Harvard Graduate School of Design announces the appointment of Rahul Mehrotra (MAUD ’87) as the Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design and the John T. Dunlop Professor in Housing and Urbanization, effective July 1, 2020. Mehrotra joined Harvard GSD’s faculty in 2010, serving as Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design from 2010 until 2015. He most recently served as the Director of the Master of Architecture in Urban Design Degree Program and Co-Director of the Master of Landscape Architecture in Urban Design Degree Program. He has also been a Professor of Urban Design and Planning at the School.
“While our world continues to urbanize, while questions of housing intensify in their urgency and complexity, and as India’s population and role on the world stage both increase dramatically, the GSD’s ability to address these interconnected issues so successfully has been due to Rahul’s unique perspective, as well as his engagements on the ground,” says Sarah M. Whiting, Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture. “As we look toward our collective ‘near future,’ Rahul brings an unmatched depth of insight to this contemporary moment. His extraordinary synthesis of pedagogy, practice, and a generous ethos will continue to guide us into challenging but essential debates and discoveries.”
As Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, Mehrotra will set the vision and agenda for Harvard GSD’s renowned urban planning and design programs, advancing the department’s ability to take on urgent, global questions and projects. It was at Harvard that the first North American programs in city planning (1923) and urban design (1960) were formally established; since then, the Department of Urban Planning and Design has graduated some of the world’s preeminent urban designers, policy-makers, and leaders. Its biannual Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design is considered the foremost award recognizing achievement in the field. In this role, Mehrotra succeeds Diane E. Davis, who led the department since 2015.
“The pace and nature of urbanization are challenging how we define and teach planning and design,” Mehrotra says. “Today, the world is in a period of extreme transitions, triggered in large part by the inequities caused by globalization as well as climate change and its mark on people’s daily lives. This state of flux is obvious in the changing rhythms of nature and its impact on human settlements. Design and planning have crucial roles to play in using this condition of flux to create solutions to endemic inequalities, from conceiving innovative housing solutions to imagining entirely new urban formations.”
As the John T. Dunlop Professor in Housing and Urbanization, Mehrotra will lead Harvard GSD’s efforts to study and advance discourse on housing, especially as pressures of widespread housing shortages and unaffordability continue to mount. In this role, Mehrotra succeeds Professor Emeritus Gerald McCue, who has held that title since 1996.
“During his time as Dean of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and as U.S. Labor Secretary, John Dunlop trained and inspired generations of students to tackle complex questions of housing and urbanization,” says Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the research center that led the campaign to establish the Dunlop professorship. “With this appointment, Rahul will carry on John’s legacy and continue to elevate the importance of housing in the national conversation.”
With a distinguished career as a practitioner and as an academic, Mehrotra’s practice, teaching, and prodigious writing focus primarily on housing and urbanization, particularly in Mumbai and India. Mehrotra taught at the University of Michigan from 2002 to 2006, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2006 until joining Harvard GSD in 2010. He founded his Mumbai- and Boston-based firm, RMA Architects, in 1990. RMA Architects has designed and executed projects around the world, including government and private institutions, corporate workplaces, private homes, and other projects, among them a Library for the School of Architecture at CEPT in Ahmedabad, a software campus for Hewlett Packard in Bengaluru, and a conservation master plan for the Taj Mahal with the Taj Mahal Conservation Collaborative. Mehrotra has also collaborated with NGOs to improve conditions for people living in informal settlements in Mumbai.
Among other recent achievements, in 2015 RMA Architects completed the “Lab of the Future” on the Novartis Campus in Basel, Switzerland, and were finalists in an international design competition for the Museum of Modern Art in Sydney. In 2018, RMA Architects was awarded the Venice Architecture Biennale Jury’s Special Mention for “three projects that address issues of intimacy and empathy, gently diffusing social boundaries and hierarchies.”
Mehrotra’s research on urbanism is focused on evolving a theoretical framework for designing in conditions of informal growth—what he refers to as the “Kinetic City.” From 2012 to 2015, Mehrotra led a Harvard University-wide research project with Professor Diana Eck called The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City. This work was published as a book in 2014, was extended in 2017 in the form of a book titled Does Permanence Matter?, and led to an invited exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architectural Biennale. His latest co-authored book is titled Taj Mahal: Multiple Narratives (December 2017).
Mehrotra studied at the School of Architecture at CEPT in Ahmedabad, where he received the gold medal for his undergraduate thesis, and graduated with a master’s degree, with distinction, in urban design from Harvard GSD.