It’s the end of the college semester and things are shaking up at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). After almost three years without a permanent director, and an interim one from the Department of English, the university’s College of Fine and Applied Arts announced that Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Suárez as the new official head of the School of Architecture.
Set to take over in January of 2020, Rodríguez-Suárez will enter his post after coming off a long teaching stint at the University of Puerto Rico, where he’s served as a Distinguished Professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture since 2016. The architect, editor, speaker, and educator has an extensive background in both designing and teaching, having served as the school’s dean from 2007 to 2016 while building out his practice, rsvp architects, in San Juan.
Rodríguez-Suárez himself is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Harvard GSD, which he attended after studying a year at the Université de Paris. He’s held teaching positions at a wide range of universities including the University of Seville and the Universidad de Cantabria (both in Spain) as well as the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and his alma mater, Harvard. In 2010, he was invited to explore the history of architecture and pedagogy as a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome.
In a press release, Kevin Hamilton, dean of the UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts, said it was Rodríguez-Suárez’s international experience and broad connections that stood out to the hiring committee the most. “In Francisco, we also have someone who brings deep knowledge and appreciation for our School of Architecture’s distinctive and historic record of accomplishment. Such as a combination of global and local perspectives will serve us well not only in architecture but across the college, helping us to deeper service to the state, the region, and beyond.”
AN spoke with Rodríguez-Suárez in September when his third-year students in Puerto Rico drew attention for creating counter-proposals to New York’s planned Hurricane Maria memorial. The project was born from a class discussion on whether it was appropriate for such a memorial to be erected in the city, especially so soon after the hurricane. Rodríguez-Suárez told AN that the competition studio was arranged to help students learn the importance of architectural competitions and how to think critically and present strategic ideas.
While it’s unclear yet if and what classes Rodríguez-Suárez will teach in Illinois, he aims to encourage his students to take risks.
“There are kids all over the world studying to be architects, and what I’m saying is that we’re all inhabiting the same world, the same space, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be the best in that group,” he told The Daily Illini. “And I will provide the confidence and the space and facilitate a platform for that to take place.”
The change in directorship comes as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is building a new design center by Bohlin Cywinski-Jackson.