located in a fancy Koolhaas building, I will contribute in seminars on similar topics within the course Urban Temporalities: Materiality, Practice, Subjectivity. 

There is of course many other interesting and K3 related things going on here. I am in contact with the Environmental Humanities group, through ass prof Anindita Banerjee at the College of Arts and Sciences, and I will follow their seminars. I also met with Steven Jackson, ass prof in Science and Technology Studies and who is chair at the department of Information Science. His research focus, as some of you already know, is on “critical, interpretive, and historical social sciences” including “repair studies” – from a mundane American as well as Malmoitian perspective is highly relevant.  

One of my hangouts though, is the historical Uris Library, which I imagine will foster grand thoughts…


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