Alumni Profile: Fernando Schrupp Rivero
Fernando Schrupp Rivero graduated from the Master of Design Studies: Risk and Resilience program in May, 2020 and has since been living in Berlin and consulting for Howard Zimmerman Architects. This interview was completed in November of 2020.
What have you been up to since you graduated? Where are you living now? Has your career changed unexpectedly/are you doing something different than what you envisioned while you were at the GSD?
This spring, I was working on my thesis in New York; now I live in Berlin. When my partner and I learned that a lockdown was imminent, we decided to stay with her family near Essen. We moved to Berlin in the summer, and I traveled to Greece in July and October to research the refugee settlements at Samos. I was fortunate to be supported by the GSD with a summer research grant. My summer research was split into two projects. The first was an essay titled “Anti-Plantation,” which built on my thesis work. In this essay, I compared the historical sanitary context that gave birth to parks in America to the current resurgence of parks’ importance due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The second project was an investigation of the fires affecting Greek Reception and Identification Centers, which are on the frontline of the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean. I interviewed humanitarian workers and refugees and learned about the combination of conditions that have resulted in the vulnerabilities affecting the camps’ residents. I focused on the Vathy Camp on the island of Samos, near Turkey, where about 6,000 people from twenty different nationalities coexist in a facility that was designed for only 600. Many of them have been stranded in this place for months, or even years, uncertain about their future. The fires have increased in severity since lockdown measures started. I am still in the process of obtaining more funding for this project. My proposal is to create an archive of verbal accounts and photographic material of the impact of these fires and the shelters that have been destroyed. The main goal is to amplify the demands of asylum seekers.
Do you have any favorite memories from your time as a Risk and Resilience student? Why did you choose the Risk and Resilience concentration? Did you do a thesis project? If so, what was your thesis, and how has it shaped your current work? Was there a particularly impactful class/project/professor/etc.?
In the past few weeks, I have followed the news of the end of our concentration. Considering the program’s relevance, especially when an unprecedented global crisis has hit us, it is tough to make sense of the GSD administration’s decision to eliminate the Risk and Resilience concentration from the MDes offering. I was very inspired by an article published last May before the announcement, written by our program director Diane Davis. It discusses how now, more than ever, the design disciplines demand an honest understanding of the conditions that lead to vulnerabilities in our cities. Davis’ article also explored the importance of imagining possible futures that do not reproduce the failures of the past. My hope is that even with the new configuration of the MDes, the discussion of risk and resilience will be central to each course and research project.
Initially, the news about the program made me panic about the relevance of my own work. But now that I am over the initial shock, I am very confident that my work has a place even in the new MDes system. I came to the GSD with a thesis project already in mind: I was interested in the history of the watersheds that provide drinking water to New York City, and I had been working on the rehabilitation of a small-town main street building into an art center in the Catskill Mountains. The building was damaged in the floods caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011, and the town itself is still struggling to recover many years later. As one can imagine, my ideas took many shapes throughout my studies. The historical part of my research started in 2011 in the Catskills Mountains, and with every iteration, it brought me further back
in time and at the same time closer to the city. In short, my thesis is about the historical process that linked the flood in a small town in upstate New York to events that happened around two centuries earlier, namely the destruction of the original water sources, such as Collect Pond, in Manhattan. I was extremely lucky to have Dilip da Cunha as my thesis advisor. The breadth of his work and historical research extends all the way to antiquity. One example is his work tracing waterfront developments in India to the ideas introduced by the expeditions of Alexander the Great.
Many class discussions from my time in the program still resonate with me. I remember hoping to reconcile the opposing views presented in the different courses, but today it’s exactly these unresolved debates that keep me reading and working. It was in a class with Abby Spinak that I learned about various positions on colonization. Before the GSD, my professional background included work on development projects in Bolivia, my country of origin. Abby’s course on climate change exposed me to the complexity of debates around development and progress, especially when identity is a crucial factor. In my current work, the questions of development and identity are becoming increasingly relevant. The next research project I am putting together will be on the history of water infrastructure in Bolivia’s Amazon region, one of the regions that is at the forefront of the progress-versus-culture debate.
Was there something about your time at the GSD that surprised you? Do you have any advice for current students? What is next for you?
I applied to the program because I was trying to make sense of my professional trajectory after I grew skeptical of the architecture practice. I realized that our discipline struggles to address big issues, from climate change to social injustice. I was critical of the superficial approaches to climate change and environmental destruction that I encountered in architecture in both the USA and Bolivia. Moreover, it was very frustrating not to know the answer to these problems myself. My studies at the GSD resolved my skepticism: to my surprise, my positive outlook did not come from new technology or sophisticated work strategies, but from the realization that it is possible to exercise self-awareness in practice and that through many trials and errors, slow but meaningful progress is possible. In short, I learned to appreciate the struggle that had only frustrated me before.
It is challenging to advise current students, but I can repeat what John May said in one of our classes. After Sanford Kwinter gave a very confusing and unresolved lecture, John said something like: Sanford’s greatest strength is that he is not afraid to fail big in public. I believe John meant this as a recommendation to us.
My future, like everyone’s, looks very uncertain. I am currently preparing to showcase my thesis project as an exhibition in Berlin’s Aedes Metropolitan Laboratory this January, but new lockdown restrictions may extend beyond the scheduled opening. I am also working on a new iteration of the “Anti-Plantation” research I did this summer in the form of a curatorial project for an art space in Vienna. It is my hope that this project materializes sometime in the spring. In general terms, I am very fortunate to be in Berlin. We feel very safe here. It is very inspiring to be in a truly resilient city. Berlin has been through a lot, but despite that, people still take risks seriously. They are making the best of the lockdown. In the immediate future, I plan to continue practicing architecture. I consult for Howard
Zimmerman Architects, a landmark preservation firm in New York City, in their technology department, specifically by implementing GIS to their workflow. But my most ambitious project is my Ph.D. application for urban planning. This is taking up most of my creative energy at the moment. I look forward to spending more time studying and engaging with the Bolivian tropics and learning from the peoples of Bolivia over the next few years.