The New Dean

The New Dean


Jennifer Wolch, formerly a professor of geography and urban planning at the University of Southern California, will become dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design on July 1.  The College encompasses Berkeley’s Architecture, City & Regional Planning, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning programs.

Wolch, who received her Ph.D. at Princeton, has been at USC since 1979. She was a founding director of the University’s Center for Sustainable Cities, which promotes sustainable urbanism and economic vitality; and she headed the Green Vision Plan for 21st Century Southern California, a planning guide for habitat conservation, watershed health, and recreational open space. She also worked with a team of architects, urban designers, planners, and engineers to develop the City of Los Angeles’ strategic plan for its downtown.

Wolch said she plans to use her social, political, and environmental expertise to help shape the college’s future plans, while making several other adjustments to help the school adapt to changing times. On the environmental side, she noted a desire among students for more coursework dealing with sustainability—from building level to regional scale—and a need to help faculty continue to shape debate in planning and government policy through research, testimony, and participation in public forums. She also wants to get students even more involved with grassroots organizations, as well as with major architectural firms.

“Given all the challenges around climate change and sustainability and questions of globalization, poverty, public health, and social justice, we now realize just how urgent it is to address these issues,” she said.

On a curricular level, Wolch expressed a goal to augment interaction between departments in the college, and within the university as a whole. She said that the college could take greater advantage of Berkeley’s resources in other fields like public health, engineering, energy resources, transportation systems, and material sciences.

She also noted a desire to ramp up the school’s advanced technical facilities, with a “shop of the 21st century,” featuring new architectural fabrication tools, experimental materials, and more software related to architectural visualization and creation, GIS, and community planning. 

“These shouldn’t replace conventional tools and fundamental ideas, but they’re an important part of what contemporary practice is about,” she said.

The college, she noted, is in a time of renewal, given the arrival of new faculty. As many as five new professors could be coming on board in the next couple of years, said Wolch. Already the college has announced the appointment of Margaret Crawford, formerly a professor of urban planning theory at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and is conducting a search for a new architecture department chair. 

“I think we’ll be getting a lot of input on future directions from both the younger faculty as well as terrific senior faculty,” she added. 

Wolch becomes the college’s first female dean, and UC Berkeley’s fourth current female dean. She replaces Harrison Fraker, who stepped down last year. Berkeley architecture professor Sam Davis is serving as interim dean until Wolch takes up her post.