Dean’s year in review: Highlights from 2017–2018

Gund Hall

Dear GSD Alumni and Friends,

In 2017, we were honored by the news that we maintained our lead ranking in the annual DesignIntelligence survey of America’s best architecture and landscape architecture programs. Our consistent leadership in this important evaluation exemplifies our institutional values and our belief in the transformative power of design. Surveys for the next rankings in architecture and landscape architecture are now open. Whether you are in a leadership or hiring position in a design-related field, or graduated from the GSD within the past year, I encourage you to submit a response and share your experience by the deadline, which is Friday, June 15.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to recount some of this year’s noteworthy moments with you, and to share news about what the future for the GSD has in store.

New Structures for Innovation and Discovery

HouseZero Commissioning Ceremony on April 3.
HouseZero Commissioning Ceremony on April 3.

Over the past several years, our pedagogy has been converging on the question of how design can respond to today’s urgent challenges and opportunities in cities, nations, and ecologies around the world. Design research and its translation to applied innovation remain a cornerstone of this effort. The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC), led by Ali Malkawi, serves as a key example. In April, the CGBC celebrated the commissioning of its much-anticipated HouseZero project, an unprecedented undertaking to retrofit the its headquarters—a 1940s house just steps away from Gund Hall—into a model of a data-absorbing, energy-producing residence and living laboratory. In a celebration featuring Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, our design collaborators at Snøhetta, leadership from the Evergrande Group, and many others, the CGBC offered a first look at the house’s finished construction and energy-producing capabilities. Looking to the future, the Center will expand its research program to include more projects on urbanism and sustainability.

With the generous support of The Knight Foundation, we also launched the Future of the American City initiative this spring, announcing our inaugural research projects in the Cities of Miami and Miami Beach. This fall, we look forward to initiating the first of a series of GSD studios taught by a cross-disciplinary team of GSD faculty focused on the Overtown neighborhood in Miami, including Chris Reed, Sean Canty (MArch ’14), and Lily Song (RAE ’17). The studios will build on research conducted by Charles Waldheim and Jesse M. Keenan, who engaged a cohort of architects and urban designers, government officials, city planners, and civic stakeholders from within and beyond the design fields this past fall. More broadly, the Future of the American City initiative will bring experts and leaders from around the country together as part of an effort to create a national discourse on the future of cities and urban life in America. In addition to Miami, in the coming years we plan to initiate projects in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston.

Final review for Niall Kirkwood's option studio "KOREA REMADE: Alternate Nature, DMZ, and Hinterlands"
Final review for Niall Kirkwood’s option studio “KOREA REMADE: Alternate Nature, DMZ, and Hinterlands.”

Innovation and discovery continue to thrive at the GSD through our academic and public programming. Students and faculty in our Department of Landscape Architecture have continued to assert the field’s potential to shape and reshape our world. Among other work, Niall Kirkwood, along with Jungyoon (Yuni) Kim (MLA ’00) and Yoonjin Park (MLA ’00), led a spring option studio on redefining the Korean Peninsula’s so-called Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ—an investigation that proved especially timely. Eelco Hooftman and Bridget Baines organized a studio around the notion of islands as geological, bio-geographical, and man-made cultural constructs, while Adriaan Geuze and Daniel Vasini also returned with a follow-up investigation of the Boston Harbor Islands and their role as a “frontier city,” a new site for development in a densely urbanized city.

Our Department of Urban Planning and Design undertook projects on cities and regions on every continent, and addressed current topics like gentrification and affordable housing, among many others. With urban transit across the globe in flux and self-driving cars now a reality, Andres Sevtsuk led a seminar on the future of streets, a thread of investigation that he and his City Form Lab colleagues will be pursuing with increasing depth in the coming months. Toni L. Griffin (LF ’98) applied the principles behind her Just City Lab—an ongoing examination of how design and planning contribute to the conditions of justice and injustice in cities, neighborhoods, and the public realm—in both an option studio on St. Louis and an immersive exhibition in our Loeb Library.

The Department of Architecture continued to experiment with how the field can question itself, anticipate, and respond to contemporary concerns. Odile Decq’s option studio asked why, where, and how people move on a global scale, while Marina Tabassum led a studio with ramifications for housing across Bangladesh, asking what kind of residential structure students could design—and build—in the delta region on a two-thousand-dollar budget. Following the announcement that Jeanne Gang (MArch ’93) would join the GSD as a Professor in Practice, she led a studio focused on the Caribbean islands of St. John and St. Thomas. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Gang encouraged students to approach this island site as an ecosystem where relationships between inhabitants, visitors, and their environment are examined on both macro- and micro-scales.

I hope you saw the special March 2018 Innovation issue of Domus magazine, edited by Allen Sayegh and his REAL Lab. The issue features thought-provoking work from Sayegh and several of our other faculty—Antoine Picon, Sawako Kaijima, and Martin Bechthold DDes ’01, among others—and underscores both the high level of innovative discovery happening within the GSD community, as well as the power and responsibility of sharing our work with the world.

Taking in Toni L. Griffin's exhibition on the "Just City"
Taking in Toni L. Griffin’s exhibition on the “Just City.”

New Leadership for the University and at the GSD

After 10 years of dedicated leadership, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust announced plans to step down at the end of this academic year. We have been fortunate to have benefited from President Faust’s intellectual support and enthusiasm for our work, and we were especially moved by her participation in our February “On Monuments: Place, Time, and Memory” event and our commissioning of the HouseZero project. We look forward to working with President-Elect Lawrence S. Bacow as he assumes the presidency.

Mark Lee (MArch '95)
Mark Lee (MArch ’95)

Amid this transitional time for the University, we are excited too about the leadership and faculty changes here at the GSD. After a multi-year search, I was very pleased to announce the appointment of Mark Lee (MArch ’95) as Chair of the Department of Architecture. Together with his partner, Sharon Johnston (MArch ’95)—who we are also excited to welcome this year as a Professor in Practice—Lee leads JohnstonMarklee, one of the most talented architecture practices working in the U.S. today. As Lee transitions into his new role as Chair, I want to express my appreciation to Michael Hays, who served as interim chair and who has showed an unwavering and ongoing dedication to the Department of Architecture and the GSD. Repeating a comment Lee made when his appointment was announced, I am confident that architecture’s best days lie ahead, owing in great part to Hays’s leadership of the department over the past two years.

A Powerful Year of Public Programs

The GSD’s public program continues to be a point of pride for the School, and creates opportunities not only to come together as a community but also to hear new ideas, learn from talented people doing important work all over the world, and bring their perspectives into the conversations happening here. Last October, we convened a symposium in celebration of the 100th birthday of our friend and GSD alumnus I. M. Pei (MArch ’46). In February, we organized the symposium “On Monuments: Place, Time, and Memory,” to which we were fortunate to welcome many Harvard luminaries for what was a rich and timely conversation. Taken together, these two symposia were powerful in their examination of the significance of design at the intersection of culture, history, and economics, and in their celebration of the iconic designs and designers from within the GSD community and across the design fields.

As the academic year began, many of you were involved in the second-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial, curated by Mark Lee and Sharon Johnston. The GSD community actively participated in the Biennial throughout its run. Of particular note, we conducted a symposium entitled “New Materialisms: Histories Make Practice | Practices Make History,” featuring several GSD faculty alongside other leading practitioners and theorists in conversation on the role of history in architecture. This event also helped inform the spring exhibition Inscriptions: Architecture Before Speech, curated by Michael Hays and Andrew Holder.

A powerful moment with Toni L. Griffin.
A powerful moment with Toni L. Griffin

Here in Cambridge, following the success of the inaugural Black in Design Conference in 2015, our African American Student Union organized a second conference that took place in October. I am always impressed by how passionately our students approach the challenge of enacting social change through design. Set against a very different social context than the inaugural conference, this second installment reminded us all that designers, and our students especially, have the agency and vision to create more equitable, just futures, and to position design as a leading agent of cultural change. Keynote talks by curator Hamza Walker and activist DeRay Mckesson framed one of the year’s most meaningful and dynamic exchanges, which drew over 500 participants from across the country.

One of the most extraordinary moments last year was spontaneous. Fashion designer Virgil Abloh surprised students with an impromptu lecture that filled Piper Auditorium, in which he encouraged those in attendance to find their individual creative directions. Some of you may know Abloh for his projects with his brand Off-White, or his recent work with Louis Vuitton, Nike, and IKEA. In April, as part of our Rouse Visiting Artist series, we also welcomed Raf Simons, chief creative officer at Calvin Klein, together with Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby for a conversation moderated by Jessica Morgan, director of the Dia Art Foundation. Simons and Ruby discussed their ongoing collaboration, which entails an increasing number of projects that now include interior architectural redesigns of Calvin Klein retail stores, the Calvin Klein headquarters, and Raf Simons retail stores.

In a prior announcement, we informed you about a generous gift from Ronald M. Druker (LF ’76) and the naming of our main exhibition space in Gund Hall the Druker Design Gallery. Hays and Holder’s Inscriptions: Architecture Before Speech was the first show to be presented in the renamed gallery, bringing over 400 images and models from more than 100 design offices to Gund Hall. Our fall 2017 main exhibitions were equally absorbing: Rahul Mehrotra’s (MAUD ’87) Soft Thresholds transformed the gallery into an immersive investigation of flexible, porous boundaries, whether physical thresholds or disciplinary perspectives, while Toru Mitani’s (MLA ’87) Landscape: Fabric of Details demonstrated how small details can have a significant, perceptual impact on diffuse landscapes. If you missed these or other exhibitions, please visit our Exhibitions webpage, which features rich photo and video content.

Photo by Justin Knight
“Inscriptions: Architecture Before Speech” in the Druker Design Gallery.

Strength of the GSD Community

As always, I am inspired by the talent, drive, and commitment of the whole GSD community. This year, our faculty were honored in a variety of ways for their teaching, research, practices, and more. To mention just a few examples, Megan Panzano (MArch ’10), Jenny French (MArch ’11), and Anna Neimark (MArch ’07) and Andrew Atwood (MArch ’07) were featured in Architect magazine, all of whom were profiled in the Next Progressives series. Last fall, the Harvard Crimson named Alex Krieger (MCPUD ’77) one of University’s “15 Professors of the Year,” and in the spring Jorge Silvetti received the AIA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. Both have taught at the GSD for over four decades, including time as chair of their respective departments, and I am deeply grateful for their service to the School. It was also wonderful to see Rafael Moneo, another former architecture chair, honored this year with the 2017 Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award for Architecture. Also, I very much enjoyed reading the profile of Toshiko Mori in the Harvard Gazette, published just two weeks ago alongside profiles of President Faust and other notable members of the Harvard community. I encourage you to check our website regularly for news on faculty achievements.

We hosted over 30 alumni events this year in locations across the country and around the world, each of which impressed on us how strong and dedicated our alumni community is. I am deeply grateful for the work of the Alumni Council, which has helped to engage and reconnect members of our community with the activities of the School. The active support of alumni and friends near and far has been crucial to the success of our Grounded Visionaries campaign, which will conclude in the coming weeks. Of the many goals we achieved throughout the campaign, I am proud to note that over the past five years the GSD has created 24 new fellowships—progress that enables us to enroll the very best and brightest applicants from wherever they may come, and makes it possible for our graduates to embark on design careers based on their passions. More news about all that we accomplished during Grounded Visionaries will be shared in the months following June 30, the close of the fiscal year, and the official end of the campaign.

Diversity and Inclusion in Design

Lastly, it goes without saying that over the past few months the field of design—across the academy, research, and practice—has been undergoing fundamental and important introspection as part of the #MeToo movement. At the GSD, maintaining an atmosphere of respect is an absolute priority and one of the School’s core values. It is essential not only in cultivating an open exchange of ideas across people and disciplines, but also in upholding the human dignity of individual students, faculty, and staff, so that they may lead full lives as responsible citizens of the GSD and the world beyond.

We take matters of diversity, inclusion, and belonging very seriously, which is why over the past several years we have worked to create and implement new measures intended to identify incidents of sexual and gender-based misconduct. The anger and pain that have surfaced and that have been brought into public conversation, however, is a clear signal that the field of design can and must do better, and at the GSD we are unequivocally committed to doing so.

To that end, I participated in an open discussion with students, at the invitation of Student Forum leaders, to give them an opportunity to share their concerns and their ideas. Since then, there have been many meetings with and among students, department chairs, faculty, and administrators to listen to concerns and generate ideas for how to move forward. We have committed to hiring an Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and student representatives have proposed several ideas to the School’s executive committee of additional actions to consider. A few weeks ago, a long list of women on our faculty—including two departmental chairs and members of our executive committee—also issued a statement encouraging the wider GSD community to mobilize together in pursuit of fairness, justice, and acceptance across the field of design. The Alumni Council also met with students and administrators and sent a follow-up statement to the community.

Constructive conversation and open dialogue are essential to keeping the School’s community informed. In the end, what matters most are the actions we take, and with the involvement of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni we will continue upholding our community values while striving to make an impact on the field at large.

Our Next Opportunities

Looking ahead to the next academic year, many of our ongoing activities will continue to offer platforms for deeper engagement. One last example, the WE ALL design-build installation inaugurated in Allston last fall, offered students an opportunity to get involved with our neighbors and show how design can engage communities going through periods of transition. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Allston community next year and beyond, including a fall option studio led by Shaun Donovan and David Gamble with Henk Ovink, as well as the construction of Harvard’s new Artlab, which the GSD has been involved with at various levels.

Building on this momentum, the future depends on the excellence and accomplishments of our students and the support and engagement of our alumni. We are proud to announce another successful admissions season, with a record number of applicants—an eight percent increase over last year—and an overall yield of 73 percent. Our commitment to increasing the amount of financial aid we offer has been one important factor in our impressive admissions results, year over year; we awarded $15.5 million during the past academic year.

We thank you, our community of alumni and friends, for your contributions to this success and we look forward to your continued support in empowering future design leaders here at the GSD.

As we close this year and look forward to the next, our project at the GSD continues building momentum, and while the field of design and the political and cultural climate we find ourselves presents new and greater challenges, I remain optimistic about what the future holds and about the leading roles our students, faculty, and alumni will play in it.





Mohsen Mostafavi