About Gateway

Gateway was the community newsletter of Pratt Institute published monthly by the Office of Communications, in the Division of Institutional Advancement through spring 2014. For current Pratt-related news, visit the News page on Pratt’s website.


Deborah Gans

Professor, Undergraduate Architecture


When did you come to Pratt, and why?
I have been teaching at Pratt in some capacity since 1987 when I taught a seminar on Le Corbusier. Professor John Lobell, who was and is still coordinator of the history sequence in Undergraduate Architecture, invited me. I am still grateful to him.

What course(s) will you offer in fall 2011?
At Pratt, as a full-time faculty member, I have the wonderful opportunity to teach both design and history-theory courses and to collaborate with other disciplines within the architecture school. This fall, I will teach the introductory seminar in the history and theory of modern architecture to graduate students and also an undergraduate architecture studio run in collaboration with a graduate planning studio. It seems possible that the joint architecture-planning studio will be sited in Goa, India, where the Planning department has a grant, and that all the students will travel there for two weeks. So this may be a dream semester.

What academic background do you bring to your teaching?
I have an undergraduate degree in art history from Harvard and fine arts and a graduate degree in architecture from Princeton. I also consider my teaching as a kind of endless continuing education.

Where did you grow up, and when did you know you wanted to be an architect?
I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and my father was trained as an architect at Yale, where he studied with Lou Kahn and Eero Saarinen among others. In fact, for family reasons my father went into the family hardware business, so my life is really the culmination of two generations of aspiration.

How do you combine so many other roles—author, contributing editor at BOMB magazine, and principal architect of Gans Studio—with teaching at Pratt?
I don’t do them all at once! But honestly, they feed each other. I certainly run my office as a kind of academic studio. And writing on a subject always makes you see it more clearly, which informs the other work. Teaching makes you articulate your thoughts, which helps the writing. You get the picture.

Tell us how you conceived of your workbox school desk for the New York City School system, which is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
My partner at the time, Matthew Jelacic (B. Arch. ’91) and I entered two competitions with the School Construction Authority (SCA) for a school of the future. We placed in both competitions, so the SCA then asked us to propose a project smaller than a school. We proposed a “desk of the future,” which was originally technologically conceived to integrate computers, but became more a social instrument inspired by the conditions we observed in the public schools. Basically, there was overcrowding with classes held in cafeterias and even closets for children who often lived in similarly overcrowded and unstable conditions. So we were inspired to make the desk into a personal, movable “home” for each child—a kind of junior office cubicle.

What inspired your landscape of refugee camps, which was featured in the U.S. pavilion at the 2008 Venice Biennale?
I entered a competition in 1999, again with Matthew Jelacic, this one for Kosovo refugees sponsored by Architecture for Humanity. For that competition we designed two columns that also contained water and power infrastructures to replace the de rigeur tent. I then became fascinated with the camps, which are virtual cities without citizens and often last for generations. Over the past decade I have developed that initial project further with two industrial engineers from Rutgers—Professors Elsayed and Basili using their patented high strength papers—but have also come to consider the planning and landscape of camps as more important than the single dwelling.

Why does your collaborative design (with artist Kiki Smith) for the new East Window of the Eldridge Street Synagogue in Manhattan feature both five- and six-pointed stars?
The central star is the six-pointed Star of David—not only for obvious liturgical reasons but also because the window is mimetic of the domes in the synagogue, which also have fields of five-pointed stars and a Star of David at the center. I think of the window as such a dome rotated 90 degrees. In fact, I designed the central star with depth—it is about eight inches deep—so that it functions like the oculus of a dome letting in the light from its sides, which are clear. As for the enigma of the five-pointed stars in a Jewish house of worship: Its answer lies in the field of the American flag most likely. The synagogue was the first great structure for the Jews of New York who were as proud to be American as to be Jewish.

How do you see the architect’s work as a vehicle for effecting social change?
The post-modern era really took a step back from the position that architecture can change the world, in part because of the failures of the modern movement in trying to do so. It is true that I have spent a lot of time trying to reformulate how architects can participate in the social realm. First of all, I think the word participation is key because it acknowledges that the relation of form to culture is complex with many factors beyond the architect’s control. Also, and most importantly, I think it has to do with the situations we engage and how we frame them—as architects. I have gravitated toward extreme situations like refugee camps and post-Katrina New Orleans not only because they need help, but also because they present emerging pervasive social and cultural conditions that will effect our “normative” built environment in the future.

What is the main quality you look for in students that you consider vital to their future career success?
Their obsessive interest in their own work.  Architecture demands that kind of drive—over a long period.

What do you do for recreation outside of work?
Well, life and work are kind of the same thing. But I love anything that involves moving rather than sitting at my desk—swimming, a dance class, walking around the city—any city.

What would we be surprised to learn about you?
The dance class part. When I first came to New York it was to try to be a dancer. No regrets.

Photo: Kate Milford 



Johanna Bauman, visual resources curator for the Pratt Libraries, chaired the Visual Resources Association session, “Beyond the Slideshow: Teaching the History of Art and Material Culture in the Age of New Media,” presented at the College Art Association’s annual conference in February. The Visual Resources Association is dedicated to furthering research and education in the field of image management within educational, cultural heritage, and commercial environments.

YIPPIE! team members at the opening of the YIPPIE! exhibition. From Left: York Project Coordinator Larese Miller; graduate Industrial Design student Ivey Lian; graduate Industrial Design student Donell Hutson; Sahar Ghaheri (M.I.D. Industrial Design '11); Sara Dierck (M.I.D. Industrial Design '11); and Professor Fred Blumlein.

Fred Blumlein, adjunct professor, Industrial Design, oversaw the launch of a new public art contest designed by master’s degree candidates spanning his 2010–2011 Graduate Exhibition Design course. Titled YIPPIE! (York Improvement Project for Pride, Involvement, and Empowerment), the contest was conceptualized by Pratt students in collaboration with York College, CUNY, as a way to get experience working with a real-life client, and as an opportunity to promote 3-D public art. The students helped organize the contest, and mounted the exhibition of finalists at York College in April. The contest was open to applicants from around the country, and entries were judged by York College and Pratt Institute’s Graduate Industrial Design department. A student from the Savannah College of Art and Design emerged as the winner.

Erin Cadigan, visiting instructor, Fashion Design, launched her new product line THREE Erin Cadigan at an event on June 2 at The Morgan Bar in Bushwick that featured a runway show of Cadigan’s products. The line encompasses both fashion and art pieces with an emphasis on eco-friendly materials and design.

Myrel Chernick, adjunct associate professor, Foundation, is the editor of The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (Demeter Press, May 2011), with Jennie Klein of Ohio University. The M Word includes full-color photographs and contributions from such artists as Renée Cox, Patricia Cué, Denise Ferris, Jane Gallop, Cheri Gaulke, Judy Glantzman, Youngbok Hong, Mary Kelly, Andrea Liss, Monica Mayer, Ellen McMahon, Sherry Millner, Margaret Morgan, Mignon Nixon, Gail Rebhan, Aura Rosenberg, Barbara T. Smith, Susan Suleiman, Marion Wilson, and more. The book earned advance praise from Amelia Jones, the Grierson Chair in Visual Culture, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University, who writes: “The M Word puts the most hallowed and fraught life relationship of all into the center of visual culture. Working through feminist ambivalence about motherhood, this collection offers a crucial corrective to the dearth of discussions about life choices and living tensions for creative women in art and art discourse.” The book is available online from Demeter Press

Carol Crawford, adjunct assistant professor, Interior Design, recently exhibited “Carol Crawford: Mixed Media Constructions” at the Long Island City Art Center, as part of the Long Island Open Studios Festival, which ran from May 14–22. The annual Open Studios event provides visitors the opportunity to explore visual art, film, theater, and music in a unique loft/studio environment. Crawford’s mixed media constructions include 3-D landscapes, as well as wall-hung and freestanding pieces.

Carla Gannis was appointed the new assistant chair of Digital Arts. Gannis comes to the position with more than 16 years of teaching experience in the Pratt Digital Arts and Graduate Communications Design departments. She has been involved in personnel committees, curriculum development, and academic vision work at the department, school, and Institute levels at Pratt in addition to her extensive exhibition history. 

Bill Hilson, adjunct professor, Graduate Communications Design/Packaging Design, made an appearance on ABC’s 20/20, in a segment that aired the evening of May 20. Hilson showed off his Photoshop expertise in a segment that investigated misleading photo manipulation in weight-loss advertising. Hilson demonstrated the ease with which images can be transformed using basic computer design technology.

Pratt Libraries faculty members Leana McCarthy, assistant professor, image cataloger and reference librarian, and Holly Wilson, assistant professor, research and instruction librarian, co-presented a panel discussion titled “Projecting an Image: A Field Guide to Visual Literacy” at the Association of College and Research Libraries’ national conference in Philadelphia, which took place from March 30–April 2.

Brenda McManus (M.F.A. ’11), visiting assistant professor, Graduate Communications/Package Design, presented her senior thesis on June 7 at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn; it was the culmination of her master’s degree requirements that led to her faculty appointment at Pratt. McManus and nine other outstanding designers showcased their thesis projects in the second annual “My Dog and Pony: Fresh Blood 2: Fresher Blood!” event, which represented some of the most innovative work among graduate design programs in the New York area.  The event was sponsored by the New York chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design, and moderated by the chapter’s vice president, Scott Stowell. McManus also holds a master of science degree from Pratt and began teaching at the Institute in 2010.

Debbie Rabina, associate professor, Information and Library Science, and Anthony Cocciolo, assistant professor, Information and Library Science, received funding from the Goethe Institute—the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institution operated worldwide—to complete research and development on the GeoStoryteller project. GeoStoryteller is a mobile, augmented reality application that brings library and archival collections to the streets to enhance student learning and promote historical understanding. The first application of this platform will be German Traces NYC, a learning experience that focuses on German cultural heritage in New York City.

Jill Song (M.F.A. Digital Arts ’03), formerly assistant to the department chair, Digital Arts, has moved to the Office of the Dean of the School of Art and Design as administrative assistant. Song has been involved in the Department of Digital Arts community for 11 years, and has worked in the DDA Office for seven years.

Photo: Courtesy of Fred Blumlein