As a double major in economics and history and theory of architecture, the president of Design for America, and a former member of student groups like the Varsity Show and Community Impact, Andrew Demas, CC ’15, has accrued a long list of accomplishments during his four years at Columbia.
Demas, a former product development manager, design associate, and alumni associate for Spectator, was a student executive at Community Impact during his sophomore year, a role in which he oversaw students and worked on marketing and developing a new website.
But Demas said that Design for America was one of his more transformative experiences at Columbia.
“I was really looking for a service organization on campus that made a sustainable impact—that was not ephemeral, but would really have lasting implications,” he said.
With Demas’ help, Design for America established a professional network of 45 mentors, worked with over 20 community organizations, and partnered with Gensler, an architecture firm responsible for the Shanghai Tower and Facebook’s offices in Menlo Park, California. During Demas’ sophomore year, his team created a summer studio program in collaboration with Gensler. The program brought together 10 Design for America students and the Gensler interns to work on various architectural studio projects.
“The first project we did was actually Columbia-based,” Demas said. “We were working on how to foster and enhance community on campus, whether that be through digital interface or physical space that people could come together around and have conversations.”
Projects he has worked on since then include building a community center in Queens called the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance in response to Hurricane Sandy. This year, Design for America and Demas are continuing to work with the community center, particularly to enhance the connection between the subway and the space through tactical urbanism.
Demas’ involvement in these projects is rooted in his desire not only to establish himself in his field and to make a difference, but also to connect with the community at large.
“It was the best thing I possibly could have done, because I got to meet so many people. And the people here shaped me just as much as any of the classes I took,” Demas said.
One aspect of architecture that compels him is the idea of community.
“I was always fascinated by architecture because it’s the only art that you can’t avoid. Like you’re constantly embraced and surrounded by it, and it shapes you in some way,” Demas said. “Down the line, my life aspiration, as you would say, is to get into urban development and real estate, because shaping cities also helps shape people. And I’m very much about building communities in every capacity.”
Demas’ senior thesis, written with guidance from Barry Bergdoll, art history professor and the curator for architectural design at the Museum of Modern Art, focuses on the way New York rebuilt itself after 9/11. Demas said it was personally motivated: His father died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“For my whole life, our family was trying to rebuild after we had lost my dad, but then the thesis was sort of investigating: How does a city rebuild? How does a city grow after such a vacancy is created from the terrorist attacks? So I’ve always been fascinated about how cities are transforming and emerging and developing,” Demas said.
After he graduates, Demas plans to go into consulting. He is also launching his own website and business venture called Framing NY, which focuses on photography of the city.
Demas is optimistic, however, about ultimately ending up in the architecture field.
“I feel like Columbia equipped us and prepared us to tackle anything,” Demas said. “All the opportunities are accessible, but you need to be the person who goes after them. And I feel like that’s life. And Columbia’s not always fair to all of its students, but neither is life either, and I think it’s really prepared us to be practical, and know how to get through the hard stuff.”
However, Demas learned just as much from the social connections he established.
“I think what drives me most are the people around me. I’m the type of person who gets energized by talking to people, learning from others,” Demas said. “And that’s what I’m going to miss most about Columbia. We’re in this bubble of extraordinarily talented, intellectual, stimulating individuals, who push you to be your best. And that gives me the ultimate energy.”