SU architecture alumna reflects on 30 years of experience in field

Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

SU alumna Annabelle Selldorf spoke Tuesday night in Slocum Hall, describing her experience in the field of architecture.

Annabelle Selldorf’s work in architecture is marked by simplicity and integration into landscape. She called architecture “the mother of all art.”

Selldorf, who received her master’s degree from Syracuse University’s architecture program in 1987, delivered a lecture Tuesday night in Slocum Auditorium on her experience in the field.

Selldorf has worked in the field of architecture for nearly 30 years. Just a year after graduating from SU, she founded her own architecture firm, Selldorf Architects. The firm now employs 65 people.

For Tuesday’s lecture, Slocum Auditorium was filled to capacity with more than 150 people in attendance. Many observers stood in the back or sat on the floor to hear Selldorf speak.

Selldorf’s work spans from small artists’ cabins in Nova Scotia to massive recycling plants in Brooklyn. While she said that she adores working on big projects because people interact with them more, she feels that smaller projects keep her grounded and in touch with scale and detail.

She said she prides herself on making her work a physical experience for people. Architecture is experiential and a place loses its meaning if somebody only experiences it with their eyes, she added.

Selldorf makes her work reflective of the landscape, she said. With an artists’ cabin in Nova Scotia, she said she wanted to make a small cabin that would not disturb anybody or anything — including the natural landscape. In turn, she designed the cabin on a platform so it could be supported while barely touching the ground.

She added that she wanted the project to have “a seamless relationship to nature.”

With larger city products, Selldorf emphasized the need for buildings to be “anchored to the ground.” She said a given building should manifest in its position within the urban landscape and own the ground it stands upon.

Selldorf finds a home in simplicity, she said. Much of her work in New York City is simple, yet functional and beautiful.

“In a sense making a regular facade was something very interesting to us,” Selldorf said. “Because that was what the neighborhood was all about.”

Though she knew nothing about recycling, her firm converted a dilapidated dock in Brooklyn into a municipal recycling facility with a community learning center. The learning center integrates the community with the regular activities of municipal recycling. The space was designed to be accessible to the community, rather than being a vague gray box on the shore, she said.

While Selldorf primarily works on expensive, transformative architecture, her firm has taken on a pro bono project: A school in Zambia. Selldorf Architects has teamed up with the 14 Plus Foundation to build a school for 175 students that will also act as a focal point in the community.

A large problem with Zambian schools is the distance that students must walk to get to them. Selldorf called this “a community project.” The school will also act as a community congregation area and there will be a well near the school.


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