Title: Platform:Still Life 
Location: Cambridge (Harvard GSD)
Date: 2016
Project Type: Publication / Research

Credits: See Platform: Still Life publication for all student credits. Work of Still Life photography belongs to Harvard GSD. 

Platform: Still Life begins with a list: Infill, Big Box, Inverted, Las Vegas, Live Work, Perimeter Plan, Pink Foam, Ruin, and Pop-out.

This is not your ordinary grocery list. As editors, we assigned lists of words to the student work selected for this book. We based these words on design typologies, course descriptions, first impressions, and close readings that hint at what inspired and nurtured the work shown here. Other kinds of organizing systems and lists—floating words, paint-by-number diagrams, and still-life photographs—further reinterpret, redact, and recombine the typical roll call of student names and projects. With blatant disregard for disciplinary silos, these “lists” provide multiple readings of the work produced at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design over the 2015–2016 academic year.

How to present projects from academic programs including architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and design, design studies, and doctoral degrees, and reveal the relationships among them rather than confine them to their respective disciplines? How to take hundreds of white and brown chipboard models—the starting point for projects including mixed-use mid-rise towers, modest passive-housing experiments, and outlandish formal experiments—and make each look like the singular and fabulous object it is?

As curators, we chose to challenge conventional ways of viewing work by adopting the model of the still life. We invited photographer Adam DeTour to Piper Auditorium (GSD’s beloved intellectual black box, where events, lectures, and studio crits take place) and turned it into a makeshift photo studio oozing colorful lighting and other special effects. To stage our still lifes, we borrowed freely from 16th-century oil paintings as well as food photography—a contemporary cultural obsession. We referenced advertisements in high-fashion magazines, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit (1595), Giorgio Morandi’s obsessive tracings, and Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists (2009). Most radically, perhaps, we experimented with color gels, partly in homage to the artist Barbara Kasten, whose influence we gratefully acknowledge, and partly to nudge our peers to take more liberties in the spectrums they choose, even during the earliest stages of making work. Students and faculty of these disciplines mingle all the time in the studios and review spaces and lobby of Gund Hall, debating and absorbing and playing with new ideas and disciplinary positions. Our goal was to reflect these overlaps, as well as the exuberance of production and enthusiasm for experimentation.

It is an intellectual exercise to make sense of the ways that Pink Foam, the Ruin, a Big Box, and Las Vegas are intertwined. We do it once—and then 15 more times.

—Jennifer Bonner, Assistant Professor of Architecture; Editor of Platform: Still Life


Still Life Outake Photography: Anita Kan
Still Life Photography: Adam DeTour
Publication: Harvard GSD / Actar
Editors: Jennifer Bonner with Michelle Benoit and Patrick Herron