Architecture: A Passion & A Career
Annie Kurtin: Architecture Student Follows Her Dream
In architecture, Annie Kurtin has clearly found the perfect fit. Her trajectory from college to graduate school, not a straight line, illustrates how being alert to and following up on new interests can lead to unanticipated happy outcomes. Now a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Master of Architecture Degree Program, Kurtin received a BA in art history from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2002. A memorable class the second half of her senior year, “The History of Architecture, 1960 to the Present” opened her eyes and is “where I started my love of architecture.” At her next stop, Goldsmiths College at the University of London where she earned a masters degree in Contemporary Visual Culture and Critical Theory, she realized she was “more interested in looking at buildings than contemporary art” and wrote her dissertation on Daniel Libeskind’s master plan for the World Trade Center site. Upon returning to the States, she immersed herself in the world she was clearly becoming addicted to by taking a position as director of policy and communications at the New York Chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) in Greenwich Village. During her four busy years at the AIA she heard constant design talk, met many architects, became familiar with new projects in the city, and developed an interest in the politics that is part of the building process. By 2007, it was time to learn how structures are made and Columbia’s school of architecture matched her needs. She explains, “Columbia’s program is theory-based which is great for me. It plays to my strengths coming from an art history, conceptual thinking and writing background.” The New York City location is another big plus to her. All student project sites are in the City and she enjoys the challenge of considering questions of density, public transportation, differing life styles, and history. A summer internship with Frederic Schwartz, Architects, exposed her to building proposal competitions, RFP’s, and sustainable design. To date, she is proudest of her work for The Drawing Center project which was chosen for inclusion in the Columbia Archives, an online database of student work.
Referring to the Columbia program, Kurtin says, “I have loved my time here so far.” The school’s approach is “hands off in a way. All the resources you can imagine are here but you have to find them on your own.” The studio courses “are amazing, but extremely intense. You have to be 100 percent committed…personal life suffers.” Green, or environmentally conscious, courses are offered but not required, and studio projects need not incorporate green or sustainability aspects. In response to this policy, a very popular Green Building Group has been initiated. A Student Council Representative, Kurtin reports 50 percent of her class is female and “the place of women at Columbia is not really an issue.” She does note the course “’Building Technology” has only men as major critics of student work and sees this as a reflection of the male-dominant climate in engineering. Her mentors have been both men and women, particularly Frederick Bell, executive director of AIA, New York, and Susan Chin, assistant commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. “I’ve learned so much from them. For me personally, mentoring is very important.”
In the current economic climate, the future looks dim in terms of employment prospects. Articulate, energetic, and upbeat, Kurtin muses, “People will need too adapt. Familiarity with sustainability and green issues “will definitely make you a better candidate.” She advises, “Architecture can be other things—graphic arts, visual communication.” She sees furniture design (with the example of Frank Lloyd Wright whom she admires for “his pioneering work”) as a “wonderful way to be able to translate between scales…wonderful to be able to have your vision inside and outside the house.” Kurtin’s goal is to remain in New York City, where she “has the most connections” and is familiar with the all-important politics, and work for a city design agency such as the Department of Cultural Affairs or the Department of Design and Construction. Dynamic, passionate, and talented, she is the positive face of our city’s future.#