Berkeley Architecture’s Leading Man


UC Berkeley’s Wurster Hall will be seeing a fresh focus on design from new Department of Architecture chair Tom Buresh.
charlie vinz


The new chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Architecture has a tough challenge: raising the school’s profile at a time when budgets are being slashed by the state’s economic woes. But as Tom Buresh sees it, having pulled off a similar trick in a famously depressed state as chair of the University of Michigan’s architecture program for most of the last decade, finding resources should be the easy part. He’s focused on the bigger vision: “I’d like to bring design to the forefront, an area the department has historically lagged in, a little bit.”

A native Midwesterner, Buresh’s architecture career was nurtured in Southern California. He got his master’s at UCLA in the mid-80s, then worked for a number of firms (including three years in Frank Gehry’s high-pressure-cooker office), before joining the faculty at SCI-Arc in 1988. That same year, he started his own practice, Guthrie + Buresh, with wife Danelle Guthrie.

In 2001, the University of Michigan managed to lure away Buresh from the Golden State. “They had a lot of senior faculty who were stepping down, and the voice was being pushed by young faculty who had a lot of energy but didn’t know how to work together,” said Buresh. Along with harnessing that group energy, he worked to make small but significant improvements—up-to-date computer equipment, a redesigned website—and raised the program’s visibility, bringing in visiting architects like Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and sending out Michigan faculty.

At Berkeley, Buresh again joins the department after its ranks have been thinned by a series of retirements. “I talked to some of my colleagues on his faculty [in Michigan], and it’s rare for someone in design academia to get such consistently high praise,” said Linda Jewell, chair of the landscape architecture department and head of the search committee. “I think he’s really going to be a shot in the arm.” 

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