Rethinking Architecture


School of Architecture Undergraduate Director Jennifer Asselstine, guest speaker Madeline Schwartzman and Graduate Director Mark Mückenheim. Photo by Bob Toy.

Human-fungi hybridization, three-foot eyelashes and body robotics were among the many esoteric topics discussed at the premiere of the Fall Lecture Series for the School of Architecture (ARCH) on Oct. 5.

Madeline Schwartzman showed over 400 stunning and obscure images to a packed audience in the atrium at 601 Brannan St., each introducing a new way of thinking about human’s relationship to architecture. The writer, filmmaker and architect from New York City spoke passionately to the audience about the importance of out-of-the-box thinking and always trying to see the world from a different point of view.

“We have so many skills as designers. What are you capable of? How can you step into the future?” she asked the audience filled with Academy architecture students.

Schwartzman’s work focuses on human narratives and the human sensorium including her new book, See Yourself X: Human Futures Expanded. Anyone with a head can take interest in the book that explores the future of the human head and human perception through fashion, design and technology.

Image after image, from the funky to the borderline creepy, portrayed different sensory apparatuses, augmentations and experiments that expressed the complexity of human perception and how it can invite innovative design in architecture.

Slides showed humans with protruding antlers, bearded women, hairstyles of the 18th century that extended high into the sky and work from other artists, including Louis-Philippe Demers, who is known for his experimental work with the human senses and robotics.

“Use your everyday observations. Speculate. And don’t believe everything you think,” she said.  

All throughout the lecture, Schwartzman, currently an associate teaching professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City, reminded students to not limit or restrict their thinking. Although Schwartzman said it took many years to be accepted into the academic world, she always took pride in being an “outlier and weirdo,” and always found time to do her “weird stuff” on the side.


Madeline Schwartzman. Photo by Bob Toy.

“You should secretly rebel against those teachers that are so demanding of you to see something in a certain way,” she said. “It’s also important to look across disciplines. Do something other than architecture.”

And the message seemed to get through.

Ramona Gakuba, an ARCH sophomore, came to the lecture to find inspiration for a class project with her peer Kadio Bah, also a sophomore ARCH student.

They both said the lecture had them walking away with a new perspective.

“It really makes you look at things in a way you never have looked at them before. She showed me what the mind is [capable] of,” Gakuba said. “Architects are always designing for the future and you have to do what others have not done before.”

Bah agreed.

“It opened me up to finding inspiration from things I wouldn’t normally think and to look at things with a different eye.”

Both women said they will return for the next lecture in the series. Since about 2013, ARCH has hosted a lecture series welcoming distinguished industry professionals from around the world, including architects Frank Barkow from Berlin, Germany and Michael Bell from New York.

Mark Mueckenheim, ARCH graduate director, introduced Schwartzman at the lecture with the story of how they first met. About 20 years back, Mueckenheim was Schwartzman’s teaching assistant at Parsons and was amazed at her work then.

Mueckenheim said Schwartzman’s presentation fulfilled exactly the purpose of the lecture series: To get students thinking about new perspectives, new ways of thinking and the possibilities of where their architecture degree can take them.

“The lecture series shows professionals who push the envelope of what architecture can do in a practical way,” he said. “Architecture is much more than how to build buildings. It’s solving problems holistically which can be applied to many professions.”

As an end to her lecture, Schwartzman urged the students in the audience to open their eyes, find inspiration in unexpected places and to “push into the future.”