New Leaders in Architectural Education
When architect Deborah Berke BArch 77 becomes dean of the Yale School of Architecture next July, she’ll be the first woman to lead the school and the fifth RISD grad at the helm of North American architecture schools.
Architect Deborah Berke BArch 77, known for creating buildings that are elegant, inventive, bold and beautiful, has been named dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Once she assumes her new position on July 1, 2016, she will become the first woman to lead the 100-year-old architecture school and the fifth RISD Architecture graduate appointed to head a North American school of architecture in the past six years.
In addition to leading more than 60 people who work with her at her New York-based firm Deborah Berke Partners, the architect has taught at Yale since 1987 and has long recognized the importance of combining professional practice with teaching. “For more than 30 years, [Deborah] has dedicated her career—in equal measures—to education and practice,” noted Yale President Peter Salovey in announcing Berke’s appointment. “She has taught architectural design using disciplinary approaches both integral to and less commonly associated with the world of architecture. This perspective … helps students to understand that they are part of a larger cultural conversation.”
“For me being an architect means creating things of lasting meaning,” Berke has said. “It means being part of a broader discourse about the greater good.” In 2012 she attracted national attention in the world of architecture and higher education when she earned the first Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California/Berkley. The biannual award is given to “a distinguished practitioner or academic who has made a significant contribution to promoting the advancement of women in the field of architecture, and whose work emphasizes a commitment to sustainability and the community.” In selecting Berke, the committee pointed out that she was “the perfect person to receive the Berkeley-Rupp Prize” because of “the excellence of her craft, her creative approach to sustainability and her willingness to mentor women in the field.”
Whether working on private homes, public buildings, facilities for the arts or distinctive hotels, Berke says that the projects her firm undertakes “share what we call a ‘knowing simplicity’ – a fine and deliberate crafting rooted in how our clients will inhabit the places we design.” Throughout her career, she has always been committed to teaching and mentoring new generations of architects and has remained connected to RISD as a visiting critic and occasional lecturer. “The best thing about RISD for an architecture student in my day was being in the company of artists,” she notes in a 2013 interview. “I loved the creative exchange, which still influences how I think and work today.”
When Berke assumes her new position as dean, she will join other talented RISD alumni who are leading schools of architecture. Richard Sommer BArch 83 has served as dean of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto since 2009. In July 2014 Rodolphe el-Khoury BArch 85 took over as dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture; in January 2015 Hashim Sarkis BArch 86 became dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT; and in July of this year, Nader Tehrani BArch 85 began serving a dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union. In addition, another alumna, Associate Professor Laura Briggs BArch 82, heads RISD’s own Architecture department. Together, these architects bring a new surge of RISD-educated leaders to the forefront of architectural education in the US and Canada.
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