Lesley Lokko resigns as dean of Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York

A Fleeting Deanship

Lesley Lokko resigns as dean of Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York

Lesley Lokko (Courtesy Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture)

Ghanaian-Scottish architect, academic, and best-selling novelist Lesley Lokko resigned earlier this week as dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York (CCNY). The resignation is effective at the end of January, 2021.  Lokko was named dean in June 2019, filling a four-year vacancy for the post, which, with this announcement, will go vacant yet again. Before her appointment at the Spitzer School of Architecture, Lokko was living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa, where, in 2015, she founded the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg (GSA). Per the GSA website, it is the only dedicated postgraduate school of architecture in Africa, and the only school on the continent to follow the Unit System, a pedagogical method first developed at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.

Architectural Record first broke the news of Lokko’s resignation.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, Lokko is a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and the University of London, where she received her PhD in Architecture in 2007. Over her esteemed career as an educator, Lokko has taught at numerous institutions around the globe in addition to serving as head of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. They include Iowa State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Michigan, Kingston University London, the University of Westminster, the University of Cape Town, and others.

Lokko’s arrival last year in New York City—and return to the world of architectural academia in the U.S. after years spent in the U.K. and South Africa—to lead the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY was met with widespread enthusiasm.

“She is exactly the leader we need to bring renewed energy and define an exciting new vision for the Spitzer School as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding,” said interim dean Gordon Gebert in the announcement of her appointment.

As for the reason for resigning after such a notedly brief time spent as dean of the Spitzer School of Architecture, Lokko offered a frank explanation in a statement shared with Architectural Record.

She wrote:

“My decision to leave Spitzer after less than a year is fairly straightforward: I was not able to build enough support to be able to deliver on either my promise of change, or my vision of it. The reasons why are more complex. Part of it has to do with COVID-19 and the rapid lockdown, which occurred after only three months in post. It’s hard enough to build social capital in a new place without having to do it over Zoom. Part of it too has to do with the wider inflexibility of U.S. academic structures. In an incredibly bureaucratic and highly-regulated context, change is as much administrative as it is conceptual. The lack of meaningful support—not lip service, of which there’s always a surfeit—meant my workload was absolutely crippling. No job is worth one’s life and at times I genuinely feared for my own. Race is never far from the surface of any situation in the U.S. Having come directly from South Africa, I wasn’t prepared for the way it manifests in the U.S. and quite simply, I lacked the tools to both process and deflect it. The lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard, although it’s by no means unique to Spitzer. I suppose I’d say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation.”

[Update: After publication of this article, CCNY issued the following statement on their website:]

The City College of New York was saddened to learn that Lesley Lokko, Dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, would be resigning her position as dean effective January 31, 2021.

During Dean Lokko’s brief time at City, she introduced her colleagues, students, and alumni of the Spitzer School to a vision of a new and reimagined architecture curriculum. The vision was expansive and ambitious and required a series of sweeping changes to the current curriculum. That these changes were occurring at the onset of a global pandemic certainly complicated her plans.  We would have been thrilled had she been able to see these changes through to their completion, but have accepted her resignation with deep regret.

In a recent interview, Dean Lokko discussed the role that both gender and race play in conversations seeking great change. The College has, for more than 173 years, worked to take on these extremely difficult questions with honesty and commitment. We will use the remainder of Dean Lokko’s tenure on campus to engage with her on the issues she’s raised and continue that work as part of our commitment to making our campus everything it should be.

AN has reached out to colleagues of Lokko for comment and will update this story with more information as it becomes available.