Architecture Ph.D. program’s presence grows

In the coming weeks, the School of Architecture’s “Dialogues” series will reinforce increased collaboration between the school’s Ph.D. students and other members of Yale’s architecture community.

The series — which will include three events this semester — was established last year to foster conversation among doctoral candidates, professional students and faculty members, Surry Schlabs ’99 ARC ’03 GRD ’17 said. This effort to better integrate the Ph.D. program with the school aligns with a growing trend to bring together architecture students pursuing different degrees, he added. Though housed in the same building as other architecture programs, the Ph.D. program differs from the school’s other offerings in its focus on theory and scholarship rather than pre-professional training.

“The Ph.D. program is treading new ground as it grows and finds its identity,” Kyle Dugdale GRD ’15 said.

Four years ago, the School of Architecture became the last of its peer institutions, such as Harvard, Columbia and MIT, to develop a doctoral curriculum, Dean Robert A.M. Stern said. Although then-Dean Thomas Beeby expressed the need for a Ph.D. program as early as 1990, it was only in 2009 that the school was able to procure the money to begin accepting applications.

The school’s Ph.D. program differs from its competitors by requiring all its candidates to have practiced architecture for at least one year in addition to their scholarly research, Stern said. Kurt Forster, director of graduate studies at the school, said this condition underlies the school’s progressive view of the academic field’s future.

“The profession is no longer going to run on the standard track of mere commentary,” Forster said. “Instead of teaching only things that are remote, our Ph.D. students will be able to look at the involvement of architecture in the life of society at large.”

Schlabs, who worked as a practicing architect for eight years before deciding to pursue a Ph.D., agreed that it is helpful to have practical experience to inform his academic work.

“It’s important to have a firm grasp of what it means to design and make something,” Schlabs said. “Our experience in the profession will be a huge asset when we teach studio classes.”

When the Ph.D. program was first established, Stern said students requested to be housed in Rudolph Hall, where the classrooms and the offices for the School of Architecture are situated. Their integration within the professional school sets them apart from other graduate students at Yale, many of whom do not have a physical space to call their own, said Joseph Clarke GRD ’15, who will lead the first “Dialogues” seminar this semester. He explained that working in the same building has allowed them to “integrate practice and scholarship under the same roof.”

Schlabs said he and the other doctoral students are “still growing into their relationship with the school,” and “Dialogues” is an essential step toward forging stronger ties with both the school and the neighboring History of Art Department. He noted that one of the things that initially attracted him to the program was its interdisciplinary nature, citing the discussion series as a way of fostering “collegial dialogue” between scholars and practitioners of other disciplines.

At each “Dialogues” event, architecture Ph.D. students give brief presentations on their research, followed by commentary from a faculty member of the student’s choice. The discussions are generally attended by a few dozen architecture students and faculty, Forster said. Schlabs added that “Dialogues” uses a conference room as opposed to a lecture hall to emulate the seminar structure, allowing faculty and students to engage with each other in “a more personal way.”

Architecture professor Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, who participated in the series last year as a faculty commentator, said she is enthusiastic about the efforts Ph.D. students are making to connect their research to the professional aspects of the school and other departments within the University. This semester’s seminars, for instance, will feature faculty from the Music, History of Art and Literature departments.

“They have introduced a new level of intellectual exchange,” Pelkonen said. “The School of Architecture is not always as engaged with the rest of Yale as we could be, and the Ph.D. candidates have created a window to the University at large. In their short time here, they have accomplished things that the faculty hasn’t been able to accomplish.”

Despite the school’s recent focus on the Ph.D. program, Stern noted that the school is “notoriously underfunded” and has only been able to take two doctoral candidates every year since each student is supported entirely by scholarships. But he added that while the program may expand in the future, its current size allows students to receive a great deal of personal attention.

The first seminar in the “Dialogues” series will be led by Clarke and music professor Brian Kane, who will speak on “The Invention of Mass Acoustics.”

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