Deborah Berke will succeed Robert Stern as the next dean of the School of Architecture, University President Peter Salovey announced Friday morning in a campuswide email. Berke will be the first female dean to lead the school.
With Berke’s appointment, the School of Architecture will become the third of Yale’s 12 graduate and professional schools to have a female head. Berke — who has taught architectural design at Yale since 1987 — is well-known for taking an interdisciplinary approach to her craft. In addition to teaching at the University, she leads Deborah Berke Partners, a firm focused on designing private residences, hotels, residential and commercial developments, as well as institutional art and music buildings. In his email, Salovey noted that Berke’s work as a practicing architect, and as a longtime faculty member at the School of Architecture, make her an ideal leader for the School.
“The appointment … will bring a new energy … and we look forward to hearing about her plans for the School,” said Marilyn Weiss, the School of Architecture’s registrar and admissions administrator.
Salovey also emphasized Berke’s interdisciplinary focus, which he said will help integrate the School of Architecture into the broader University community. He noted that during the search process, Berke discussed the benefits of strengthening relationships between the School of Architecture and other parts of the university, as well as incorporating perspectives from other fields into the teaching and practice of architecture.
In his email, Salovey added that Berke’s firm has displayed an exemplary commitment to diversity. In addition to employing an equal number of men and women, Berke’s firm recruits from a diverse set of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, Salovey said.
“Many members of the School of Architecture’s student body and faculty are excited that a woman was selected as the school’s new dean,” Alexander Kruhly ARC ’17 said. “Women have been historically underrepresented in the architectural profession; the selection of Berke signifies a commitment to broadening the diversity of voices within the school.”
Cathryn Garcia-Menocal ARC ’17 said that even before being appointed dean, Berke had made clear how aware she was of the lack of minorities and women in the profession at large, as well as within the upper echelon of design education. Garcia-Menocal added that she is excited about Berke’s openness regarding her mission to diversify the School of Architecture.
Still, some architecture students interviewed expressed disdain for the kinds of projects Berke’s firm focuses on, which primarily consist of buildings for the wealthy.
Although he said he believes Berke might be a “great administrator,” Wes Hiatt ARC ’17 said that he is not necessarily comfortable with what he feels her appointment symbolizes.
“She is perhaps not the best symbol for what the School of Architecture in the 21st century should be,” Hiatt said. “Her appointment reinforces the status quo at Yale being about money. She builds pretty much exclusively for the wealthy … To a student like me, she is on a completely different planet in terms of how we look at the world.”
Hiatt added that he thinks Berke will maintain Stern’s policies, and will not be particularly “progressive” with her deanship.
Other students, however, disagreed and called for a distinction between Berke’s professional practice and her deanship.
Garcia-Menocal pointed out that Stern has had a prolific career, realizing many projects that also cater to the wealthy — a fact that has not stopped him from creating a pluralistic environment at the School of Architecture.
“I think Deborah Berke’s success as an architect in a male-dominated profession, her commitment to education and her promise to diversify the student body — racially and socioeconomically — are already very promising and prove that she does not reinforce the status quo,” Maggie Tsang ARC ’17 said.
Faculty members also expressed interest in the possibility for innovation at the School of Architecture under Berke.
Alan Plattus ’76, a professor at the School of Architecture, said he thinks that Berke’s appointment to the deanship signals a new direction for the school — a “change of generation.”
“While we respect and owe a lot to the generation of our teachers, like Dean Stern, my generation — Deborah’s generation — has a somewhat different, more open view of architecture and the design professions,” Plattus said. “That view is aggressively inclusive, collaborative and committed to the role of architecture and the architect in making good local places and communities, as much as international reputations.”
Berke’s appointment will be effective July 1, 2016, pending the approval of the Yale Corporation.
This article reflects the version that ran in print on September 29.