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Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

Architecture Lecture: Judy DiMaio

This past week we were fortunate enough to the the Cornell grad, Judy DiMaio come to our piazza and give us a lecture on her career and her outlook on practice. Judy earned her B.Arch in the Cornell program after which she went to Harvard to receive her M.Arch before beginning a career in both practice, teaching, and educational leadership (although she still refers to herself as first an architect and then a dean and professor). Judy reminisced on her time at Cornell where she studied under the famous Colin Rowe where she learned the art of looking and seeing as well as the idea that without limitations there is no freedom. She added that “Cornell was the most competitive place I have ever been and everyone was deeply passionate.” Cornell was also where Judy began her fondness for Italian architecture and began to learn about the numerous 16th entry renaissance and baroque architects, like Michelangelo, and their buildings which she would later use as inspiration and precedent in her professional career. At Harvard Judy found herself more enthralled with the paintings done by these very same architects at the same time and largely studied mannerist works while getting her M.Arch. Judy went on to win the Rome prize for her transhistorical research of 16th century architecture and painting and their emphasis on framing surface, before starting in the professional world at KPF.

A particularly interesting project she shared with us from her time at KPF was the ABC Phase II building in New York City. In this building DiMaio used the precedent of Michelangelo’s San Lorenzo Facade (1517) to inform the design of the scaffolding within the lobby space as the historical facade was designed to put ‘things’ in (statues in niches) and similarly the lobby space of ABC required lots of 3-D ‘scaffolding’ for (in this case) non-architectural material, a.k.a media. Judy wittily even used little statues of Apollo and Primavera (like in the San Lorenzo building) as scale figures in the client presentations.

After Di Maio left KPF she was invited to teach at Yale, which she accepted but continued practicing by starting a small firm in D.C.. Judy went on to educate and lead at NYIT (where she was dean for 16 years) as well as Notre Dame, where she currently works. During the questions and answers segment of her talk she was asked about how she practice has influenced her teaching and vice versa and she described practice vs. teaching as concept vs. reality but that in teaching it makes you more inclined to bring concept back into reality and believes that it is important that every architect be able to work in both conditions and work simultaneously.

Judy finished her talk with a few quotes she found particularly important to her as she worked. One was: “Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do. Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.” – Svielly Tartkower an international chess master. The second was by the director of the New York City ballet when he was asked how he selected his dancers he replied, “dancers who need to dance, not want to dance.”

Judy presenting a younger Judy. Photo by Abram Collette.
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