For a guy that began his post-graduate career working as a carpenter and driving a taxi in Boston, who took off five months to hitchhike to California and back, Don Gatzke has definitely figured out what it takes to lead an architecture institution. With seven years prior at Tulane, and heading into his eleventh at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture (UTA), Gatzke is finally stepping down as dean.
“I’ve enjoyed it, yeah. I’ve got to admit that. I’m looking for a change now. I feel like I’ve come to the end of a personal chapter, and it’s time to step away and let somebody else do it,” said Gatzke. “It’s probably better to leave before people forget why you were here to begin with.”
UTA’s architecture program has grown in both reputation and size during his tenure as dean. Being the only architecture school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Gatzke tasked himself early on with picking the “low-hanging fruit” the metropolis had to offer in working with the community and other external constituencies. “The school, I think, is very well situated within the contemporary context in terms of the evolution of architecture, architecture schools, what the public and the clients expect out of architecture these days. I think we are very much focused, at least I am, on our relationship between academia and the profession,” he said. Indeed, alumni records show UTA students moving rapidly toward leadership positions in the field.
Gatzke credits his reduced attention span for some of his successes, but believes in a realization of professional practice, economics, culture, and their relationship with the design studio. “Things are changing so rapidly in your environment that if we’re not tuned to that, we’re going to miss the boat,” he said. “Academia turns very slowly. You could not pay attention for a couple years and then be really misdirected in terms of where you’re going, and it takes a long time to change course.”
On August 31 of this year, Gatzke will step down as dean and will return to the faculty after a year on sabbatical. During his sabbatical, he will work on an urban farm project in the La Bajada neighborhood of West Dallas with colleague Kevin Sloan. This urban farm is intended as a variation on what a public park might be, teaching the area’s youth about agriculture, nutrition, economics, teamwork, and responsibility, while potentially making a little money working.
“I’ve been sort of the point person on it, and was trying to figure out who I was going to hand it over to, and then I realized that I can just hand it over to myself. So we’ve got a graduate studio that’s working on it, and Kevin Sloan is co-teaching it, and we’re in the design phase,” said Gatzke.
While Gatzke couldn’t offer any hints as to who will replace him as dean, he did mention that it would not likely be an in-house solicitation, unless an interim position is adopted.