A Postcard from The Palace of Culture

The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw, Poland. Photo by Claudia Marina.

Over spring break, I, along with nine other students from Parsons School of Design and The New School for Social Research, had the opportunity to take part in an intensive course offered in Warsaw, which centered around the Palace of Culture and Science. If you’re reading this, you may have read Susan Yelavich’s post “Hacking Warsaw’s Palace of Culture,” which detailed the culminating group projects that resulted from the week’s hybrid seminar-studio class format. This intensive had particular emphasis on the intense if only because of the unique dynamic of the Palace of Culture. Infamously conceived as Stalin’s “gift” to Warsaw, we were told to consider the power at play when architecture is given as a gift without allowing its recipient to reciprocate similarly. In the weeks before flying out to Warsaw, we read several essays about, and examined numerous historic and contemporary images of, the Palace. (Especially important was Michał Murawski’s book The Palace Complex.)  They reminded us non-Varsovians of the Palace’s domineering presence, both physical and metaphorical. So it was a surprise to me when I actually got there on a gray afternoon and stood across the street from the Palace at the modern shopping mall, Złote Tarasy, and thought…that’s it?


Hacking Warsaw’s Palace of Culture


The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw. Photo by Susan Yelavich.

by Susan Yelavich

To all outward appearances, Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science would seem to be impregnable.  This, despite the fact that is truly a people’s palace and has been since it was completed in 1955. A ‘gift’ from Stalin to the then newly-minted Communist state of Poland, the Palace was conceived as a ‘social condenser,’ a work of architecture that for all its height would flatten class differences. Its interiors housed – and continue to house – theaters, museums, cafes, restaurants, university classrooms, a pool, offices, auditoriums, and meeting spaces, which are variously open to citizens, tourists, and government employees. Generations of Warsavians have learned to swim here, taken courses, listened to jazz, proposed to each other, and had their wedding photos taken on the viewing deck on the 30th floor. Some even correspond with the Palace, actually writing letters to the building that are duly archived on the 15th floor.  The Palace of Culture has taken on the same sort of supra-natural power, not unlike that which has accrued around the legend of Stalin, himself.  (Urban legend has it that Stalin has been seen roaming the Moscow Metro, appearing to the faithful, weeping through the eyes of his statues – literally and figuratively haunting the Russian imagination.)

The Palace – a wound inflicted by Stalin, a benevolent ‘house of culture,’ the monumental centerpiece of contemporary Warsaw – was the focus of an intensive MA Design Studies course organized in conjunction with the School of Form in Poznan, Poland, from March 18th to March 25th. “The Palace of Culture:  An Exploration in Design, Humanities, and Social Sciences,” was the third in a troika of programs,1 which were dedicated to responding to sites of trauma, organized by Parsons and the New School for Social Research in Spring 2017.


MA Design Studies Students connect with and through Things



At the beginning of this semester, the MA Design Studies Classes of 2017 and 2018 met each other for the first time under the guise of a workshop. The workshop, “Design and Storytelling: Weaving Fragments,” was led by Program Director Susan Yelavich and its premise was simple: bring five to eight fragments from your personal life that represent your journey—both professionally and personally—in Design Studies. (more…)

MA Design Studies Students Exhibit ‘Provocative Products’ at Parsons Festival


“Melt” designed by Lisa Merk (MA Design Studies) and Ari Elefterin (MFA Industrial Design)

By Claudia Marina

Within the design milieu, critical and interrogative design speaks loudly in modern times. It has to, for new ethical and environmental problems arise out of production, consumerism, and globalization on the daily. It is this notion that prompted designers like Krzysztof Wodiczko to claim that “instead of deconstructing itself, design should deconstruct life,” in his book Critical Vehicles. And with this framework in mind, designers have a responsibility to challenge and shed light on experiences and problems—even if the results are uncomfortable to deal with.


MA Design Studies Graduates Its First Class!

from left to right, front row: Dora Sapunar, Lindsay Reichart, Chen-Yu Lo, Sarah Lillenberg, Gigi Polo, Tia Remington-Bell; second row: Weiwen Cai, Salem Tsegaye, Kamala Murali, Divia Padayachee.

from left to right, front row: Dora Sapunar, Lindsay Reichart, Chen-Yu Lo, Sarah Lillenberg, Gigi Polo, Tia Remington-Bell; second row: Weiwen Cai, Salem Tsegaye, Kamala Murali, Divia Padayachee.

Congratulations to the first class of Design Studies students to receive their Master of Arts Degree from Parsons. The Class of 2014 produced a rich and diverse range of Capstones, which are listed next to their names below. We, your faculty, wish each and everyone of them all the very best and we look forward to hearing of your future accomplishments.

Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor, Director, MA Design Studies
Clive Dilnot, Professor of Design Studies
Jilly Traganou, Associate Professor, Spatial Stuies

Weiwen Cai
A Vinyl Wall of Dreams: A Critical Appraisal of the Phenomenon and Collection of Adult Toys

Sarah Lillenberg
Navigating Participatory Design through the Cultural Identity of idBrooklyn

Chen-Yu Lo, Cross-School Scholar Award
Service Design for Public Services

Kamala Muralli,
Redrawing the Boundaries of Craft in India

Divia Padayachee
Let’s Talk ‘Unconventional’: The Perception of Design in Mass Media, Post World War II to Present

Lindsay Reichart
The Dispossession of Capital: The Role of Design as Agency

Tia Remington-Bell
Mapping the Gaps From Design Methodology to Design Thinking

Nibera Lluberes Rincon
Osmotic Bubble: Creative Insight by Dint of Synchronized Atmospheres

Dora Sapunar, Departmental Honors
Consuming Socialism: Fairs, Interiors and Identity Formation in Socialist Yugoslavia

Salem Tsegaye, Departmental Honors
Temple to Forum by Design: The Evolution of the Queens Museum’s Social and Spatial Dimensions

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MA Design Studies Course Blogs

Here you’ll find the living archives of several courses offered in the MA Design Studies program—syllabi, readings, resources and student papers.  This should give you a more textured insight into our offerings.  Enjoy!

Design Fictions Fall 2013

Design Practices & Paradigms Spring 2013

Writing for the Public Realm Spring 2013

Parsons Present in Poland

This summer I had the privilege of teaching at the Democracy & Diversity Institute in Wroclaw, Poland, organized by the New School for Social Research’s Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS). A rich experience by any measure, but all the richer for the fact that I was co-teaching with NSSR Sociology Professor Elzbieta Matynia—the institute’s inimitable founder, who was, herself, directly engaged in the struggle for democracy in Communist Poland during the 1980s.

Susan Yelavich and Elzbieta Matynia


Sustainable Fashion: Zero Waste Design

Image: zerofabricwastefashion.blogspot.com

Social responsibility has become an important aspect of being a citizen of the world. But are we being socially responsible, or just pretending to be? Do we know how much energy, water, transportation, and exploitation of the worker is put into producing an artifact? Are we aware of the amount of “stuff” we collect in our lives?


A Graduate Student’s Perspective

Here we introduce Barbara Adams. She is a PhD candidate in sociology at the New School for Social Research and has been teaching at Parsons and the New School for the past four years. Below are her responses to our questions.




What kind of projects have you worked on that combined your discipline with design studies?

In his discussion of the sociological imagination, C. Wright Mills argues that the intellectual craftsperson’s foremost task is “to make clear elements of contemporary uneasiness and indifference.” He underscores the importance of political and intellectual critique that diagnoses social and cultural problems while articulating alternate pictures and other possibilities. Although Mills is thinking about the work of the sociologist, I would argue that designers also possess the sociological imagination.

Much of my work has been located in the area of urban studies with a particular interest in urban experience. A few years ago, I developed and taught a course at the New School/Parsons (The City through the Body) that explored sensuous encounters with the city and I have coordinated events that explore the corporeal poetics and politics of being in the city. I’ve collaborated on research with squatter communities in Amsterdam with an interest in how the spaces they create reflect and enable political, social and cultural processes. Also in Amsterdam I studied how adolescent girls use and give meaning to urban space. I’m now working on my dissertation in the sociology department at the New School for Social Research. My project focuses on work that engages social critique and research while also being concerned with the aesthetic, the experiential, and the poetic. I’m thinking about what it would mean for sociologists to, at times, be more engaged with social aesthetics than social science. This might expand our methodological repertoire in ways that could facilitate the sharing of knowledge (with other disciplines and with the public) while considering new ways to present and engage social critique. (more…)

Meet our Faculty: Jilly Traganou

This is the first installation in a series where we ask our faculty to talk a bit about their understanding of design studies as a field and as a practice that shapes their work. As a reader of this blog, you’re likely becoming familiar with Jilly Traganou’s research and interests. Her work examines space and architecture in intersection with the fields of design studies, media studies, and cultural geography, and is currently focusing on relations between design, critical territorial practices and travel, and on design’s role in the configuration of national and postnational identities. Jilly is an architect and associate professor in spatial design studies. Below she provides some further details about her take on design studies in response to our questions.

As someone whose work brings together critical concerns from a variety of disciplines (urban studies, architecture, design, media studies, cultural studies) what is your perspective on design studies as a field?
I think the challenge of our program is to redefine the role that design studies can play in the 21st century. I would like to see design studies becoming more connected with design practice, not only as a form of critique but by nurturing a generation of scholars/cultural practitioners who use various tools beyond text, and are not afraid to intervene in the real world.

What sorts of dialogue does design studies have with other modes of design and architectural scholarship, i.e. design history, architectural history?
The type of design studies that attracted my interest (and sidetracked me from the tradition of architectural history) emerged in an era when scholars became less interested in studying the production of design, and turned their attention to processes of consumption, mediation, appropriation and use. In parallel, they started paying attention to the minor and the everyday, rather than the great masterpieces by signature designers. Even though only part of design studies deals with historical location, the methods used in contemporary architectural history and design history often operate under similar premises. There is a part of architecture history that deals less and less with the cult of the master architect and the paradigmatic building to address conditions of inhabitation in the contemporary cities, spatial production by communities rather than by singular producers, and practices of resistance against real estate and regulatory plans that dominate the built environment. The relationship between the practice of architecture and that of graphic, product or service design is also becoming stronger nowadays. At the same time scholars understand that they cannot study these practices anymore in isolation, as they operate in ways that are complimentary to each other. Marketing and media, for instance, in which communication design plays a primary role, have become indispensable for the function of architecture these days. On the other end of the spectrum, we see the emergence of a new type of designer/architect who sees their profession in service to the society rather than to a client or a patron of design. Therefore, I see a lot of exchanges between these fields happening already. Design studies, of course, is in dialogue with several other fields, such as design methods, design ethnography, design philosophy, design education, science and technology studies, and theories of practice.


Meet our Affiliated Faculty: Orit Halpern

This is the second installment in our series where we introduce you to key faculty at the New School who teach courses that complement design studies. Here we introduce Orit Halpern.  Orit is Assistant Professor in history at the New School for Social Research and at Eugene Lang College. The New School for Social Research provides an education grounded in history and informed by a legacy of critical thought and civic engagement. The school’s dedication to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry reaches back to the university’s founding in 1919 as a home for progressive thinkers and the creation of the University in Exile in 1933 for scholars persecuted in Nazi Europe. To see more about Professor Halpern’s work, visit her website, The Eye of Time. Below she responds to our questions.

Can you talk a little about your work and the ways in which it intersects with design?

The great writer Fyodor Doestoevsky once said “we all know the answers, it’s the questions we must seek.”  This comment has a lot to say to design. We often think we know the problems—whether in urban planning or marketing—but what new frameworks? What ways of looking at and rethinking a problem might make us suddenly answer differently?  My work engages the history of design, communication science, cognitive and neuro-science, and computing to think critically about the future of design practice and to use history to destabilize our assumptions about the present.

A lot of my work engages histories of statistical and probabilistic thinking. While designers might not often thing about the history of the algorithm, or the types of computational logics encoded inside our most everyday applications and programs from social networks to global positioning systems, this obviously has enormous implications for what we design, and the impact of our technologies. History helps us visualize these logics and interrogate our most commonly held assumptions about data and information.

I also work a lot on histories of communication and control in industry, the military, business, science, and design.  Using case studies like those of corporations like IBM, I show how companies reframed selling computers from selling an object to selling systems and networks through a series of  new strategies in design, architecture, and marketing along with a reformulation of research, management, and technology.


Meet our Affiliated Faculty: Shannon Mattern

In this series, we will be introducing you to key faculty at the New School who teach courses that complement design studies, and will be available to our students as registration permits.  This week we introduce Shannon Mattern.   Shannon is Assistant Professor at the New School for Public Engagement. This division of the New School underscores the core values of democratic citizenship, social action, and cultural engagement and fosters interdisciplinary practice. To see more about Professor Mattern’s work, visit her website, Words in Space. Below are her responses to our questions:

Can you talk a little about your work and the ways in which it intersects with design?

My research and teaching have focused on relationships between the forms and materialities of media and the spaces (architectural, urban, and conceptual) they create and inhabit. I’ve written about libraries and archives, media companies’ headquarters, place branding, public design projects, urban media art, media acoustics, media infrastructures, and material texts.

To put it another way, I like to say that my research and teaching focus on media and design in various “prepositional relationships”: the various media technologies in the design process; the design of spaces and objects for media production and consumption; and designed objects, spaces, and systems as forms of mediation or communication.

Global Issues in Design and Visuality in the 21st Century: Culture

Greetings from a New School grad student.  I am very excited about the new Masters in Design Studies at Parsons and especially excited to be directly involved as a research assistant to Susan Yelavich as she develops the program. I met Susan a few years ago when, through the teaching assistantship program at the New School, I became one of her teaching assistants for the course Global Issues in Design and Visuality in the 21st Century: Culture (a course that is now included in the Design Studies curriculum). The course poses challenging, critical questions for students in the fields of art and design. Pairing theoretical texts with lectures by leading practitioners, the course engages students in rich discussions about the responsibilities and possibilities of design and art as significant cultural processes in our globalized world. The course has an impressive roster of guest speakers who are all involved in critical practices, including among others: Dan Graham, Constantin Boym, Teddy Cruz,  Michael Sorkin, Sean Donahue, Fiona Raby, and Astra Taylor. Their work has provided keen insight for my own research as PhD candidate in sociology at The New School. However, it has been the ongoing discussions with students in our recitation meetings that have been most illuminating. The dialogue in these sessions testifies to the difficult negotiations artists and designers face as they begin to shape, understand and articulate their roles in the larger social, cultural, economic, and political realms in which their work is embedded.

The Tuesday evening lectures are open to the public and I encourage you to attend if you are in New York. I would also like to extend an invitation to prospective students in the MA Design Studies program to sit in with our discussion group following the lecture. A list of speakers for the current semester along with more information about the course can be found here. (more…)

Video: Jilly Traganou on Co-Design

As core faculty — also in the new Urban programs of the School of Design Strategies at Parsons — I took part in a video production that presents the work of faculty. In this video I  discuss the relationship between multiple identity and belonging that characterizes contemporary societies, and the use of co-design as a method of bringing together people with disparate social identities. This is a subject that some of my classes will touch upon, such as the Spatial Design Studies elective.


A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.


Why is design so difficult as a critical practice?

Course: Design for This Century

Prof. Clive Dilnot

A street sign with an image of a pair of glasses and a piece of paper with typewriting on it.

IMAGE  flickr/underpuppy | license: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The talk in week 9 of the graduate lecture series “Design for this Century,” on just how critical practice can be established in design, was sandwiched between Jonah Brucker-Cohen’s lecture on new critical practices amongst artists and designers who are interested in “disturbing” the norms surrounding networked systems and a talk by Chris Csikszentmihalyi—Visiting professor in the design and technology at Parsons and previously director of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media—on the possibilities of new social media for transformative action [ditto re J B-C]. The lecture dealt with the structural difficulties that surround the critical in design. It ended with an exploration of an astonishing 1993 project in Berlin by the artist and art-historians Renata Stih and Friedrich Schnock, which re-defines the entire notion of what a “monument” to the Holocaust might be. Stih and Schnock’s project (link is to a German page — scroll to the bottom for English) is not a lamentation for the dead but a visual-and-textual presentation of the regulatory means by which the Jewish population in Berlin were gradually and systematically stripped of their rights of citizenship to the point where they could be removed without protest and set to the death-camps.



A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Design Fictions: Illuminating the Nature of Design

Today, the students in Design Fictions dissected Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel Prize winning novel My Name is Red—a story narrated by people and objects that centers around the conflict caused by the introduction of Renaissance realism into manuscript illustrations in 16th-century Istanbul.  Just as Pamuk uses the conceit of a murder mystery to tell a parable of ambivalence between Eastern loyalties and Western influence, we worked as detectives to discover how style and form communicate meaning and cultural values. To establish the context for our search, we watched this film about the novel. (more…)


A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Utilizing Design as a Method of Learning

The scope of this week’s class was to synthesize the different stages of our work with Lower Manhattan Arts Academy (LoMA) students in the form of a diagram. Instead of approaching the subject of study (“Routes and Homes”) through traditional Liberal Arts methods, Parsons students helped LoMA seniors to utilize design as a method of learning, with the end result of designing a board game. As a means of converging theory and reflective practice we adapted and tested IDEO‘s model of the six phases of the Design Thinking process: (more…)


A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Mapping Daily Itineraries

“This mapping exercise revealed how these students felt so comfortable with one another but did not really know even simple things about how they live.”

“I would say that if we were to do this activity again, it would be beneficial to work on bringing some different materials. For instance, the post-its were great to start, but giving the students more to work with could allow them to be more creative.”

“Overall I thought that our initial lesson went extremely well. I was amazed at how engaged the students were with the activity.”

We have just come back from a meeting with seniors of Lower Manhattan Arts Academy (LoMA), a highschool in the Lower East Side of New York. The above are reflections of Parsons students after leading the first workshop on Mapping. (more…)


A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Defending Luxury (Part II)

A view of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, designed by Richard Meier, with the skyline of Los Angeles in the background.Image Flickr/ricardodiaz11 | License CC BY 2.0
In our discussion about defending luxury, the class spends time looking at how the siting of cultural centers in Los Angeles reinforces the city’s bifurcation. The Getty Center, on the west side of the city, is a prime example of this situation. (more…)

Defending Luxury

A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Defending Luxury (Part I)

Image Flickr/Detlef Schobert | License CC BY-ND 2.0

One of the most charged classes of the semester in Theorizing Luxury tackles questions about how the wealthy defend their luxurious lifestyles. Reading Mike Davis’s work about Los Angeles incites conversation about how design can create distinctions between classes. (more…)

Backstage at the Four Seasons

A series exploring ideas in the Design Studies curriculum.

Backstage at the Four Seasons

Course: Theorizing Luxury

Prof. David Brody

The lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Manhattan

IMAGE  flickr/Alain Poder | license: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The entrance above isn’t the one we used. Instead, my class walked into the service entrance of New York’s Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street. This may have seemed like the wrong entrance for a course called Theorizing Luxury.
One thing immediately becomes clear in this gleaming back-of-the-house space. (more…)

Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.