Sben Korsh: Architecture History

Sben KorshSben Korsh
Architecture History
B.A. anticipated June 2014, Magna cum Laude
Home College: City
Mentor: Prof. Marta Gutman, Architecture, City
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
Weston Public Service Scholarship
City College Fellowship
Dean’s List

“Last summer, The New York Times cited the total population of CUNY, including students, faculty and staff, at over a half million people,” says Sben Korsh, a senior in CUNY BA. “To learn and study with just a fraction of them over the last four years, especially given the University’s intellectual history and commitment to the public, has been an honor.”

Raised by two architects in Minneapolis, Korsh moved to New York to study in the architecture program at City College. He applied to CUNY BA after a year and a half to create his own major, driven by a need to “identify more holistically the ideas that shape our built environment, rather than the paper and wood models I was making in design studios. CUNY BA let me take control and define my education in ways not available through the traditional system.” Now his focus in architectural history, specifically on American cities, addresses socioeconomic and environmental justice issues in housing, coastal landscapes and urban parks.

Five days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, Korsh was volunteering in the Rockaways. He had plenty of time to ponder the built environment as he witnessed wrecked winterized beach houses and hauled piles of rotting furniture to the curb. He says, “The storm moved my passion for architecture from theoretical and institutional driven themes to concern for our fragile habitat and social and economic injustices.” And so, with his mentor Prof. Marta Gutman, and thanks to funding from City College and the Ford Foundation during his junior and senior years, he conducted a research project on the history of NYC’s Jamaica Bay, saying the project “started after Hurricane Sandy, when the fragility of the city’s natural and socioeconomic orders, in particular their extensive history in this area, were painfully clear.”

Korsh coupled his time in CUNY BA with extensive experience in the field, supported in part through funding from the Weston Public Service Scholarship. He started with journalism, first as an editorial intern at Metropolis magazine, then as an editor of the CCNY Spitzer School Architectural Journal, Informality and later working at the Architectural League of New York’s online publication, Urban Omnibus. For a year in 2013, he interned with Carol Willis at the Skyscraper Museum. He researched and prepared exhibition content, helped produce programs, lectures and conferences and gave tours to public school students – this led to a paid job. For his last semester, he interned with Karen Kubey at the Institute for Public Architecture and helped organize an interdisciplinary panel on public housing at Columbia University’s Studio X-NYC, in response to Mayor de Blasio’s call for “a total reset” in NY’s housing in the face of the severe decline of affordability in the city.

He worked closely with his mentor on other academic activities, including conducting research on a 1960s housing project in Philadelphia, focused on the intersection of theoretical and social conditions within the postmodern design.

Korsh volunteers with the Van Alen Institute, an organization that promotes inquiry into role of architecture in the public realm; among other projects there, he has been working on their multi-year programming on “Escape and the Urban Landscape.” In 2012, he worked on fundraising as an associate member of Friends of the High Line.

“It took me a long time to catch on that just as buildings and the fabric of the city are molded by political and social issues, so too are my scholarship and interests.”

Next year he will study architectural and urban history in a master’s program at the University of California, Berkeley, having received a partial grant from the Architecture Department.