An Interview with Marta Gutman

Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of sitting down with several professors here at CCNY’s Spitzer School of Architecture (SSA).  The first was Marta Gutman, Professor of Architectural History here at SSA, where she has been leading the history department since 2004.  Professor Gutman and I began our discussion with a seemingly simple question- “How did you get involved in the issue of housing?”.  Little did I know that that single inquiry would lead us forward for the better part of an hour, the conversation traversing education, theoretical giants, cross-country moves, and the under-pinnings of current architectural curricula.  Rather than providing a transcript of our conversation, I want to highlight several particular points that were made, and provide references/resources for the students of the CetraRuddy Design Studio in Housing- hopefully these will be helpful in the push to complete the semester.

Professor Gutman began her architectural career at Columbia University in the late ‘70s, a particularly interesting time to be at the Columbia GSAPP.  Professors included Richard Plunz, Kenneth Frampton (A Genealogy of Modern Architecture: Comparative Critical Analysis of Built Form), Robert A.M. Stern, J. Max Bond, and many others, who at the time that Gutman attended, were emphasizing housing as a most pressing issue.  Gutman worked alongside Richard Plunz on his book A History of Housing in New York which would come to have a large impact on her work for the foreseeable future.  I found this relationship particularly of interest, especially since his book has had a large impact on the way that I consider housing in the city, and would recommend it to any who have not read it.  Gutman continued to work with Plunz even after graduation, heading competition entries for prospective housing projects not only in the city, but across the country as well.

In our conversation, Professor Gutman continued to circle back to the importance of typology in her education, teaching, and practice- it serves as the underpinning for the way that she approached design and now approaches teaching about housing.  Having had her as a professor now in both architectural history and comparative critical analysis, I can attest to her stress on typology.  It is clear, both from our conversation and her teaching, the impact that both Plunz’s and particularly Kenneth Frampton’s ways of thinking about building types have made.  I would point specifically to Frampton’s A Genealogy of Modern Architecture as in important source for understanding typology and the comparisons between similar typologies.

I am sure that Professor Gutman will have more to add to this in the final reviews, but hopefully this provides a few pertinent examples and resources for more fully understanding the underpinnings of a typological study of housing, and how using the work of those that have come before us can lead to more successful projects in the future.

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