Humanitas: Architecture honors, two Tonys, and students into heavy metal

A Yale architect is recognized as a star in his field, a quirky Broadway comedy nets Tonys for two Yalies, and a group of students create their own furnace.
Installation in Flatiron Building plaza

Flatiron Reflection, a temporary installation designed by Future Expansion, on the north plaza of New York’s iconic Flatiron Building in 2017. (Photo by Noah Kalina)

In the latest edition of Humanitas, a column focused on the arts and humanities at Yale, we introduce you to an alum, and now critic, at Yale School of Architecture whose Brooklyn firm was recently recognized as one of the world’s most innovative emerging practices; applaud a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences whose scholarship is improving how public safety is delivered; celebrate Tony wins for a faculty member and alum behind one of Broadway’s hottest musical comedies; and learn about five students recently honored for a skill not always associated with the arts — iron melting.

For more, visit an archive of all arts and humanities coverage at Yale News.

Yale architect honored among field’s ‘vanguard’

In 2013, when Nicholas McDermott ’08 M.Arch., a critic at Yale School of Architecture, co-founded the architectural firm Future Expansion with his wife and partner Deirdre McDermott, in a studio near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, they sought to create “new architectural and urban possibilities” and build projects for — and from — a changing city.

Nicholas and Deirdre McDermott
Nicholas and Deirdre McDermott (Courtesy of Future Expansion)

In the decade since, the firm has designed projects spanning a range of scales, and in various contexts, across New York City and its outskirts. They’ve developed a public art installation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; won the Van Alen Institute’s annual competition for a temporary installation on the north plaza of the iconic Flatiron Building; and received a prestigious preservation award for what Architectural Record magazine described as “a modest yet transformative” addition to the Park Slope United Methodist Church in Brooklyn. The firm is now completing an apartment complex with street-level commercial units in Queens.

In June, the firm was among 10 firms to receive a 2023 Design Vanguard award from Architectural Record, which recognizes young practices worldwide that are advancing issues of form, construction, sustainability, and community engagement — and represent “the promise of the next generation of architects.”

Future Expansion, which Nicholas and Deirdre McDermott founded on the idea that “the future provides us with the opportunity to constantly improve on the past, that previous solutions should not preclude new inventions, and that architecture and urban design are meaningful cultural tools in this endeavor,” provides design and consulting services for a wide range of architectural and urban projects.

Anchored in a neighborhood in flux, Future Expansion is in its element,” Architectural Record noted, “in the thick of it all, as new development in the borough swells upward, outward, and into areas, like the banks of the Gowanus, previously untouched.”

McDermott, who received the James Gamble Rogers Fellowship and the David Taylor Memorial Prize while he was a student at Yale, now teaches architectural design at Yale School of Architecture.

Context isn’t the thing to restrain you — it’s where you find opportunities, realize potentials, and connect the dots,” he told the magazine, speaking about the firm’s focus on contextualism. “The future, no matter how scary it is at times, is all that we’ve got, and there’s a kind of optimism in working this way — in recognizing that what exists is the context.” 

Kudos for work to stop racism in public safety

Yale psychologist Phillip Atiba Solomon (formerly known by the surname Goff) has pioneered scientific experiments that have exposed how we learn to associate Blackness and crime implicitly, and he has used that research to advocate for changes in how public safety is delivered to prevent the deadly consequences of such racism.

Phillip Atiba Solomon
Phillip Atiba Solomon

For his contributions, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest recently honored him with their annual Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy.

The award recognizes research that leads others “to view specific public policies differently, research demonstrating the importance of the application of psychological methods and theory to public policy, or research clarifying the ways scientific knowledge of human behavior informs public policy.”

Solomon will be honored at a ceremony hosted by the APA later this year.

I’m humbled to receive this award, but the honor belongs to the communities whose truth remains at the margins of our science,” said Solomon, who is the chair and the Carl I. Hovland Professor of African American Studies and professor of psychology in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “The work my collaborators and I pursue is novel mostly because the populations affected by racism in policing have not received the scholarly attention they deserve.”

While he was a tenured professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, Solomon founded the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), now an independent nonprofit organization that has grown to become the largest research and action think tank on race and public safety. CPE also hosts the world’s largest collection of police behavioral data in the National Science-funded National Justice Database. The scientific data gleaned from the database is used as a tool to help reduce inequitable policing.

I know our partners and the team at the Center for Policing Equity are heartened by this recognition that amplifies collective action to reduce our reliance on systems of punishment, increase our reliance on systems of care, and above all else listen to those closest to the problem when crafting solutions,” Solomon said.

Kimberly Akimbo’ earns Tonys for two Yalies

Last month, Yale musical theater composer Jeanine Tesori and actress and singer Victoria Clark ’82 took home Tony Awards for the quirky musical comedy “Kimberly Akimbo,” winning in the categories of Best Original Score and Best Performance by an Actress, respectively.

Kimberly Akimbo” also captured the coveted Best Musical award, among others.

It was the second Tony for Tesori, a lecturer in the Department of Music of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She was also awarded the Tony for Best Original Score for “Fun Home” in 2015. She has been nominated four other times.

Kimberly Akimbo,” which made its debut in December 2021, is about a New Jersey teen faced with a rare genetic disease that causes her to age prematurely, among other challenges, but who, according to Playbill, is “determined to find happiness in a world where not even time is on her side.” The musical is based on a play of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire.

Hear Clark perform “Make a Wish” from the original cast recording, which was released in February.

Victoria Clark in “Kimberly Akimbo.”
Victoria Clark in “Kimberly Akimbo.” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Heavy metal wonders

Among the many skills Yale students routinely exhibit, constructing their own iron-melting furnace usually isn’t one. But when a group of students showed an enthusiasm for foundry work during one of his courses last spring, sculptor and artist Desmond Lewis, a lecturer at Yale School of Art, found a novel way for them to test their skills.

Lewis, who uses metal in much of his own art and, at Yale, teaches courses on sculpting with metal and metal casting, recommended that the students test their mettle at the National Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art and Practices, held in Birmingham, Alabama.

Iron-melting furnace built by Yale students.
A group of Yale students designed and built their own iron-melting furnace and presented it during the recent National Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art and Practices.

Specifically, the team of three Yale College students and two graduate students designed and built their own iron-melting furnace, also known as a cupola, transported it to Alabama, reassembled it when they got there, and competed against six other teams on furnace function, teamwork, and the quality of the cast-iron products they made.

The conference let us see how broad iron-casting is and all the different ways that people engage with it in terms of their artistic practice, technical expertise, as well as the various ways that art and industry intersect,” said Harper Lowrey ’24, who studies molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, but for this project was team captain and, along with Talia Tax ’24, co-designer. (Other members were Nathan Puletasi ’24, Elli Fotopoulou ’24 M.F.A., and Malik Jalal ’24 M.F.A.)

Their cupola, which they’d crafted in the shape of a triangle (a design they hadn’t seen before), won the Catwalk award for innovation and design. For the competition, the Yale group and other teams loaded iron into the furnace, and then molded the melted material into, among other products, medallions, bottle openers, and chain links that will be added to an ever-growing chain displayed annually at the conference.

Being able to attend this conference gives students a chance to see how other artists and foundry workers operate,” said Lewis. “For many of our students, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

(During the same conference, Dominique Duroseau ’23 M.F.A., a second-year sculpture student at Yale School of Art, explored Black eroticism in her final-night performance.)

In praise of past work — and faith in what’s to come

This spring, Yale News announced that philosopher Stephen Darwall of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences was one of 171 writers, scholars, artists, and scientists to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. We have since learned that alumnus Jeff Hobbs ’02, who taught the 2023 spring semester college seminar “Immersive Journalism,” also received a 2023 Guggenheim Fellowship. The awards, made annually by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, recognize both prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Hobbs, a Los Angeles-based journalist, is the author of the acclaimed 2014 New York Times bestseller “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League,” which recounts the life and tragic death of his college roommate at Yale. His other books include “The Tourists,” about former Yale classmates and their post-graduation disappointments in life; “Show Then You’re Good: Four Boys and the Quest for College,” and the newly released “Children of the State: Stories of Survival and Hope in the Juvenile Justice System.”

What is so meaningful about this fellowship award is the way it recognizes the value of past work by offering support for future work,” said Hobbs. “In my case, that future work involves writing about the landscape of homelessness in Los Angeles through the experience of a single working mother who kept her six children in school throughout their two-year search for shelter. The work encompasses policy, history, and services but also the plights of children and educators.”

Hobbs and the other Guggenheim Fellowship recipients were chosen from nearly 2,500 applicants. His Yale seminar, which he also taught in 2018, challenged students to write “immersive, creative nonfiction projects about people and topics in which they have an emotional investment, and how to use their feelings to fuel good work.”

Mallory Locklear, Susan Gonzalez, and Kevin Dennehy contributed to this report.

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