Interview With Dean Berke

Members of the Paprika editorial team sat down with Dean Deborah Berke for a conversation on Tuesday, August 30th.

How has the transition been?

I would say pretty great. I had the good fortune of a really long runway both because my appointment was announced so early and because I’ve had the summer. The new dean of the art school [Marta Kuzma] was at the university cabinet retreat last week—I like her enormously and can’t wait to work with her on lots of stuff—and she had just arrived and I thought “woah, you’re going to really be on charrette for the next couple of weeks.”
Let’s talk about bridging the gap over Chapel street [between the School of Art and School of Architecture].
Right now I’d call it the pre-discussion. [Marta and I] are both interested in our schools being part of a larger Yale community, larger New Haven community, larger New England community, and larger northeastern community. Concentric layers of community that we can build. With that commonality things can start to happen. There won’t be a radical change tomorrow morning, it’s more of a shared interest that will move forward as we both begin to reshape our schools. Art and Architecture working together is very obvious; we are physically close to each other and have a long history together. We get beyond that and realize that music and drama are here on our end of the campus, too; and then there’s a broader interest across the campus that Peter Salovey is pushing. That is, in a very positive way, what is in the air.

That is something that we’re interested in as students. It is difficult for us at times—and the burden is on us, certainly—to get outside of these walls. What are some ways that the administration can encourage us to pursue other areas of interest?

Some of what we can do for you is very pragmatic: to look at things like course schedules and timing so that it is possible for you to take a course in Italian literature that is a 10 minute walk away and try to make sure our schedules don’t conflict. That too can’t happen overnight, but we’re starting to coordinate class schedules to make it easier for people to venture across campus.
On a more profound level, I would say it’s us giving you the encouragement and support to be better at managing your time so that you can do what you said: take your course schedule on as your responsibility. We have to help make that a little more possible. The most heroic thing in the world is not to charette for three days and be some absurd smelly hero. That is not a good idea. Finish your work and if there is a great show at the Yale Rep, go see it. When is that opportunity going to come again?

On the other hand, some propose that the discipline should focus on what it is architects can do…

I don’t believe that and I don’t think isolation produces unique voices, only echos. For those that argue that you are here and you should spend all your time doing what you came here for, I would say that architecture is part of larger community any way you cut it. Getting out of the building is important for you as architects. What we should do as members of the larger Yale community and New Haven community is encourage people to come in here so that we are not only going out, but, in fact, people are coming in to find out what we do, whether it’s to see your work in the studios, or the juries, or lectures or exhibitions; work that is interesting enough to venture into this building for, one that they don’t know or don’t necessarily feel welcome in. That is a good thing we can do, that is good for architecture.
We’re trying something this year: this Friday morning the faculty from Formal Analysis, Viz, and first semester studio and I are going to meet with the first year class and talk about how it’s going to work. Hopefully by saying it all in the same room at the same time and having the faculty members hear what each other have to say, as well as the students hearing what the faculty members have to say, we can make a little progress. What we want to do is get across that there is a conscious effort and some care taken into how those three courses, which are viewed as competitors for time, are organized and coordinated so that the faculty really do believe the work can get done.

Is there a place or a building in New Haven that you feel like students should go to? Do you have a favorite?

I’m not going to pick any favorite buildings. (laughter)
You know everyone asks that question, I don’t know the answer yet. I’m not voting until the end. I will tell you this: I went to Pepe’s last week and I instagrammed [@deborahberke] the sign and I got a lot of likes, for me, a pretty modest instagram person. What was interesting was instantly there were comments like, “what about Sally’s?.” Usually my little sunset pictures don’t get any response but there was a firestorm of Sally’s lovers that emerged. It’s very political it turns out. Who knew.

Can you talk about the upcoming advanced studio lineup? What was your role in deciding who would be coming?

The fall faculty is a combination of people Bob had invited and people Bob had invited and asked my advice on. I think we have an interesting spectrum of people and subject matter. That’s true again in the spring. It’s my goal over the years to come to increase the… I’m hesitating to use the word diversity because it has come to mean race, gender, ethnicity, or background, which is a kind of diversity that I’m interested in, of course, but I’m also interested in the nature of the design subjects being discussed. So a broadening of what gets offered in advanced studios is something we are moving towards.

What sort of commitment do you have to the preservation of Rudolph Hall and how might the building grow or change?

You’re going to start to see some physical changes over the next six to eight months as we work within the envelope we’ve been given to update areas to better suit our current needs. How does that sound for corporate-o-speak?

Very political.

Working on my skillset over here (laughter).
I do think among the things we’re missing are casual places to gather, places for impromptu exhibitions, and impromptu small meetings—that we’re going to change. That we can change within the framework we have been given

What’s going to happen with the eighth floor?

You mean the penthouse. Why do you ask that question?

First interviewer: I think it’s a symbol of the top down structure within the school which I don’t particularly enjoy…
Second interviewer: I think it just has a mystique in the student body.

As you know I have been at the school in various capacities for a very long time[…]In my early days here when I was pretty much full time faculty and teaching first semester studio that was the coffee shop and it was fantastic. So it was the inverse of what you are describing. It wasn’t Rudolph’s private lair, it was where you would go for food and coffee. Students and faculty would use it equally, and Maria, the women behind the counter, would actually make food herself and serve it, which I’m sure was against every single Yale regulation imaginable but it was great. They didn’t serve diet soda and she would keep a stockpile for Steven Harris because that was the only thing he was drinking at the time. It was fun, it felt like it was part of a community and it was our community. She would even bake the cookies for the cookie time in the crits.
My biggest reservation in figuring out how to use it—because it is an asset— is one, it’s not accessible and two, it’s really small. So what kind of event is appropriate that everybody can get there equally and safely and that “everybody” is a small number. The biggest regret I have is that in the renovation of this building they felt that keeping it the way it was was more important than making it fully accessible.

We received the pink slips in our mailboxes— that is to say the event posters [laughter]. In reference to the lecture series, what was the process for deciding who would be coming to speak?

I will say: credit to Bob, many of the invitations went out in the spring before I was dean, but we did a lot of talking. Since the fall I had been coming up with a very long list of people and I think this is only the beginning of what you’re going to see over a couple of years and on after that. One thing you see about the poster is it’s about the people and not about Yale [makes a “Y” symbol with her arms]. The other is that there are a fair number of women, a fair number of non-architects, a person of color, and there are in-house people because the people who teach here are good and smart.

Are we right in saying there are three symposia for this year? Two for this semester and one for the next?

The first symposium that goes with the exhibition is short and it’s tied to people who have Oskar Hansen as an area of expertise. I’m excited about it. It’ll be a Thursday lecture and a Friday half-day. Mark Gage’s symposium is actually two-and-a-half full days of people speaking. He has a very interesting list of speakers that includes philosophers and non-architects. Michelle [Addington] is doing a symposium in the spring which is just starting to take shape. The goal, I think, is to have a variety of event sizes and this feels like a test run, some might be of interest to everybody and some might be of interest to a few people, and that’s okay.