A piece of the dragon’s articulating tail in transport. From left to right, Andrew Sandberg ’28; Kurt Brosnan, AAP’s material practice facilities shop manager; and Ming-Huei Fisher ’28 transport a piece of the dragon’s structure. The fully assembled design will be revealed during the Dragon Day parade on March 29.

Architecture students set to spread wings on Dragon Day

A sleek, black Dragon will swoop through campus during annual Dragon Day festivities on March 29, expanding and contracting as it snakes along a parade route before fully spreading its wings inside the Arts Quad.

Designed and built by first-year B.Arch. students in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning – following a more than century-old tradition – the dragon constructed of lumber and a cardboard skin is expected to project a grunge rock aesthetic, hinting at darkness and uncertainty. It will also explore a core design concept: the relationship between solids and voids.

Before starting construction, first-year architecture students created drawings, prototypes and digital renderings of their dragon. The project involves collaboration among dozens of students and a marketing campaign including T-shirt sales.

The designers’ theme, “the uncanny void,” may be embodied in moving tail sections that stretch and shrink accordion-style, expandable wings and a working jaw, focusing on operability and sustainable materials. The students also aim to produce an event that builds participation and camaraderie, continuing to fill pandemic voids the campus community experienced, among them cancelled Dragon Day celebrations in 2020-21.

“This is a day where we can really show off our skills and show our design and creativity to the campus,” said Jonah Ng ’28, one of two student leaders along with Kalven Owen ’28. “One of the design challenges we’re working on is to get the entire campus involved, to get them to come to the parade and celebrate with us.”

Starting on March 29 at 12:30 p.m., the Dragon Day parade will begin outside AAP near Rand Hall, proceed down Feeney Way, then wind through Ho Plaza into the Arts Quad. The dragon will be propelled by more than 70 first-year architecture students and their traditional rallying cry: “Dragon, dragon, dragon, oi, oi, oi!” Costumed upper classmates may march alongside them while Cornell Chimes plays dragon-themed songs. McGraw Tower clock faces will be embellished in green – the event’s signature color, dating to its origins on St. Patrick’s Day as the brainchild of Willard Straight, Class of 1901.

Along the way, if past customs and rivalries hold, the dragon may cross paths with a phoenix risen from the imaginations of Cornell Engineering students. Once on the Arts Quad, the procession plans to rendezvous with the Big Red Marching Band and the dragon – after threading the tight space adjacent to the clock tower – is expected to unfold and spread its wings to their maximum span.

A dragon begins to take shape in Rand Hall as Andrew Sandberg ’28, left, and Ming-Huei Fisher ’28, right, begin assembling the structure, supported by Kurt Brosnan, AAP’s material practice facilities shop manager.

“It’ll definitely be interesting to see when it’s fully itself,” Owen said. “Our construction team, they know what they’re doing.”

In the Rand Hall wood shop on a recent weekend, Andrew Sandberg ’28 and Ming-Huei Fisher ’28 drilled holes in boards that they began assembling into large, articulating tail sections. Applying skills honed throughout the academic year, the dragon project has involved drawings, prototypes, digital renderings and, ultimately, construction on a scale significantly larger than is involved in typical coursework.

Ng expects the grunge-inspired design to be eye-catching from afar: “That’s the vibe we’re going for,” he said.

Additional challenges include collaboration among dozens of students, coordination with university administration and public safety representatives, networking with architecture alumni and classmates who are Dragon Day veterans, and an extensive marketing effort via Instagram (@DragonDayCornell), sidewalk chalking and sales of T-shirts – designed this year by Roy Park ’28 and Hanae Matsumoto ’28.

In addition to a public parade, Dragon Day is a welcome bonding opportunity and a sort of coming out party for the fledgling architecture students, who are known to toil long hours behind the scenes to complete their projects and critiques.

“It really brings us together to focus on this design goal that supports the college and its long-standing traditions,” Owen said, “and to get an idea of what AAP is all about.”

Media Contact

Kaitlyn Serrao