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Contact: Mindi Rambo, 212-668-2208
The most recent eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull not only grounded air traffic to and from Europe, it led to a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity at Ellis Island.
In mid-April, thousands of international travelers were stranded far from home. Some of those travelers were a group of architecture students from Sweden who were on a class visit to New York. A little quick thinking on the part of a Columbia University instructor, who knew about the current interest in restoration efforts at Ellis Island, put the students’ professor Mats Edstrom in touch with Don Fiorino, the project supervisor for Ellis Island’s South Side, site of the dormant 750-bed U.S. Health Hospital that is closed to public visitation. Fiorino arranged for the students to visit the south side where a variety of preservation efforts are being considered.
On April 23, Ranger Dave McCutcheon led the group of five third-year architecture students from Lund University through the contagious diseases wards, a doctors’ residence, some support buildings and into one of the hospital buildings on the south side. He was joined by Richard Pieper, director of preservation for Jan Hird Pokorny Associates.
Pieper discussed the architectural development of the island while McCutcheon shed light on the island’s complex history as both an immigration station and an early part of the public health system as the students took the opportunity to get a close-up view of pavilion-style medical architecture and early 20th-century construction techniques
Student Linnea Moll-Nielsen made a connection to a similar complex in Finland that had been turned into an artists’ colony. At the close of their visit to the south side, Per-Marten Halberg said, "I just want to keep the buildings just as they are."
Professor Edstrom appreciated the rare opportunity afforded his students, saying, "Our students say the Ellis Island tour is once in a lifetime tour, and that they now understand more of the real conditions for relatives emigrating from Sweden to the USA. One out of four Swedes did that tour 100 years ago."