More new deans discuss the pandemic, their institutions, and approaches to design education

Deans On Design

More new deans discuss the pandemic, their institutions, and approaches to design education

Malo A. Hutson. (Sanjay Suchak, UVA Communications)

Last month, AN spoke with several new deans and directors from design schools across the United States, discussing their professional backgrounds, their approaches to pedagogy and leadership, and the state of their institutions moving forward. With so many changes underway as institutions of higher learning navigate new surges in the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential return to fully in-person or hybrid instruction this fall, we asked five more leaders from the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Canada about their perspectives on design education. Here’s what they had to say:

Stephen Carpenter II, Pennsylvania State University College of Arts + Architecture

A headshot of a new dean, B. Stephen Carpenter II, a middle aged African-American man
B. Stephen Carpenter II. (Stephanie Swindle Thomas, Penn State)

In addition to serving as the dean of Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture, B. Stephen Carpenter II is a professor of art education and African American studies at the same university. He is the co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Race and the Arts in Education (2018) and Curriculum for a Progressive, Poetic, and Public Pedagogy (2006), as well as a practicing mixed-media and performance artist whose work “confronts and disrupts social, historical, cultural, and political constructs.”

AN: Not all architecture programs are situated in schools that include art departments—what are the specific challenges and benefits of this approach at Penn State?

Carpenter: One of our challenges at Penn State is the translation of disciplinary practices and expectations across professional and non-professional programs. As opposed to the study of disciplines in the visual and performing arts, as well as that of art history, the practitioner-based approach to our three departments in the Stuckeman School—the Department of Architecture, the Department of Landscape Architecture, and the Department of Graphic Design—can make translation across schools a little difficult. The challenge often plays out with respect to the idea of research. In a conventional research institution, the expectations of research often rely on quantitative approaches or certain methodologies, whereas what we’re interested in here also includes creative activity. While that can be a challenge, I also see it as an opportunity because it provides all of us, myself included, with space to dig deeper into questions of “why?”—why architecture is important, why our disciplines are important, and what do they do in the world?

What would you say is the general pedagogical approach to architecture and urbanism at Penn State?

At Penn State, architecture is approached as a professional practice within a space of art-informed possibilities. We have many self-proclaimed artists within the Department of Architecture who are surrounded constantly by art students and whose architectural practices are informed by the visual arts. The pedagogy is informed by that idea. At the undergraduate level, our architecture degree also has a required study-abroad component, which is built upon the idea of embedded urban education. Because our campus is located in quite a rural area, we believe this balance allows for a wider sense of what architecture can be, better preparing our students to innovate and lead the future progression of ideas in the discipline. And that also supports the idea that architecture is a global practice, so there are different styles of regional architecture that enable our students to understand that architecture exists within a global context.

You are also a professor of African American studies and art education—how have your teaching experiences informed your approach to art or architectural education and administrative leadership?

There are four ways in which my background as an art educator has informed what I do as dean. The first is my background in curriculum theory. Curriculum comes from the Latin root “currere,” which means “to run,” so the curriculum can really be thought of as a verb—moving through a set of ideas. My background in interpreting educational experiences gives me the perspective to weave through various discourses—architecture, graphic design, music, art education, and so on. The second is my grounding in art practice and materiality—the idea that we make things that exist in the world and change the ways people interact with objects and space, whether the medium is clay or music or art historical arguments. The third is rooted in pedagogy—that nexus of the theory and practice of teaching. As I work with faculty across the college, I’m fascinated by the range of pedagogical histories that we have, and I always try to position my own experience in relation to others. The fourth is social engagement and, more specifically, the act of using disciplines that are not necessarily art- or design-related as the media through which we generate art or social experiences. 

For me, the college is an interdisciplinary curriculum that I support and enable, an ever-evolving extension of my own art practice that has materiality, form, and intention. Leading the college is also a form of both pedagogy and social engagement, providing ways for us to interpret what it is that we do to center ourselves as human, not only within our disciplines but also with those outside the college.

Given the intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and racial violence in the U.S., what shifts would you like to see during your tenure as dean at Penn State?

COVID-19 and the move to online platforms provided us with ways to question why we have been doing things a certain way. In spite of the loss of loved ones, the anxieties, and the stress, this year afforded us certain efficiencies and more archival approaches to education that we may not have recognized before. Very early on in the pandemic, we pitched big canopies in some of the spaces outside the arts buildings so that students could rehearse or engage in studio work more safely. To have the arts and design visible and audible to public audiences and passersby was transformative. Reactions were extremely positive, forcing us to question why we hadn’t been doing that all along. So certainly, there are some things we will try to keep as COVID-19 moves into the rearview mirror.

Since March 2020, the confluence and heightened visibility of racial injustice, systemic oppression, climate change, and divisive political relationships all came to a head. In line with the university as a whole, we revised our strategic plan to foster a culture of anti-racism, anti-oppression, and equity. In the arts and design fields, we are particularly equipped to facilitate conversations about these topics, whether in relation to the built environment or the cultural practices that archive and chronicle who we are as people. Many of our professors, including Felecia Davis, DK Osseo-Asare, and Yasmine Abbas are great examples of how designers are at the forefront of efforts to challenge oppressive systems, including those within the architectural discipline itself. We created a new position for the college—associate dean for access and equity—to enable us to broaden how we think about barriers to success in higher education, which might be financial, linguistic, cultural, social, or institutional. We are tackling these concerns head-on. 

Juan Du, University of Toronto Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

A young asian woman in black and white
Juan Du. (Courtesy Daniels Faculty of Architecture)

Before her appointment as dean and professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto, Juan Du held teaching positions at Hong Kong University (HKU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Du received her PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and her master’s of architecture from Princeton University. She is the founder of Hong Kong-based practice IDU_architecture, and has focused much of her research and design work on urban development and marginalized groups, an engagement she intends to carry into her tenure at Daniels.

AN: What would you say are the primary differences between the institutions where you have studied or taught and the one you’re entering as head of school? What excites you most about the new context?

Du: The curriculum of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design is exceptionally diverse, even compared to the great variety of schools of architecture that I have studied and taught at in the US, Europe, and Asia. The visual arts, curatorial, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design programs are further enriched by the recent joining of forestry. I am truly excited by the opportunity this presents—to bring together the studies of the built environments with the natural environments, to study and research our cities, and our world, as one environment. 

What would you say is the general pedagogical approach to architecture and urbanism at Daniels?

The Daniels Faculty aims to advance the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, visual arts, urban design, and forestry, promoting them as major fields of intellectual knowledge and professional practices. The Daniels Faculty educates scholars and professionals with rigor, criticality, innovation, and creativity. Through various courses of study and research programs, we prepare students for advanced studies, professional development, and lifelong learning. Our community of faculty, students, and alumni is further supported by allied design and forestry professionals. And a well-established program of public lectures, symposia, exhibitions, and publications contribute to the educational and cultural lives of the school, as well as the University of Toronto campus and communities beyond.

How have your experiences as a practitioner with IDU_architecture, as well as your extensive training as a scholar of architecture, informed your approach to design education and administrative leadership?

My approach to design education and leadership is informed by my experiences of professional practice and scholarly research. Schools of architecture provide nurturing environments for bold ideas that benefit the professional communities of design and planning. Integrating experiential workshops and courses that bring students to real-time challenges of the community and city at large is crucial for study and research programs to keep evolving and innovating. Academic research updates the knowledge foundations necessary for innovations in design and practice, and in turn, this generation of students explore impactful solutions to today’s urgent challenges. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic having upended the ways in which design schools operate worldwide, are there any lessons from the past year that are particularly important? What shifts would you like to see during your tenure at the University of Toronto?

In some ways, we learned that we could travel less and do more with technology and virtual spaces of interaction. Our digital platforms allowed for more international, and at times more inclusive, outreach of educational and public programs. However, we have also come to realize the unequal distribution of access to digital technologies in our communities. I believe we should see COVID-19 as a wake-up call that much of the ways we have designed, built, and lived, are no longer sustainable. Going forward, the Daniels Faculty will work with our community at the university to seek new ideas and practices to improve the sustainability of our built and natural environments.

Malo A. Hutson, University of Virginia School of Architecture

a new dean in a suit and tie against a stone wall
Malo A. Hutson. (Sanjay Suchak, UVA Communications)

Previously an associate professor of urban planning and director of the urban planning PhD program at Columbia GSAPP, Malo Hutson is a scholar and practitioner with a focus on community development, environmental justice, and urban public health. Having received a master’s of city planning degree from Berkeley and a PhD in urban and regional planning from MIT, he is a co-founder of the community engagement and professional services consultancy NIAM Group and author of The Urban Struggle for Economic, Environmental, and Social Justice: Deepening Their Roots (Routledge, 2016).

AN: What would you say are the primary differences between the institutions where you have studied or taught and the one you’re entering as dean? What excites you most about the new context?

Hutson: The primary difference between the institutions where I’ve studied or taught and the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture is UVA’s unique history as an institution founded by Thomas Jefferson. This history is evident in the A School’s strong focus on the significance of place, meaning, history, culture, and democracy. I am most excited about the academic, professional, and creative practice among our four departments—Architecture, Architectural History, Landscape Architecture, and Urban and Environmental Planning. Together they emphasize the interconnectedness of the built and natural environments, addressing issues such as urbanism, climate resilience, social and racial equity, environmental protection, preservation, and adaptive reuse.

You have studied for both a master’s degree and a PhD in the urban and regional planning fields—how have your past educational, professional, and extensive research experiences informed your approach to design education and administrative leadership?

I became an academic because I believe that institutions can positively impact societies. Higher education is no exception. As academics we are promoted based on our research, teaching, and service. Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working in places that recognize the connection between these three dimensions of academia and support scholars working with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to address global challenges. As the Dean of UVA’s School of Architecture, I want to collaborate with our faculty, staff, students, and alumni to ensure that we are well-positioned to train the next generation of diverse scholars and professionals to have a measurable impact on complex issues ranging from building more climate resilient cities and communities, to addressing racial and ethnic injustices, to making strides in design innovation. This requires us to focus not only on providing our students with a well-rounded comprehensive education, but also to afford them opportunities to develop their technical and leadership skills in a real-world setting.

Given the intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and racial violence in the U.S., what shifts would you like to see during your tenure at your new institution?

We are at a critical moment in history where we are confronted with a number of significant challenges—climate change, environmental degradation, challenges to our democratic institutions, health inequities exacerbated by a global pandemic and systemic racism, and racial and ethnic violence. The design professions are at the center of these discussions. We must rise to the occasion, but to do so our faculty and students need to be in the best position possible to address these complex challenges. I aim to work in partnership with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the university to build on our collective work around climate resilience and climate justice. We must also integrate equity, diversity, and inclusivity as parts of our institutional culture so that we can build a more diverse faculty, staff, and student body.

Another priority is to make higher education more affordable and accessible. We can’t be one of the world’s leading public institutions and be inaccessible to students from less privileged backgrounds or have our students being crushed by student debt. It limits their opportunities once they graduate. Finally, to maintain the highest standards in research, teaching, service, and creative practice we must support our faculty in the tenure and promotion process and attract the most innovative faculty across a wide array of disciplines.

Caroline O’Donnell, Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)

A woman with red hair
Caroline O’Donnell. (Courtesy Caroline O’Donnell)

As she assumes her new post as Chair of the Department of Architecture at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP), Caroline O’Donnell will continue to serve as the Edgar A. Tafel Professor of Architecture. She is the founder and sole principal of the firm CODA, whose Party Wall installation won the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program competition in 2013. O’Donnell founded Pidgin magazine while pursuing her MArch at Princeton University and has previously taught at Harvard GSD and the Cooper Union.

AN: What would you say are the primary differences between the institutions where you have studied or taught and Cornell AAP? What excites you most about your current context?

O’Donnell: The institutions in which I have studied (Manchester School of Architecture and Princeton School of Architecture) tend to be clearly either technical or academic. What excites me about Cornell is how the department really fuses the important, urgent questions of our time with the reality of construction, of societies, of material and energy, and so on. Our students and faculty are asking the most ambitious of questions but they are also interested in who will use things, how things are made, with what materials, and what will become of those things after they have reached the end of their “useful” lifespans.

What would you say is the general pedagogical approach to architecture and urbanism at AAP?

We have various programs with specific nuances, but overall we aim to empower our students’ individuality, to help them to frame urgent questions about our global future—environmentally, socially, technologically—and to give them the tools to work through solutions that are both ambitious and, at the same time, where they understand how and why the things we make are put together. Architecture is an art in that it is meaningful and yet it must perform in myriad ways: our pedagogy aims to excel at both aspects simultaneously.

You practice through your own firm CODA—how have your professional experiences informed your approach to design education and administrative leadership?

In design, it is important to keep the conceptual agenda clear through all phases, to think about how your practice is contributing positively to the environment and the society surrounding it, and to zoom in and out of scales. This is how I practice and I believe that the same can be said about education and administration. Everything can be thought of as design. In my own work, I have been motivated by issues of perception around materials and objects, and how the misuse or reuse of familiar things can provoke thoughts about the relationship of things and their environments. I believe that architecture’s ability to communicate, to provoke thoughts, is fundamental to the possibility of changing our behaviors and actions to create better worlds.

Given the intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and racial violence in the U.S., what shifts would you like to see during your tenure at your institution?

This past spring, as part of the Belonging at Cornell framework, faculty, staff, students, and recent alumni of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University created a Diversity & Inclusion plan: “Building a Just and Equitable AAP, A Living Document and Action Plan.” The action plan outlines steps that our community should engage in to address some of the inequities our colleagues and students from historically marginalized communities are experiencing that prevents equitable engagement. Importantly, our plan is not addressing historical trauma without a level of accountability and action.

I am very excited about the work that has begun and I would not only support that enthusiastically, but I am also committed to thinking through how all of this work translates into design and building. We have begun a new studio sequence called “Engaged Practices” in the master’s program that aims to work with local communities and engage in community-based design, and through that, to really question the architect’s role and potentially shift it from one of simply service to one that includes action. Architecture is about transformation, and we are at a point where we can let go of common preconceptions of what architecture was or is to ask what it could and should be. We need to use this time to study and discuss the questions our time asks of us, and as a consequence of that study, we can translate those emerging ideas to new kinds of form and material, embracing the challenge of designing lasting change and building more sustainable, just, and resilient worlds.

Neal Shasore, London School of Architecture (LSA)

A man in a blue button up shirt against a riverbank, neal shasore, one of the new deans of 2021
Neal Shasore. (Courtesy Neal Shasore)

Architectural historian Neal Shasore has been selected as the next head of school and chief executive officer (CEO) of the London School of Architecture (LSA), an independent architecture school founded in 2015. Having received his DPhil, MA, and MSt in art and architecture history from the University of Oxford, Shasore has previously held posts at the University of Oxford, RIBA, the University of Westminster, and the Leverhulme Fellowship at the University of Liverpool. His research focuses on architecture and visual culture in the early 20th century.

AN: What would you say are the primary differences between the institutions where you have studied or taught and the one youre entering as head of school? What excites you most about the new context?

Shasore: Most recently, I’ve been in an art history department at one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world, and now I’m at one of the newest architectural educational institutions in the United Kingdom. That contrast prompts some interesting reflections. For instance, for all the problems there might be with an institution like the University of Oxford, if you understand its roots and origins, there is actually potential for contributions to a radical pedagogy of the 21st century. That idea of a tight-knit academic community—one that directly impacts the morphology of the city and is interested in a kind of praxis—is what we are trying to cultivate at the LSA. Far be it from the elitist, cloistered institution that Oxford has become, there is something we can learn from those origins. What excites me about the LSA, in particular, is that the architects here are propositional—they are bold, they are generalists, and they are incredibly exciting to work with. We have a unique model and critique, both of which we are re-energizing and, to some extent, reimagining while staying true to our principles and mission.

What would you say is the general pedagogical approach to architecture and urbanism at the LSA?

There are a number of factors that distinguish the LSA’s approach to architectural pedagogy. First and foremost, we do not have a unit system, so studio teaching is driven, especially in the fifth year, by the particular interests of students. Tutors enable students to pursue those interests, rather than creating them in their own mold. The fourth year lays a foundation of collaborative working, in particular through the think tanks in which our students and stakeholders in the built environment collaborate to come up with interesting and provocative ideas about how we should live in the city. This aligns with our fundamental mission to create cities where humankind can flourish. So, there is a mix between autonomously driven, serious, and rigorous individual projects and a profound commitment to effective collaborative ways of working.

How have your experiences as a trained architectural historian, researcher, and writer informed your approach to design education and administrative leadership?

My work, which has focused primarily on the first half of the 20th century, looks critically at the ways in which architectural culture operates—not only design, but design as connected to the ideas and ideals of practice and professionalism, to discourse and media, and to an institutional landscape that is the frame for architectural production. While I love and support our school’s emphasis on design, I understand what enables good design in historically located ways, beyond the imagination of the designer. That kind of historical investigation has been supported by a form of practice. Historians seldom discuss their own practice, their own historical imagination, but both of those are incredibly important in an administrative or leadership role, and indeed in supporting and enabling innovative design pedagogy.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having upended the ways in which design schools operate worldwide, are there any lessons from the past year that are particularly important? What shifts would you like to see during your tenure at the LSA?

It has been an extremely tough year for students, faculty, and the administrative machinery that keeps us all going. In a highly regulated sector like higher education, I am keen to see an ability to innovate and digitally transform not only the way we deliver design education, but also the way we administer our school and interact with one another. I do not think that means we have to move entirely into the digital sphere, but I do think it means we have to consider what is valuable about particular kinds of physical interactions in the studio and what kinds of digital media might free us to innovate. Given that people are using immersive technologies to demonstrate heart surgery and complex chemical experiments in medical or scientific education, there are huge opportunities for us to think about how we teach design and construction, as well as how we simulate our urban theses about the workings of the city. With its size, unique model, and agility, the LSA is very well placed to make a serious intervention in that discussion. That is going to be a big part of the school’s journey over the next several years. 

In the 19th century, with the establishment of Britain’s civic universities, a profoundly local concern was paired with a global ambition, then under the rubric of empire. In our case, we have to ask how we use the digital in an ethical way to allow us to concentrate on really embedding ourselves in the civic landscape whilst ensuring that we have a transnational and trans-municipal relationship with the wider world.