The New York area has a concentration of arguably the most powerful educators in the country. We’ve assembled eleven deanssfour new to their respective institutions, and two new to the post entirelyyto ask them about their schools and the state of architectural education.
Photography by Yoko Inoue
Certain architecture schools under certain deans have managed to capture the sense of their epoch while simultaneously moving the profession forward. One thinks of Walter Gropius at Harvard’s GSD, Yale under Paul Rudolph, John Hejduk at Cooper Union, Alvin Boyarsky at the AA, Bernard Tschumi at Columbia, and Peter Cook at the Bartlett. One cannot imagine these places without the strong leadership of their deans. Gropius founded the GSD and helped bring modernism to the United States, while Rudolph encouraged debate among his faculty and never required a party line. Hejduk forged a new way of thinking about and representing architecture. Each set a course for architecture with which every subsequent generation has had to contend. As architecture regains cultural currency, its protagonists are being asked again to imagine how our surroundings might look, work, and grow. Architectural educators have immense potential to influence the shape of the world to come. Here’s how they are rising to the challenge. Anne Guiney, Cathy Lang Ho, William Menking
City College of New York
School of Architecture, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture
# of students: 360 undergrad., 24 grad.
Dean since: 1994
When I came to City College, the school had- n’t had a dean in 10 yearssthere was clearly some institutional neglect. City College students got a strong technical education and had a sense of public serviceemany ended up doing public work, at the Government Services Administration or the New York City Housing Authority, for exampleebut not so strong in design. I have been working to reintroduce design by building up the senior faculty, hiring a junior faculty of practitioners making their mark, and starting an annual lecture series. We also have new graduate programs, like the Master in Urban Design. And we are moving into a new buildinggour first independent oneewhich is a tremendous show of institutional support for the program. There is still a great tradition of public service and interest in public architecture. We have the City College Architectural Center (CCAC), which allows students and faculty to work with community groups on design and planning. CCAC has done studies in the Bronx and Yonkers, in addition to more theoretical surveys. There are many ways to theorize about architecture and buildingssas objects, in historical contexts, et ceteraabut there are still too many eccentricities from when architecture started grave-robbing other disciplines for ideas. When the primary starting point is one of juxtaposition and not amelioration, you end up with something that is indifferent to site, weather, culture, and so on. So much theory is still shrouded in a premise of juxtaposition and surrounded by the aura of the architect-as-artist, without any concern for the ability to connect. We need a reformation of architecture as an ameliorative force.
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
# of students: Approx. 600 grad.
Dean since: Fall 2004 (interim dean since 2003)
I see the school as an international laboratory for developing experimental visions of what an architect might be. Not only do we help every student to be state of the artt to produce brilliant buildings, plans, and policiesswe are also continually redefining the state of the art. That’s what the school has done so well, and that’s what students from 55 different countries come here for. In the last 15 years, many celebrated experiments were developed here but now is the time to complete the test by moving our innovations into the world, engaging it technically, politically, and socially. This doesn’t mean the school becomes less experimental. On the contrary. A whole new possibility of conversation opens up with clients, politicians, artists, the public, the profession, engineers, and the construction industry. The school will therefore spend a lot more time out in the streets and bring more of the outside in. We brought in over 200 speakers last spring alone. A more fluid form of organization is already emerging within the school, allowing it to keep changing shape as the demands facing the profession change. What I’m trying to do is encourage a fertile biodiversity of people and positions, a lively ecology that allows the whole school to operate as an intelligent organism, adjusting itself in order to think through each new issue. If you only gave students what you thought was the right set of skills and concepts, our discipline would be dead in a few years. To serve the profession, we need to give students what the profession doesn’t yet want or understand. The real purpose of a school like ours is not to cultivate a certain type of architecture but a certain evolution in architectural intelligence.
The Cooper Union
Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
Founded: Degree in Architecture, 1964;
School of Architecture, 1975
# of students: Approx. 150 undergrad.
Dean since: 2002.
If I’m attempting anything as dean, it is to encourage the community of teachers and students to come at problems from a critical point of view, approaching them as starting points for research. We have a common approach to all studios, always beginning a design problem with historical, formal, and technological analysis. So the students’ work is not about imitation but rather about revealing the hidden complexities, paradoxes, and disjunctions within a problem. Cooper Union is, on every level, a design research institution. Everything we do is geared at understanding the limits of problems and pushing those limits, raising questions about how we live in the world today. Understanding globalism is not a question of sensitivity-training but rather of serious research into questions of cultural, social, economic, and ecological difference as they imply the need for inventive architectural solutions. Our challenge now is how to integrate these questions into a teaching framework, how to restructure the traditional disciplinary divisions so that they naturally embody a global reachhthe type of study that Spiro Kostof tried to develop for many years at U.C. Berkeley. There has been a tendency from the professionally oriented sector to question the validity of theory. But this is a result, I think, of the fact that the very idea of Theoryy has become isolated as a subject in and of itself, an example of academia’s need to divide its subjects into courses. The best theoryy of architecture is no more or less than thinking deeply about architecture. Any design has a theoretical construction embedded in it, whether you like it or not. Cooper has always joined its intellectual investigations to a deep, tactile sense of urban responsibility. For us, the question is how to activate that sensibility so that it’s socially and culturally effective. I’d rather produce a powerfully responsible citizen of the world, an architect who has knowledge and skills but is still inquiring how to best apply them, than someone who automatically knows what a building should look like..
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
# of students: 320 undergrad., 60 grad.
Dean since: Fall 2004
Cornell’s architecture school has had a long and fascinating history. I am especially intrigued by the tension, dating to the 1960s and 70s, between the objectivity of O. M. Ungers, who was dean here, and the historicity of Colin Rowe, who taught here for 30 years. This is the kind of positive, productive competition of ideas that makes Cornell interesting. The AA [where I was head] was an architecture center but here I find myself working with not only the three departments of the College but potentially almost any other part of the surrounding university. Since I believe that architecture must interact with the world I am excited about the collaborative possibilities with other departments. I can imagine our students working with the molecular biology department on tissue research or with the City and Regional Planning Department whose new chair, Kenneth Reardon, leads a program that is politically inclined and working in many underserved communities. I am interested in making our students global practitioners. We’ve had a strong Rome program for many years and I am investigating links with both India and South America. Presently, I am looking for space in New York City to open a Cornell outpost. I am not supportive of studios that teach the same projects year after year. I want projects that anticipate future political possibilities as well as the formal art of architecture, balancing traditional education with emerging applications of practice and design.
New York Institute of Technology
School of Architecture and Design
# of Students: 726 undergrad., 14 grad.
Dean since: 2001
This is a different school in that it operates in three different campuses and each with its own student culture. The Old Westbury campus is a commuter school with digital studios but most students work at home on their own computers. The Manhattan campus is the most technologically advanced and has a large proportion of foreign students who bring an international perspective to the school. Finally, the Central Islip campus has fewer commuting students since it has dormitories. Studios there still tend to emphasize free-hand drawing over computer rendering. The kind of education I had at Cornelllprescriptive and formulaiccno longer works in the global world. It’s not what students need today and it’s not what the marketplace demands from them. I don’t believe you can teach architecture. You can only teach students how to see and be self-critical. Using the eye, the mind, and the hand is a precarious balance. We’re trying to achieve this, in part, by introducing a curriculum that embraces a range of representation techniques, including free-hand drawing, watercolor, sketchbook drawing, perspective, and advanced visualization. I am also attempting to strengthen our history and theory courses and have hired Bryan Bryce Taylor to oversee this part of the curriculum. And to broaden our students’ horizons, I have instituted a Berlin study program in addition to our Rome and Spain programs.
Parsons School of Design
Founded: School in 1896; Department of Architecture, Interior Design, and Lighting
(previously Environmental Design), 1984
# of students: 140 undergrad., 102 grad.
Dean since: Fall 2004
As someone who’s spent his life as a critic seeking and establishing bridges between architecture and the rest of the world, I took this job in part because I think education is supposed to do the same thing. Architec-tural education is much more than professional training. It is also about examining the role of architect in culture. Parsons is emphatically not a vocational school. Nor is it the art department of a liberal arts school. It’s an intellectually rigorous version of an art and design school. One of our distinctions is that we are one of the few architecture programs with an interior design program. Also, we are trying to take advantage of the New School as much as possible. For example, we are talking to the Actor’s Studio and the Mannes College of Music about developing a Stage Design program together. There’s a need for architectural education to go in several directions simultaneously that might appear contradictory but are not. There’s a need for greater connection to other disciplines and to the real worlds of politics, economics, and culture. There’s also a need internally for architectural education to focus more proactively on issues of pure professional practice, on the things you need to know in order to practice. What ties these two ideas together is that, different though they seem, both are ways of breaking away from a hermetic, self-theoretical idea of architecture.
School of Architecture
# of students: 500 undergrad., 100 grad.
Dean since: 1996
From the beginning, Pratt Institute has worked along the model of the European polytechnic school, trying for a horizontal integration in the education of designers, builders, engineers, artists, and inventors. As architecture schools everywhere grew towards a more professional focus, there was a narrower definition of what architecture is, but to a large extent, we have maintained that identity and goal. Pratt is a large school, and we draw on all its strengths. Critical thinking skills are paramounttthe ability to define the activity of architecture as research and not just the more narrow approach of problem-solving. As students gain more diverse ideas about architecture and its sources, the entrenched boundaries of professionalism start to give way. At Pratt, we are building on the legacy of the polytechnic, and looking at how things are made in the information age. When computer software showed up, the challenge on a basic level was What can we draw?? We’re now in the second wave of in-formation architecture, with much more complex structural implications. We have to ask what comes after the elaborate renderings and models, and find the next steps. It goes back to the Bauhaus model of rethinking disciplinary boundaries. When Sybil Moholy-Nagy from the Bauhaus lectured here in the 1960s, she urged students to think and live experimentally.. One of the broader questions is how architecture can reinvent itself, and make itself continually relevant? It cannot be understood as just competent on a basic level; it must be relevant as well. The world around us continually reinvents architecture’s mandates and these mandates must be constantly placed before students.
Princeton University School of Architecture
# of students: 50 undergrad., 70 grad.
Dean since: 2002
The School of Architecture at Princeton is a small programmwe only accept 8 percent of those who apply. The size is good for students who thrive in an intense, competitive atmosphere. Our graduate programs are well known for their active faculty and graduates. And the undergraduate program, though less visible, turns out really fantastic students. This is a product of the university’s emphasis on rigorous teaching standards in its undergraduate programs. In the 1990s history and theory seemed to drive design schools and even practice. It is my intention to recuperate a design culture for the schoollone that builds on our history/theory expertise but rethinks the relation-ship to practice. I believe the old dichotomy between academia and practice needs to change. In fact, the world seems to be coming back to architecture with a new appreciation of its value to culture and the city. This dichotomy comes together around the city. I want Princeton not to remain above the fray but to enter it by utilizing our students’ tremendous visual, verbal, and organizational skills and begin imagining possible urban futures. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country so we are situated in an incredible laboratory of emerging 21st-century urbanism.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Department of Architecture
# of students: 260 undergrad., 65 grad.
Dean since: 1996
At Rensselaer, I created a program that’s categorically different from many other architecture schools. At the graduate level I built a series of masters programs in a spectrum of fields, including a Ph.D. in architectural sciences. As part of the architecture school I inherited the Lighting Research Center, which was funded by NYSERDA when it was founded in 1991 and adopted by the lighting industry for establishing standards. The industry invests $800,000 a year in its research. I don’t think a lot of architecture schools have a strong research center built into the degrees. When I arrived, the school almost self-consciously avoided big-name architects, perhaps out of distrust of the type of architecture that’s personality-driven. I’m not necessarily against the prima donna card; my own mentoring came from Kahn and Eisenman. The real influence is the experience of a strong will. Look at Zaha Hadid. She is driven by sensuality. Her work is felt; it’s not about theory. The infinite promise of the computer somehow makes the idea of critical theory a minor irritation. The tools of the architect have moved work beyond any simplistic issues of semantic order. These tools allow us to explore more broadly the nature of natural and manmade order. The main challenge is looking for faculty. In order to sustain the research, two-thirds of our recent hires have advanced research backgrounds. At the same time, I’ve brought in some talented designers, like William Massie, Andrew Saunders, and Anna Dyson. I loved the AAAthe graduate school, in fact, was created by me while I was head of the school [from 1990 to 1996]. But what I love about RPI is that I see the students graduating from all the programs with an immense confidence in what they know. The AA was the reverse. We didn’t give them competence in what they knew as much as openness to immense mysteries.
Syracuse University School of Architecture
Founded: 1873 # of students: 383 undergrad., 80 grad.
Dean since: Fall 2004
Even the most successful schools need a shake up periodically because architecture is not static, and schools can’t be. Syracuse hardly needs a shake-up, but one of the things I can bringgas an architect, artist, and with my experience in policy from the National Endowment for the Artssis an interest in and ability to bridge communities. The new chancellor has a mandate to develop a creative campus,, one in which we think about the university in relation to the city. It’s not just about making adjacencies between deans and departments, but breaking down the wall to the city. In some cities, it might be less critical to make a connection, but here, we have the potential to bring people into the campus through art, architecture, site installations, and other thingssand get them thinking, Hey, there’s some- thing going on there.. The city of Syracuse is small enough that we can help energize and impact it. The proof is not just in the city’s acceptance, though; we have to develop certain things in the students: The sense that they have the techniques of their discipline in problem-solving, theoretical expansiveness, and the ability to communicate exceptional ideas to a non-specific audience. Most of the students feel an intellectual responsibility to practice in some way. Above all, I want to instill a creative engagement in the students. Their five years here is just the beginning, and a curiosity that leads in many directions will compel them for the rest of their lives. And by the wayyit doesn’t snow here 365 days a year!
Robert A. M. Stern
Yale University School of Architecture
# of students: 192 grad.
Dean since 1998
The Yale School of Architecture has histori- cally been open to all ideas, and while not overtly ideological, it has emphasized theoretical rather than practical matters. The fundamental philosophical breadth of our approach is not only curricular and geographical but also artistic; we refuse to promote a single conception of what architecture is or might become. It is never about one thinggit is a constellation of possibilities. A university is about open questions, not definitive answers. The first obligation of an architecture school should be to its own discipline. But that does not mean that architecture can be studied in a vacuum. We reach outside our field in many ways. We ask critics, artists, environmentalists, sociologists, and others to share their ideas with us. To succeed in his or her art, an architect must be a thinker and a maker, empowered by knowledge and a certain sense of humility. At Yale, we believe that architecture is construction, context, and so much more: It is a culture, a commitment, and a lifelong path to discovery. We have a very active public lecture series and the best exhibition schedule of any American university. But the thing that makes the school truly special is our endowed chairs. We have five fully endowed visiting chairs, which bring the world’s leading practitioners to the school to teach a studio for a semester. We have also just instituted an endowed chair for junior faculty that will bring some of the best young designers to New Haven.