Letter from Dean Deborah Berke

Letter from Dean Deborah Berke

When I wrote at the start of Spring 2020 semester I could not have imagined the global and national events that would unfold shortly, and I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the extraordinary challenges the world has experienced since then. Typically I start my Fall letter with an enthusiastic description of how the previous academic year ended, with notes on final reviews, graduation, speakers, and the like.

There is positive news to report, such as the many wonderful community-based projects that evolved this summer and are reported here in Constructs, including a series of alternative “Building Projects” developed in addition to the 2020 Columbus House Building Project. In the alternative projects students paired with other New Haven nonprofit organizations to design storefronts, connective pathways, and murals throughout the city. Students in Alan Organschi’s seminar are constructing a research station for the Peabody Museum, on Horse Island. MED students have created a Working Group on Anti-Racism to gather resources on the topic and organize future discussion events. Our students also came in first place in HUD’s 2020 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition.
I will begin this school year with more guarded optimism. After conducting classes remotely for the second half of Spring semester, Yale has reopened the campus. Many courses are still being delivered online since classroom capacity has been reduced dramatically. Not all faculty members are able to be present on campus, and not all students were able to get to New Haven. However 200-plus students are back at their studio desks in Rudolph Hall. In spite of the strict new occupancy requirements, the studio environment feels great! In the place of desk crits, we will have one-on-one critiques with participants masked and maintaining appropriate physical distance. I want to thank associate deans Phil Bernstein and Sunil Bald for their brilliant solution for desk assignment and studio times and creating spaces for pinups and crits. The problem was a four-story, three-dimensional chess game that took most of the summer to solve.

This semester’s advanced studios are being taught by Bass Visiting Fellow Abby Hamlin and visiting professor Dana Tang; Bishop Visiting Professors Andy Groarke and Kevin Carmody; Davenport Visiting Professor Marc Tsurumaki; Foster Visiting Professor Hitoshi Abe; Gwathmey Visiting Professors Tod Williams and Billie Tsien; Kahn Assistant Visiting Professors Luis Callejas and Charlotte Hansson; and Saarinen Visiting Professor Deborah Saunt; along with faculty members Professors Keller Easterling, Peter Eisenman, and critic in architecture Elisa Iturbe.

There will be no exhibitions this semester. Instead we have outfitted the gallery as a large technology-enabled classroom hosting up to eighteen students who will work virtually with other classmates on Zoom. The room has worktables large enough to enable social distancing, along with multiple screens, cameras, and microphones to support simultaneous “in-person” and remote learning. It is not quite a NASA command center, but it is an impressive installation of coordinated technology.
Among the many changes, I decided to start our lecture series differently this semester. Typically we gather for the first lecture on the evening of the advanced studio lottery, and the speaker is the Edward P. Bass Visiting Fellow. Hastings Hall is packed, and the mood is festive—the day has been one of excitement and anticipation as classmates reconnect and incoming students are welcomed to the community. Although new students still joined returning students in Rudolph Hall, there will be no lectures in Hastings Hall this year.

Working under these unique circumstances has been necessary, but it is even more important to acknowledge the multiple crises and day-to-day challenges and difficulties that confront us all—and the fact that the impact has not been fairly or equitably shared. My opening lecture addressed this issue as it relates to architecture and the built environment. In 1997 Steven Harris and I edited the book Architecture of the Everyday, published by Princeton Architectural Press. I wrote a very brief essay, a sort of manifesto, titled “Thoughts on the Everyday.” Organized as a list, it made some claims and propositions that seemed strident at the time. I felt it would be helpful and healthy to reassess the piece in the framework of the present.

What I discovered was that, although some of it was no longer relevant, I had written a directive for architects that feels more timely than ever now: “Acknowledge the needs of the many rather than the few; address diversity of class, race, culture, and gender; design without allegiance to a priori architectural styles and formulas and with concern for program and construction.” What I had not paid nearly enough attention to was the climate crisis, the urban crisis, and the lack of diversity in the profession of architecture and all the other disciplines related to the built environment, from engineering to construction.

I also had not focused on social justice as it relates to topics such as planning, zoning, building systems, and access in the built environment. Today I would move away from the term everyday and argue for what I would like to call an architecture of the greater good. Architecture must be great in terms of aesthetics, design, and construction but must also care for the people who inhabit it as well as the environment they live in.

I want to thank you all for your generous support of the school—our students and faculty—during these difficult times. Please join us for Zoom lectures and other events in the coming year (see the school’s website for the updated program), and do stay in touch.