Parsons’ School of Design Strategies Students and the Guggenheim Museum Partner to Create “Kite City”
The first thing most people who walk into New York’s iconic Guggenheim Museum, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is to look up. The gleaming rotunda is a natural pathway to the sky, and immediately conjures up the desire for visitors to explore the ramps, and peer down into the lobby once they’ve reached the top.
The shape of the museum helped inspire “Kite City,” a recent course from the School of Design Strategies at Parsons where students, led by Assistant Professor Marisa Morán Jahn and faculty member Neva Kocic, researched and developed lightweight structures that float, fly, glide, or drift.
“In Kite City, we explored both the desire involved in city-making and the dreams for flight that traverse all cultures. We started out investigating forms and materials to create lightweight structures that fly — which is a vector-based motion” explains Jahn who is also Director of Integrated Design. “However, as true experiments involve departures, our collaborations broadened to investigate the sensations of gliding, floating, and drifting.”
Throughout the past semester, students explored the engineering of wind by designing structures and forms that can float and fly. They also gained experience in hands-on studio production, rapid prototyping, user testing, collaborating across disciplines and each other, and working with external partners.
“About half of the course was understanding lightweight materials and structures — their aerodynamics, the material science behind them, industry applications, as well as their expressive possibilities,” shares Jahn. “We learned how to fuse materials and create structures using flexible joints, ultrasonic welds, heat sealers, knots, and origami folds, etc. We also examined examples of flight across cultures. In the second half of the class the students collaborated to create different installations, films, and sculptures.”
The Guggenheim Academic Engagement program initially approached Parsons after Cyra Levenson, Director of Public Engagement at the museum, came across Bibliobandido, a public art and literacy movement centering a story-eating bandit created by Jahn in collaboration with residents of El Pital located in rural Honduras. In addition to serving as a partner and course stakeholder, the museum provided funding for materials. All of the programs from the Office of Academic Engagement at the Guggenheim are made possible by Converse, the global shoe brand.
The Parsons community has been engaged with a variety of unique and innovative partners recently, including an exhibit featuring alumni from the MFA Textiles program at the Chelsea Market, as well as an educational collaboration with Aalto University focused on sustainability.
Like many professors and faculty members at Parsons, Jahn is an artist and activist engaged with communities around the world. Her work as an educator influences her artistic output, and vice versa.
“I see my work as a teacher akin to my work as an artist: I try to introduce or re-engage students to think about complex issues through art,” she explains. “Art holds both beauty and tension at the same time—I think it helps us as a society hold contradictions in a way that is essential to democracy. As a teacher, I try to teach how to ask good questions and understand. Drawing us in with both beauty and tension, art draws us in to make new connections about complex issues. Art distends time and space, giving us time to think about things in new ways.”
Looking ahead, “Kite City” will inform a performative installation that will take place on Thursday, March 21st, 6-8 pm, at the Guggenheim. Additionally, Jahn is at work, together with MIT professor Rafi Segal, on a basketball hoop inspired by the MesoAmerican ballgame, which was originally invented sometime between 2500-100 BCE. She is also preparing for her 2024 Creative Directing Studio Intensive, “Daemons and Other Devices,” which will combine hands-on prototyping with rigorous research.