Mark Gelernter, Ph.D., Assoc. AIA, is dean of the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado at Denver. He is the author of numerous books and articles on architectural history and theory and, for the past decade, he and the rest of the faculty have evolved the college’s programs to be more community-focused and practice-oriented. “We’re going through a generational shift in design education, which is exciting,” he says. “Students have more freedom than ever before to define the values of their field, and it’s our job to help them.”
One of the strengths of our school is that we are in downtown Denver, one of the country’s regional design centers, with a high number of architects per capita. We have a very close relationship to the professional community—and both sides see this as a mutual partnership. They benefit when we attract top-notch students, and we benefit when our graduates get hired.
Several years ago, we hired Chris Nimms, FAIA, as our first director of mentoring and internship programs. He came from Gensler’s Denver office, he’s very well-connected to the Denver design community, and he’s the perfect matchmaker between our students and employers.
Recently, we’ve focused on three signature areas that cut across architecture, planning, and landscape architecture. The first is “emerging practices,” which recasts the college as a think tank to reimagine professional practice in the 21st century. The hang-out-your-shingle model doesn’t seem to be viable in the way that it once was, so we want to help students help themselves to define practice going forward. Most prominent here is our award-winning design/build program.
The second area of focus is “engaged communities,” which has our students working with communities in Denver and throughout the state to help them with real planning and design projects.
The third area, which I’m really excited about, is “enduring places.” It’s the logical extension of sustainability, in encouraging the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. This brings together our historic preservation programs with our sustainability initiatives, and it encourages a renewed look at traditional languages of design. We now partner with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art to provide a certificate in classical architecture.
What is the role of a school of architecture? We serve a number of interests. We have a responsibility for educating the next generation of architects, landscape architects, and planners—and we’ve always held the view that we want our students to get not just that entry-level job, but to demonstrate leadership within the field. —As told to William Richards