A rite of spring takes wing

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Syl Kacapyr
Dragon Day
Lindsay France/University Photography
First-year architecture students showcase their dragon during the Dragon Day 2014 parade March 28. View University Photography slide show

An annual rite of passage for first-year architects, Dragon Day is, for the rest of Cornell, a spectacle. Mythical beasts are created in secrecy late at night at opposite ends of central campus and emerge on the designated day amid throngs of revelers and gawkers.

It’s also a celebration of spring just prior to the exodus from the Hill for spring break – and this year, it occurred after the equinox, due to a change in the academic calendar.

The 113th annual celebration March 28 didn’t end in the flames and smoke of many past rituals, but in silver Mylar streamers thrown over the 50-foot dragon’s steel frame on the Arts Quad.

“It’s been a point to make it an enjoyable ending for the first-years, and symbolize the traditional ending in some way,” said Jeremy Bilotti, B.Arch. ’18, Dragon Day construction co-manager with Sasson Rafailov, B.Arch. ’18.

About 60 freshman architecture students pitched in this year on teams to design and build the dragon, sell T-shirts to raise funds for the effort by next year’s class, and create a display in Rand Hall’s windows.

“It’s been a real team effort, and that’s not always the case [with Dragon Day], so it’s been great to have everybody helping out,” Bilotti said. “The whole thing is a collective effort.”

The students learn about safe shop practices, construction, materials and collaboration, and hone their design skills. Usually, the project involves many late nights and last-minute scrambling right up until parade time.

“They were actually done early this year; it was amazing,” Dragon Day adviser Brian Beeners said. “They were done in the morning, and a lot of them slept; some of the students worked on taping and covering parts, filing down sharp corners, little additional safety considerations.

“I’ve never seen a class so organized. I was really impressed.”

The dragon had reflective diamond-shaped silver-and-green panels for skin, over a geometric steel framework, riding on the repurposed VW bus chassis Beeners donated for use in the parade each year.

Accompanied and cheered on by costumed students, drums and percussion, the first-years marching with the dragon were all dressed in black. The parade route passed rival first-year engineers and their towering red phoenix on the Engineering Quad.

Other creative motifs were at play in the parade. A purple unicorn float followed the dragon, and a dozen students carried pieces of a house and stopped periodically in the dragon’s path to set up, complete with students costumed as a picket fence, flowers and a mailbox.

New buildings on campus had an effect on the old tradition. Construction of Klarman Hall and the narrowing of East Avenue to one lane of traffic became a consideration in the dragon’s design this year.

“There were some width constrictions, so we came up with an extremely thin dragon, and some parts that are foldable, and keeping it light and adaptable,” Bilotti said. 

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