On May 18th, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama gave an intelligently insightful speech in New York City about art and its relevance to the humanities. In it she said, “The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.”
A little further away, in the area known as Greenwich Village, specifically located on 2 West 13th Street, Parsons The New School of Design‘s freshly renovated Sheila C. Johnson Design Center stood as a concrete realization of her very words.
Named in honor of Sheila C. Johnson, ex-wife of BET network founder Robert L. Johnson and Parson’s biggest supporter, the building is the fourth project on The New School property by Lyn Rice Architects (now known as Rice+Lipka Architects). At the core of the facility is the SCJD Center’s mission to “generate an active dialogue on the role of innovative art and design in responding to our contemporary world,” which was wholly manifested in the upgraded construction of the classrooms, galleries, labs, and exhibition spaces.
Revisiting the architectural masterpiece, we at Freshnessmag.com can only look at the edifice with honest wonderment of its excellent interior design and tedious, functional details. (For a broad view of the space, take a tour here.) The campus quad measuring in at 32,800 square feet, which serves as the epicenter of campus life for the students of The New School, has not only been excellently designed, but it was also expertly envisioned. The large, open exterior windows allow passersby to be drawn into the scholarly activity in session, as well as serving as openings to harness natural sunlight. The windowsills on the exterior also function as places to sit and chat, thus encouraging social interaction.
Other remarkable changes to the old model include a new, 1,600-square-foot quad enclosed by a glazed roof that provides daylight within and a view of the sky, two new meeting spaces carved out of the previous residual areas found within the center, three new, urban scale exhibition surfaces fashioned out of the existing elevator and stair cores, and a digital countdown clock that operates on The New School’s three-hour academic cycle, displaying the amount of time remaining before the start of the next session of classes. And one can’t forget the two state-of-the-art galleries measuring more than 4,000 square feet that are now part of the SCJD Center: the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery and the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries with Fifth Avenue frontage.
If it’s true that art (architectural design included) defines who we are as a people, then it’s safe to say that from a Parsons point of view, we’re quickly moving forward.