Reaction: Dean Designate Berke’s Introduction

by Robert Hon, M. Arch I, ’17


In December 2007, The New York Times published this comment about Robert A.M. Stern’s 1998 appointment as Dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

‘…the reaction among a broad swath of students, faculty members and prominent  architects was shock mixed with disdainful indignation.’ (Pogrebin, Robin. ‘Building Respect at Yale.’ The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Dec. 2007. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.)

Now, after 18 years of Stern’s leadership, Deborah Berke has been appointed his successor. On November 30th she gave an introductory address outlining her vision for the school to which students have reacted in different ways: outward commendation, verbal criticism, and silent indifference. Mixed reactions are not uncommon at YSOA. In our community, conflicting ideas thrive in close proximity. Pluralism within the academic culture at Yale is an unquestionable advantage to our education.

The greatest expression of pedagogical pluralism can be seen in the multitude of architectural styles represented by the studio faculty in Rudolph Hall. Varied aesthetics represent the many social, political, and philosophical values which make for a pluralistic culture. However, aesthetics are not the motive for style nor the heart of pluralism. For example, Zaha Hadid and P.V. Aureli, ­ two studio critics with undeniably different styles, ­ cannot be compared without addressing the ideological differences which define their architecture. In short, pluralism is about ideological diversity and is represented through a multiplicity of styles.

In her introductory remarks, Dean Berke offered an alternative interpretation of pluralism:

‘Most simply, I would say that pluralism is not about styles… Pluralism today involves a   broader engagement of architecture with other cultural, social, and scientific disciplines.’  (Berke, Deborah. ‘Deborah Berke Intro Speech Transcript.’ Introduction to the Yale Architecture Community of Dean Designate Deborah Berke. YSOA, New Haven. 31 Jan. 2016. Speech.)

Dean Berke’s use of the term ‘style’ fails to acknowledge its role as representation of the current ideological diversity within YSOA. The dismissal of pluralism depicted through style represents a highly specific view of architecture. In order to retain a pedagogical diversity, we must accept different definitions of what pluralism is. Neither aesthetics nor social engagement are binary understandings of architecture. They can exist simultaneously and within a spectrum. However, prioritizing social issues over the ideological differences present in style indicates a shift towards a pluralism that denies architecture’s position as an autonomous discipline. I understand Dean Berke’s desire to provide a new direction for the school, but during this time of  transition, it is important to take stock of both the successes and failures within the program before disregarding crucial elements of the school. Skepticism about new ideas allow us to question the past, present, and future. The opinions that circulate during periods of change are what communicate our values to new leadership. Incorporating Dean Designate Berke’s ideas into the school’s definition of pluralism are important to the progress of architecture at Yale; however, replacing relevant ideas with a new direction could undermine inclusion. True pluralism accepts disparate ideas as equally relevant.