Architecture schools saw a fair amount of shuffling this past academic year in their leadership departments. Aside from a handful of high-profile step-downs, including Mark Wigley at Columbia University and Adèle Naudé Santos at MIT, a hefty number of schools across the US appointed new leadership, potentially ushering in a new era in their school's history. As an off-shoot of our Deans List editorial series, we interviewed a few of these new-appointees, to survey their plans for the position at the very beginning of their tenure.
The following interview samples responses from:
A piece of student work from each institution is featured after the respective leader's response.
Archinect: What is your first priority in the new position?
Daniel Friedman: I can’t think of a priority for a new dean greater than the school itself—students, faculty, staff, alumni, practitioners, the university community, the public. Hawai’i’s program enjoys a history of visionary leadership. The D.Arch. degree, singular among all other schools, parallels Hawai’i itself, singular among all other states. Hawai’i offers a spectacular laboratory for inquiry into the interdependency between built and natural environments, not to mention the interdependency between East and West. So my first priority is immersion in the unique Hawaiian context—local, regional, and global.
Peter MacKeith: My immediate priority as dean is actually two-sided. On the one side, an internal goal is to achieve swiftly my own deep comprehension of the faculty, students, staff and alumni who collectively construct the school’s character, by their names and their stories. On the other side, an external goal is to achieve just as swiftly an enhanced projection of the school’s excellence in its programs, facilities and outcomes to a national level of recognition.
Jonathan Solomon: I think this is a very exciting moment for architecture and design in Chicago. Historically the city has lead movements in design repeatedly and I believe it is poised to do so again, this time on the basis not only of technology and style, but also on impact, on relevance, on what architecture and design can do.
SAIC is perfectly situated to help define and lead this movement. My first priority will be finding ways to leverage the school’s unique characteristics: its scale and flexibility—its institutional relationships and external partnerships—as a center for design relevance.
I am also very interested in building the school’s global profile, particularly in relationship to its local opportunities. I am somewhat less focused on SAIC’s relationships to its peers in New York or Los Angeles, and more interested in what it has in common with institutions in Seoul, Medellin, Johannesburg, Taipei, or Chennai. Design occurs within a cultural context, and Chicago’s context is urban and global. The challenges SAIC finds on its own doorstep, from building social equity to improving resource management to developing civil society, are being faced by others around the world.
Marc Swackhamer: I have three immediate priorities that define my vision for the future of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota: empowering, connecting, and communicating. First, I believe we must empower students with the freedom to assume more authorship of their own educational arcs. I see a curriculum that is both “directed” (disciplinary knowledge is delivered through coursework determined by the faculty) and “emergent” (students are empowered to participate in the development of open-ended coursework where they can explore their own passions). Second, I believe we must enrich our cultural and disciplinary connections (while recognizing that fundamental architecture design skills are as important and irreplaceable as ever). We will make room in the curriculum for interdisciplinary coursework and projects, work in the community, and international study. Third, I believe we must communicate the assets of our program clearly and effectively so that those outside the region understand who we are and how we are unique. We will share knowledge with our peer institutions, the practice community, and the public so that we can grow from the diversity of voices these groups each provide. If achieved, I believe this vision will clarify and stabilize our school without eroding the remarkable, transformative progress it has undergone over the past decade.
Name one of your school's major strong suits, and what you plan to do with it.
Daniel Friedman: Architecture and adjacent disciplines are rapidly repositioning their strategic priorities around climate change, resilience, health, urbanization, energy, and equity. Hawai’i’s curriculum—likewise its strong affiliation with universities in China, Korea, and Japan—position the school to offer students and faculty powerful points of departure for deeper engagement with the challenges of twenty-first century practice. Hawai’i’s tradition of engaged research and design inquiry especially suits these problems, and the professional community stands ready to help leverage our advantage.
Peter MacKeith: A school is fundamentally a collaborative, synthetic endeavor, and I look forward to working with the faculty on a range of identified strengths. For one, the school has dedicated faculty members who are passionate about their teaching and learning mission with the students. I plan to seek ways to promote that dedication and further enrich it with support for faculty research and creative practice. Also, the three disciplines of the school – architecture, landscape architecture and interior design – are united for the first time under the roof of a fully renovated Vol Walker Hall and the new Steven L. Anderson Design Center addition. I would hope to strengthen each of those disciplines, while also developing a collaborative culture of inter-disciplinary awareness, coursework and curricula. In addition, the school boasts a superb, nationally recognized Community Design Center. I eagerly anticipate working with the CDC in expanding its reputation, reach and impact.
Jonathan Solomon: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s values as an art and design school are a major strength, particularly at a moment when larger universities are rushing to catch up with what design already does. Think of the way architects and designers work, and have for over a century: lateral thinking across disciplines, eagerness to collaborate and work in teams, iterative and problem-based learning. All these methods are suddenly at the cutting edge of both research and professional practice across a range disciplines, but they are natural to designers. SAIC has both an ingrained culture and a set of unique resources and relationships that are positioned to support leading work, from its relationships with the Museum (the Art Institute of Chicago) and other departments in the school such as Sculpture or Fiber and Materials Studies, to its industry partnerships with corporations like Motorola, to its focus on exhibition culture and art practice.
Marc Swackhamer: As a program located in the center of a major metropolitan area, Minnesota’s School of Architecture benefits tremendously from its relationship with the practice community. The Twin Cities are home to many nationally and internationally recognized firms (VJAA, Snow Kreilich Architects, Conway + Schulte Architects, Lazor Office, HGA Architects, Alchemy Architects, Perkins and Will, Architecture Alliance, Meyer, Sheer, Rockcastle, and RSP, among many others). Architects from these firms teach in our undergraduate and graduate programs, sit on college advisory councils, generously donate time and resources to our program, and employ many of our graduates. The relationship our school has cultivated with the practice community is one of its strongest, most important assets. As Department Head of the School of Architecture, I will work to maintain and strengthen this relationship. In the fall, I will implement a School Advisory Board comprised of leading practitioners in the Twin Cities to advise on important curricular and pedagogical decisions. Already this summer, I have met with important leaders in the community, individually, to discuss my vision for the program and to hear their thoughts on the future of architectural education. Additionally, our former Department Head, Renee Cheng, who is now the Associate Dean for Research and Outreach, has initiated a new MS degree in Research Practice. This exciting new degree program places students in local architecture firms and, under the guidance of a faculty member, tasks them with developing a collectively determined research initiative. This research is shared among all the firms, contributing to a database within a collective design consortium. Topics covered so far include new approaches to the pursuit of public interest / community design in firms, the utilization of large data sets in parametric building design, digital acoustic analysis tools, innovative K-12 education spaces, and building life-cycle analysis of environmentally sustainable materials. I plan to support and recruit students for this new degree program, as it has already fostered relationships between students and firms that have led to internships and more permanent employment.
By the end of your tenure, how would you like people to think of your school?
Daniel Friedman: My answer will emerge from conversations with students, faculty, alumni, and practitioners with whom I share aspirations to explore the full potential of our profession. Among the many questions driving these conversations, I’m certain there will be some that ask what parts of the contemporary discourse on education and practice expressly find their source in our work at Hawai’i.
Peter MacKeith: A dean is both a steward of a school’s strengths and an agent for productive change. My hopes for the Fay Jones School of Architecture stem from my previous statements: an enhancement of the school’s fundamental strengths and a series of new constructions in new degree programs, new research and creative practice, enhanced financial resources, and expanded national and international reputation – all founded on those long-held qualities. The school can and will be a school of compelling excellence, proud of its location and heritage, and continually ambitious in its place-based professional education.
Jonathan Solomon: I hope the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will continue to be known for the high quality and unique character of its graduates. As a small program with a flexible curriculum, the school can focus on developing individuals who believe in their own abilities and in the relevance of design as a force in culture broadly. SAIC graduates master the skills needed to enter the professions of architecture and design, and practice the critical thinking necessary to innovate within them, to challenge and advance them, and ultimately to lead them.
I will also focus on building diverse classes and on sending graduates in diverse directions. I think the world needs more architects and designers, but it also more needs politicians, financial analysts, and supply-chain managers who have been trained in design. I’ll work to educate individuals to become leaders and giving them the tools and experiences that they need to determine the field in which they can have the impacts they want.
Marc Swackhamer: I am inheriting a school that has benefited from exceptional leadership over the past decade. It is known for producing innovative thinkers, skilled designers, and ethically-motivated practitioners. While we pride ourselves on a faculty-led, distributed form of school governance, each former leader of the program has positively inflected the school in a particular direction, specific to his or her own passions. My research interests include material experimentation, full-scale prototyping of unconventional material assemblies, and the productive misuse of new and existing fabrication tools. All of this work centers on “making” as a form of research inquiry. Over the years, I have noticed a decline in students’ tendencies to reach towards materials as a way of analytically exploring a problem, developing a design strategy, or plumbing a conceptual question. Models are often produced as end-of-semester final requirements, but not as thinking tools part-way through the semester. As purveyors of a discipline where the primary media are materials, I believe architects must develop an intimate, tacit understanding of materials and their properties. For this reason, I would like to leave the school, at the end of my headship, as an institution known for making—where students reach to materials first in the exploration of a design problem, where they fearlessly experiment with using materials in novel, unexpected ways, and where they prototype ideas at full-scale, to test what they have drawn on the screen. For architects, making is not a throw-back or antiquated idea. Rather, it is central to the discipline. Making cannot, and should not, supplant other modes of architectural production, like digital modeling, diagramming, animation, drawing, or writing. But it is too important to be left behind as a practice supplanted by newer, shinier modes of production. Not only will our buildings suffer for it, but the thinking behind those buildings will be stunted. By the end of my tenure, I would like the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture to be known as a school where making, in its many forms and flavors, is central to its pedagogical philosophy.