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November 16, 2017
by Melissa Marsh
Deans' Roundtable 2018. Credit: Center for Architecture
Deans' Roundtable 2018. Credit: Center for Architecture

Following short introductions by AIANY and Center for Architecture Executive Director Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, at the thirteenth-annual Deans’ Roundtable, AIANY 2017 President David Piscuskas, FAIA, LEED AP, reflected on last year’s event, which immediately followed the presidential election. There seemed to be a pause, a moment of reflection, during which all present thought about how much had changed since then. Event founder Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, encouraged the audience to consider salient topics of the moment: climate change, social equity, rapidly changing technology, and the evolving roles of both architecture education and New York City-area industry professionals.

Then we began. Moderator Reed Kroloff of firm jones|kroloff, former Editor-in-Chief of Architecture magazine and former Director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, introduced the deans and asked his first questions:

  1. These are not easy times for higher education; there is widespread ferment among students, racial and cultural tensions seem to be on the rise, budgets are constrained, and the value of a college degree itself has come into question. How have these destabilizing forces affected your institution? How do architecture programs, and deans in particular, face these issues?
  2. What is your institution doing to control, or even ease, the rapidly rising costs of an architecture education? How much do you think a student should pay for an architecture education?

Tackling the question of the cost of education, Nader Tehrani, Dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, spoke of his school’s financial challenges in recent years. Andrea Simitch, Department Chair, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, and Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at Cornell University, noted the gap between need blind admission at the undergraduate level and the need to rely on a variety of funding sources at the graduate level.

David Burney, FAIA, Associate Professor at Pratt Institute’s Graduate School for Planning and the Environment, addressed the issue of social unrest on school campuses, commenting that in comparison to his school years, today’s students are “surprisingly passive.” He hypothesized that this might be generational, mentioning some of the terms often used to describe Millennials: disconnected, self-centered, and entitled. Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design there, countered. He described seeing students and faculty come together in response to recent political divisiveness, especially around immigration, in the past year. Mostafavi described GSD’s students as idealistic and motivated, though admittedly not very diverse.

Amale Andraos, Assoc. AIA, Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, reasserted Mostafavi’s comments, describing how activist students at GSAPP declared, “We won’t build your wall,” following the election.

The conversation then shifted to the issue of racial diversity. Andraos went on to say that “diversity scholarships are not enough,” and that programs for activism and racial diversity are needed. These may include initiating competitions with fashion or graphic design groups through programming with minority stars, and committing to racial diversity in the hiring as well as admissions processes. Admitting that the architecture field is “not that sexy,” she stressed the need to create compelling reasons and offer a range of experiences to attract newcomers to architecture.

Frederick Steiner, Dean of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania and Co-Director of the school’s Ian L. McHarg Center, spoke of the “staggering” and “shocking” statistics around racial diversity for both architecture education and the profession. He cited numbers that are particularly out of sync with the urban environments that are home to most of the schools at the table. Steiner noted how just over 300 black women are registered architects in the entire United States – with a population of 323 million in 2016, that really does make them one in a million!

Deborah Berke, FAIA, LEED AP, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, mentioned that when she had been seeking advice on how to increase the diversity of enrollment, she called Dean Shibley. Robert Shibley, Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at SUNY Buffalo, told a compelling story of the systemic changes his institution has made to reduce biases among those reviewing applications. Simply a candidate’s references (from a retail or fast food chain during a summer job, for instance) might reduce his or her chances of acceptance.

Robert Kirkbride, Dean of the School of Constructed Environments and Associate Professor of Architecture and Product Design at Parsons School of Design, described two of his school’s recent efforts at rebalancing the gender and race divide: the hiring of four new female professors from a range of backgrounds, including Carla Diana and Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton, and initiatives in ‘digital equity and access’ and ‘social and environmental resilience.’

Meanwhile, Michael Speaks, Dean of the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, spoke of the diversity of his program: 50 countries are currently represented by its primarily undergraduate student body. Returning to the financial question, he described the complexity (or impossibility) of architecture schools setting tuition constraints, as these are determined by the university. He closed by articulating a remit—especially at the five-year undergrad level—to provide an exceptional education that offers its students the chance to gain top-level skills and capabilities, a range of career options, and well-paying jobs.

Additional conversations continued to address questions of institutional programming within and beyond the student population:

  1. What is the most exciting new academic initiative in your school?
  2. Do you think the current general curricular structure in schools of architecture prepares students to both practice architecture and be effective public citizens? The basic model is now decades, if not centuries, old; do you think it needs fundamental revision?
  3. How does your institution approach the balance between general and professional education? In other words, what level of preparedness for practice is appropriate at the completion of an architecture curriculum?

Melissa Marsh is Founder & Executive Director of PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and design strategy firm dedicated to shifting the metrics associated with workplace from ‘square feet and inches’ to ‘occupant satisfaction and performance.


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