Catalyst: Conditions

Catalyst: Conditions
Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh, editor, with Rebecca Hora, Ryan Metcalf, and Matthew Pinyan
New York City, Actar D, 347 pages, hardcover, $26.96

catalyst1This compendium of studio exercises, including the faculties’ generative mission statements and the most outstanding of the student design solutions, is a testament to the University of Virginia School of Architecture’s cross-disciplinary approach to the leading social issues of the day. Spanning architecture, urban and environmental planning, landscape architecture, and architectural history, the school focused in a big way on water in 2013. Catalyst includes more than 70 heavily illustrated sections divided equally among the subdivisions of Crisis, Stasis, and Flux.

Along with studies of real-world situations and design interventions you will find also concepts that are fantastic and untested; some that a priori are impossible. The common thread is the goal of creating a better world—enough so to draw a twinge of fond recollection, for an old man, to those days when everything was possible, if only everyone else agreed to make it happen.

Nonetheless, according to editor and UVA lecturer Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh, the purpose of this collection of graduate student projects—as topically fresh as today’s news—is to bridge the vexing pedagogical gap between the purity of theory and the exigencies of reality.

In this regard, there is a discussion of imagination as a product of the fine arts (one of Thomas Jefferson’s three categories by which he organized his library—this is UVA, after all). Fine arts have been wrongly relegated to the world of effete fantasy, this thesis goes, whereas scientific principles and empiricism have been put apart as the sole progenitor of serious thought. This is wrong thinking, according UVA School of Architecture Dean Kim Tanzer, FAIA, who writes in her introduction:

“While imagination is often viewed as impractical, the practical is too often unimaginative. The practical imagination seeks to celebrate this paradox and, in so doing, find a way to move past the regrettable dichotomy that often splits art from science, leaving both impoverished.”

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