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A Mole
Ludmilla Pavlova, Alum
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation 1986

My favorite teacher at the GSAPP was Richard Plunz, whose role at the time was akin to that of a mole. He dug deep into architectural history and politics at a time when it was much more fashionable to discuss architectural theory.

Richard had done an article for Oppositions (a NYC periodical that aired many debates and polemics of the day, from the time of post-modernism to the deconstructivist phase of architecture), in which he exposed the old-boys-network of business relationships that underlay the star-architect culture of the time. His quiet manner and dry humor were easy to dismiss, while his ideas were dynamite. He slowly and methodically documented the reality behind the gloss of architecture.

At the time I worked with him he was writing a book on the history of housing in NYC, which was ultimately published in Belgium first before it was picked up by Columbia University Press. As part of the research I did for him, I photographed decals on the windows of pre-war housing buildings in the then burned-out sections of the Bronx, at the same time that I collected floor plans and prices for housing units at the new Trump Tower on 5th Avenue (the building benefited from housing subsidies).

Richard's eye for significant detail and contrast was remarkable. He did not write explicit polemics that railed against the incongruities between theory, politics and practices - he simply and coherently dug into the dirt of architectural production and documented them. His conviction that architecture should answer to the needs of its time without pretense has endured with me, and for that I am grateful. I hope that he has many more years to teach students at the GSAPP, where he is still Director of the Urban Design Program.

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