Dean's List

The country’s newest architecture deans share their visions, role models, and mascots

Meejin Yoon (William Staffeld/Cornell AAP)

For many architecture and design schools across the United States, 2019 marks a shift in institutional leadership. From Charlotte to Berkeley, new deans will assume the helms of some of the country’s most challenging—and exciting—programs. The deans will have the opportunity to shape design pedagogy and practice in significant ways, potentially guiding how academic institutions teach and address issues related to the built environment for years to come. But in an era of collaborative learning and community engagement, what does deanship look like? AN asked eight of the country’s new deans about their plans for the future of their schools and their discipline. Here’s what they have to say:

Respondents’ answers have been edited and condensed in some cases.

Vishaan Chakrabarti
University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design

A man looking at the camera

Vishaan Chakrabarti (Aaron Richter)

A former principal at SHoP Architects, Vishaan Chakrabarti is a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and the founder of the New York-based Practice for Architecture and Urbanism.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What is your vision for the school moving forward?

Given the spatial nature of our three existential challenges—climate change, social inequity, and technological dislocation—I believe that schools of architecture are as relevant today as law schools were during the civil and equal rights era. I am keenly interested in exploring with students, staff, and faculty the questions of how to reconcile the demands of professional practice—which takes decades to do well—with the understandable impatience of many students to radically and immediately change our world in light of the environmental, intersectional, economic, and political crises in which they have come of age.

How is your new school different from your previous institution, Columbia University?

Because [Berkeley] is public, it serves disproportionately large numbers of first-generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, and other diverse groups relative to most private institutions. More broadly, Berkeley is part of the Pacific Rim and therefore exists at a healthy distance from the Eurocentric framework that still dominates many design schools.

Harriet Harriss
Pratt Institute School of Architecture

Portrait of a woman leaning against a wall

Harriet Harriss (Morley Von Sternberg)

Before assuming her role at Pratt, Harriet Harriss was the head of the postgraduate program in architecture and interior design at the Royal College of Art in London, where she explored new models of design education addressing gender imbalances that exist at many institutions.

What is your vision for the school moving forward?

The tradition of parachuting in architectural visionaries ready to superimpose their agenda and aesthetics upon an unsuspecting faculty—with little regard for the established expertise within a school of architecture— is no longer viable. The vision I have is the one I intend to co-design with the talented and dedicated educators, students, and administrators at Pratt Institute School of Architecture… What’s needed is a dean who is willing to facilitate, enable, and empower, who is committed to ensuring talented students’ and educators’ work gets the recognition and exposure it deserves, and one who will work toward ensuring the work is realized across an expanded field of professional practices and public contexts.

Who would you consider a role model dean and why?

Architecture’s habit of focusing upon an individual’s contribution over that of a collective does not reflect the reality of architectural practice or education. Instead, we need to recognize the achievements of collectives in shaping the most successful spatial outcomes and increase our capacity for collaboration in order to respond effectively to challenges ahead.

What would you make your school’s mascot?

Do we need mascots? Or actions that lead to meaningful impact?

Branko Kolarevic
New Jersey Institute of Technology Hillier College of Architecture and Design

A man with crossed arms

Branko Kolarevic (Branko Kolarevic)

Previously a professor and administrator at the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape at the University of Calgary, Branko Kolarevic is a designer and educator with experience at multiple universities across North America and Asia.

How is your new school different from your previous institution, the University of Calgary?

The urban fabric and the demographics of [Newark and Calgary] are very different, as are the local economies and politics. The school in Calgary was based on graduate and postgraduate education, while the Hillier College is mostly focused on undergraduate degrees, even though we have both professional and post-professional masters degrees (and also a PhD program)… There are similarities, as both NJIT and the University of Calgary place great emphasis on research; both are in the top tier research-wise.

Who would you consider a role model dean and why?

My role model is late Bill Mitchell, the former dean at MIT, who was my mentor when I was a doctoral student at Harvard GSD, and who provided unwavering support throughout my academic career. I also had a privilege early on to learn about leadership from two great deans: Marvin Malecha, who was dean of the Cal Poly Pomona College of Environmental Design in early 1990s when I taught there, and Roger Schluntz, former dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture. They both radiate positive energy that is infectious and are great minds and compassionate leaders who care deeply about people around them.

What would you make your school’s mascot?

That’s a tough one. Given that New Jersey is known as the “Garden State,” I would pick our state bird (American goldfinch) or insect (honeybee) as a mascot. Both the goldfinches and bees are designers and builders of their nests, so in my view they are appropriate mascots for a design school.

Lesley Lokko
The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York

A woman seated at a table looking down

Lesley Lokko (Debra Hurford-Brown)

Beyond her training as an architect and her tenure as head of school at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, Lesley Lokko is a Scottish-born-Ghanaian-raised writer with 12 best-selling novels.

How is your new school different from your previous institution, the University of Johannesburg?

Managerially and administratively, they are very different, but the hunger that drives the staff and students is very similar. Both places have a desire to say what has previously remained unsaid: that issues of class, race, gender, and power are central to architectural production, not marginal; that diversity strengthens architectural, landscape, and urban culture; that difference matters, not because it is “different,” but because it enriches discourse.

Who would you consider a role model dean and why?

Alvin Boyarsky [chair of the Architectural Association from 1971 to 1990]. He made the marginal mainstream and was committed to change.

What would you make your school’s mascot?

A chameleon. Shape-shifter.

Brook Muller
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture 

Photo of a man against a white background

Brook Muller (University of Oregon staffer)

Brook Muller was an associate dean of the University of Oregon (UO) School of Architecture and Allied Arts, and his work focuses primarily on design theory and ecologically responsible practice.

What is your vision for the school moving forward?

I seek to build a shared vision for the College of Arts + Architecture, so the idea is to shape it when I hit the ground… My priorities include (1) Introducing [students] to an expansive set of issues and asking them to assume active stances…(2) [Building] community partnership…in the arts and design…(3) Promoting interdisciplinarity and other forms of intra-college community building; (4) Assuming a proactive stance in fostering equity… (5) Pushing the boundaries of sustainability and ecological responsiveness.

Who would you consider a role model dean and why?

Frances Bronet, my former dean at UO, who is now President at the Pratt Institute. [An interview with Frances Bronet is on page tktk] Frances was tireless, visionary, and enthusiastic, always one step ahead. I have seen many different models of leadership; hers was predicated on building effective collaborations and trust. It was a lot of fun to walk into work when Frances was at UO.

What would you make your school’s mascot?

I like UNC Charlotte’s current team nickname (49ers). This name came about as the institution was founded in the late 1940s after World War II in response to rising educational demand. Focusing on the city and on opening up educational opportunities for those who are deserving—that strikes me as a beautiful pairing.

Dan Pitera
University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture

Photo of a man's face

Dan Pitera (Melissa Leeper)

Dan Pitera served as the executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, a community-based nonprofit located at the University of Detroit Mercy. The center’s website describes him as “a political and social activist masquerading as an architect.”

What is your vision for the school moving forward?

We do not need to abandon the tools of our discipline to engage a wider variety of people in a collaborative way… Working in this way is often viewed as an alternative practice. Instead, I propose that we are working to alter how architects practice. Our school of architecture will interrogate and craft methods to meaningfully incorporate community-driven practice throughout the profession.

What would you make your school’s mascot?

A mascot for the Detroit Mercy School of Architecture would have to amplify and celebrate our values. It would stand for justice, be inclusive, have a global perspective, be daring and be fun.

After consulting several students, we came up with the Canada goose. Yearly, two Canada geese nest on a visible section of roof at our school of architecture on their daring annual journey… The geese are unaware of political boundaries of countries, cities, institutions, or buildings. They have welcomed us into their home.

Sarah Whiting
Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD)

Photo of a woman leaning against a couch

Sarah Whiting (Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard staff photographer)

Previously the dean of the Rice University School of Architecture, Sarah Whiting is a founding partner of WW Architecture, a practice she established with her husband Ron Witte.

How is your new school different from your previous institution, Rice University?

The GSD is almost five times bigger than Rice, and it has three departments and multiple programs, whereas Rice was a one-department school. At the same time, both schools are filled with extraordinary faculty and students, and both schools situate design’s importance within global culture, so they really do share a similar ethos.

Who would you consider a role model dean and why?

Two figures who immediately come to mind as role models include Robert (Bob) Geddes at Princeton (dean from 1965 to 1982) and Harry Cobb at the GSD (chair of architecture at the GSD from 1980 to 1985). Both did a remarkable job of building up faculties of diverse yet precise voices—resulting in specific, yet unpredictable conversations within their schools—during extraordinary moments for architectural education.

Meejin Yoon
Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Photo of an Asian woman against a neutral beige background

Meejin Yoon (William Staffeld/Cornell AAP)

Before joining the faculty at Cornell in early 2019, Meejin Yoon led the architecture department at MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning. She is a cofounding principal of the architecture firm Höweler + Yoon.

How is your new school different from your previous institution, MIT?

[Cornell and MIT’s] overlaps are probably more interesting than their differences. Specifically, I’m thinking of the underlying social and cultural values that drive creative imagination, breadth of scholarship, and depth of research across the domains of architecture, art, and planning at both schools.

Who would you consider a role model dean and why?

Dean William Mitchell… I will never forget Dean Mitchell’s response when I anxiously shared the news that my students, in fulfilling a studio assignment, had caught the building on fire. He acknowledged that no one was hurt, assured me that insurance would take care of the physical damage, and concluded by sharing that experimentation means taking risks and that he was happy that I was stirring up things in the department of architecture. His level of encouragement and support for taking risks that push boundaries was profound, and I have always admired him as a role model for academic leadership.

What would you make your school’s mascot?

A fire-breathing dragon.

Related Stories