Last night, the University of Southern California's School of Architecture hosted a panel discussion with four former deans dating back to 1961, in celebration of the school's upcoming centennial anniversary. Moderated by current dean Qingyun Ma, the deans included (in chronological order): Samuel Hurst, Ralph Knowles, Robert Harris, and Victor Regnier.
Each dean briefly reflected on their tenure at USC, explaining their influence within the school and how they witnessed the architecture school's priorities shift alongside Los Angeles' urban development. Hurst characterized his deanship as highly affected by the social and urban turmoil of the 1960s, encouraging him to develop the school's social atmosphere. Knowles, who served as dean from 1973-1975, brought a timely interest in naturalistic and ecologically-conscious architecture with his research in solar technologies. Harris' time as dean established stronger ties between the university and the city of Los Angeles, initiating studios to work with Mayor Tom Bradley on neighboring downtown's development. Last in the timeline was Regnier, who fought to establish the cutting-edge of computational architecture technology in the mid-1990s.
Reciting their successes, challenges and disappointments within their tenure, the deans' accounts were largely sober and accepting of the difficulties being Dean -- leveraging university-politics to advocate for the school, developing world-class faculty members, fundraising, and simply keeping the school afloat (and thriving) in a constantly shifting academic landscape.
Qingyun Ma, the current dean since 2007, has brought a global attentiveness to the school, establishing explicit links to China (where his MADA s.p.a.m. practice is based). Ma characterized the dean as both a curator and a winemaker -- they must both choose the grapes and transform them to wine. Their role is to gather and support a strong faculty with focused intentions, and in the course of collaborations and shifting academic tides, the school that they've curated will develop an idiosyncratic (and perhaps surprising) tone.