May 20, 2021
I am writing to you today, following President Bollinger’s message, to confirm that I will be stepping down from my position as Dean of GSAPP at the end of December 2021. As of July, I will begin serving as Special Advisor to the President with a particular focus on the work of the Columbia Climate School, and I look forward to assisting in the building of this once-in-a-lifetime endeavor.
It has been my greatest honor to serve the GSAPP faculty, students, alumni, and staff over these past years. It is not easy to capture the outstanding intellectual as well as human qualities that I believe render our School special and different: the vibrancy, dedication, passion, imagination, resourcefulness, and creative irreverence that make its ecology sparkle. Thank you all for the thoughtfulness, care, and commitment you have brought to the School over these past years.
When I moved to New York City almost twenty years ago, my partner Dan Wood and I launched our firm WORKac with a steadfast commitment to advancing the field solely through the lens of architectural practice and its messy realities. And yet, despite that commitment, I soon found myself intoxicated by the spaces of academia and their capacities to create endless opportunities for developing new ideas and exploring, without boundaries, not only what architecture and the disciplines of the built environment already are, but what they can become.
Nowhere has this sense of intellectual freedom, openness, and generosity been truer than at Columbia University, and at GSAPP in particular. Since joining the faculty in 2011, I found the space, support, and drive to develop my own voice, take intellectual risks, and explore ideas around architecture that I have long sought to assemble in new ways. Empowering the next generation of architects, scholars, and practitioners of the built environment to explore new modes of practice and imagine new forms of engagement—across all scales of the built environment—is what I have strived to do as Dean.
Over the past seven years, the School has enabled new forms of research across multiple disciplines and with multiple forms of support. We launched two centers and numerous labs and initiatives, all of which continue to address the overlapping challenges of Climate Change, social and racial equity, as well as the impact of data and technology on the built environment. Additionally, two new academic programs—the first PhD in Historic Preservation in the US as well as the Computational Design Practices program which will welcome its first class of students in the summer of 2022—were launched, both of which contribute to the School’s commitment to cross-disciplinary collaborations and exchanges that will allow our fields to address the urgent issues facing the built environment today and in the future. New modes of expanded and engaged practice were supported through initiatives such as the GSAPP Incubator and the GSAPP Incubator Prize, which have supported over 115 alumni working on 75 projects around the world.
We were able to make significant progress in our commitment to financially support our students with steady year-after-year increases in financial aid through the School’s fundraising campaign. I have no doubt that this commitment must continue to be central to GSAPP’s future if we are to maintain our aspirations to welcome students from all backgrounds. GSAPP is also seeing a greater representation, in both students and faculty, of voices and backgrounds across gender, ethnic, and racial as well as national dimensions. This is of course still nowhere near where we need to be—as a School, as disciplines, and as practices—but I am proud of the difficult and crucial work of active self-reflection and self-criticism that brought us together as faculty, students, and staff throughout this past year to produce the GSAPP Anti-Racism Action Plan. My deepest hope is that this first map will continue to advance sustainable long-term transformations across the School and beyond.
Climate Change is one of the main reasons I accepted to serve as Dean seven years ago. I hope that in this new role as Special Advisor to the President, I will be able to continue to advocate for our disciplines’ urgent transformations so that they may help address the challenges already here and across our shared planet. I believe that the field of architecture and the built environment can be crucial forms of knowledge and expertise in advancing the collective actions that are needed.
Finally, I want to thank President Bollinger for his unwavering support and thoughtful guidance. I have confidence that GSAPP’s foundations and its community will continue to grow and evolve in necessary and powerful directions under new leadership and that it will continue to empower new voices for our challenging, vibrant, and hopefully joyful new future. Thank you all again for making GSAPP the unique, always inspiring and endlessly transforming community that it is.