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Robert Kirkbride specializes primarily in architecture and product design. But his thoughtful and steadfast commitment to exploring the full realm of design—including our relationship to what, how and why we design—makes the breadth of his work especially unique… Whether he’s contemplating historical artifacts, art works, commonplace (or arcane) objects, architectural spaces or natural landscapes, Kirkbride’s willingness to dig ever-more deeply into our personal and cultural understandings of what design means and what it can teach us provides an inherently multi-disciplinary approach we can use to consider any number of topics.

– Tack Magazine interview


This website presents a decade or so of my investigations on the interplay of memory and the constructed environment, through design, writing and teaching.

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About

I am Dean of Parsons School of Constructed Environments, and Associate Professor of Architecture and Product Design. I am also director of studio ‘patafisico, and Spokesperson and a founding Trustee for PreservationWorks, a national non-profit organization for the adaptive reuse of Kirkbride Plan Hospitals. I received my Ph.D. in the History and Theory of Architecture from McGill University, and a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Arts in Design of the Environment from the University of Pennsylvania.


My work integrates scholarship and design practice. I have an abiding interest in forms of knowledge and know-how that don’t quite fit, things that have been lost or overlooked, including everyday habits and their impressions on the environment. My research on physical and mental infrastructures of memory, identity and learning has been recognized for its methodology and innovative use of digital media. Close readings of artifacts, buildings, texts and contexts drive my design practice, writing and teaching. My desire to understand how artifacts and buildings are used has offered insight to the physicality of thought and the roles of multisensorial perception in shaping our experience of the world.

Photographed by Melissa Grey

In addition to residential projects, furniture and a family of metaphoric objects, I’ve designed the Morbid Anatomy Museum, in Brooklyn, NY, with collaborator Anthony Cohn, AIA, and authored the multimedia online book, Architecture and Memory, which reconstructs pedagogical and rhetorical uses of two Renaissance memory chambers. Architecture and Memory was awarded the Gutenberg-e Prize, and a second version has been launched online by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) as part of its Humanities E-Book series. I have continued to explore the interplay of architecture and memory in a chapter on architecture and rhetoric in the Renaissance for The Oxford Handbook of Rhetorical Studies, and the volume, Geometries of Rhetoric, which I guest-edited for the Nexus Network Journal. In addition to my ongoing contributions to the Memory Studies Group at The New School, I recently established the Giuseppe Zambonini Archive at the University’s Kellen Design Archives. This collection represents a unique convergence of architectural education and design practice in New York City in the 1970’s and 80’s, including a remarkable asset of online digitized lectures and research materials, and one of the earliest NYC exhibits of work by Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa.

Photographed by Martin Seck

I have been a visiting scholar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, architect-in-residence at the Bogliasco Foundation in Genoa, Italy, and recently received the Distinguished University Teaching Award at Parsons/The New School. I’ve also been an editorial board member of the Nexus Network Journal (Birkhäuser), and Alphabet City (MIT Press). I was a founding partner of the furniture design company, Studiolo, and the low-impact land planning company, Hawk Circle. My design and research projects have been featured in the film XX/XY, The National Academy of Science’s ISSUES magazine, Vogue, The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chora 4, Mark Magazine, C3, Alphabet City’s FUEL, WATER, and AIR, among others. I’ve been a visiting critic at the University of Edinburgh, guest professor at the University of Montréal, and conducted design workshops at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

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Upcoming Fall 2017 Lectures

October 26, 2017
In late October I will present the full lecture, The Many Phantoms of the Kirkbride Hospitals for the Insane, at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. as part of the programming for the exhibit "Architecture of an Asylum," which features St. Elizabeths, the only Federal Kirkbride Plan Hospital, constructed by Thomas U. Walter in 1855.

November 2, 2017
A week later, I will present The Many Phantoms of the Kirkbride Hospitals for the Insane at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation as part of the Historic Preservation Fall 2017 Lecture Series.

 


Upcoming Paper at the International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians

  • Date: Thursday, June 8
  • Time: 8:30am
  • Location: University of Strathclyde,The Technology and Innovation Centre | 99 George St, Glasgow G1 1RD, G1 1RD Glasgow, United Kingdom

On June 8, 2017, I will present at the International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, in Glasgow, Scotland. My paper, The Phantoms of the Kirkbride Hospitals for the Insane, is part of the panel, Architectural Ghosts, chaired by Karen Koehler (Hampshire College) and Ayla Lepine (University of Essex).

Abstract:
How many ghosts can haunt a building at once? When the building at question is one of the Kirkbride Hospitals for the Insane, which share the tragic legacy of a "very real, very troubled past" (Dickey: Ghostland, 178), the answer is not simple. There are many ghosts, and of various sorts. This paper considers the unique challenges and opportunities several of these specters present for the preservation and adaptive reuse of remaining Kirkbride Hospitals.

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New PreservationWorks website is live!

I’m pleased to announce that PreservationWorks, a national 501c3 to preserve and adaptively reuse Kirkbride Hospitals for the Insane, has launched its new website, www.thepreservationworks.org The site provides data links, updates on the efforts of satellite chapters of our organization, and opportunities to get involved. As spokesperson for PreservationWorks, I’ll have my own page onsite, Kirkbride on Kirkbrides, where I’ll gather my thoughts about these extraordinary structures, their conflicted histories and their promise.




Architecture, War and the Erasure of Identity

  • Date: Thursday, March 9
  • Time: 6pm
  • Location: Starr Foundation Hall, UL102 | 63 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10003

The constructed environment equips us to be and become ourselves through products, furniture, interiors, lighting, buildings and cities. But the constructed environment does not stop at the tangible world, it is transported intangibly within us, in our minds and dreams, in our identities and memories.

On March 9, I co-hosted the screening of Tim Slade’s powerful film, The Destruction of Memory, which has only increased in relevance since its release in Spring 2016. Based on Robert Bevans’ book, Mr. Slade’s film reflects on the current plight of cultural heritage sites worldwide in the face of political and religious antagonism, and it also candidly reveals the surprising, deeper roots of the present dilemma. After the film, my co-host, Emily Moss, Director of the BFA Architectural Design and BS in Urban Design, moderated a conversation with Claudia Valentino, editor and chief of Archaeology magazine, myself and Mr. Slade. That conversation may be seen here.

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Greystone Park State Asylum nominated for NJSAA Award

Wonderful and unexpected news that Greystone Park State Asylum, to which I contributed the Introduction, has been nominated for an NJSAA Award, with all three of us – Rusty Tagliareni, Christina T Mathews and myself – listed as authors. Deepest compliments to my colleagues, for the heavy lifting.




Read previous articles in the News Archive