Winnie Au
On Friday, the Yale School of Architecture announced that Deborah Berke, FAIA, was picked to become the school's new dean. When Berke takes over next July, she will fill shoes previously only occupied by men. She plans to continue to practice at her New York–based firm, Deborah Berke Partners, which she founded in 1982. ARCHITECT spoke with Berke over the phone about the new position and what's in store for the coming months.


ARCHITECT: First of all, congratulations on your new gig.
Berke: Thank you very much. The gig itself doesn't start until July 1st of next year, so I am getting ready for it. The announcement was now, but the gig starts later.

That's actually my first question, what are you doing now to prepare?
Reading, talking, thinking, but this will build over the course of the next eight months, obviously.

Do you have any plans yet for what you want to do once you are in the position?
I have three broad-stroke missions for the school. One is to make it possible for the best students to be able to come to Yale. Diversity is a very overused word but you know—socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity. I am interested in the profession of architecture reflecting the population, what the population looks like, so an eye toward that. That is, I think, both about outreach and scholarship. I have an interest in interdisciplinary studies, taking advantage of the broader Yale University community, and an interest in supporting the architecture school's faculty in their work and in their broader interaction with the university.

Will you be moving to New Haven, Conn.?

I will keep my place in New York. My husband is not moving, he works here. And my practice will remain here. I may open a satellite office in New Haven, but I will be moving to New Haven.

I understand that you are going to continue your work at Deborah Berke Partners. How are you going to balance those two workloads?
Well, it's an interesting question, and I wondered whether this question was going to come up and whether there were any—forgive me, I'm not picking on you by saying this at all—gendered implications of the question, because the Yale dean has always been a practitioner. And my feeling is, if Bob Stern [FAIA] can do it, and César Pelli [FAIA] can do it, then I can do it.

Yale School of Art by Deborah Berke Partners.
Yale School of Art by Deborah Berke Partners.

Are there any realignments or promotions that you are planning to help balance that?
We've recently promoted a number of people here, and it turned out that that will be a wonderful thing in terms of my need to balance my responsibilities at Yale with my responsibilities in my practice going forward, but that was just good fortune, that timing.

Will you still be teaching?
I love teaching, and I've been teaching architecture for a very long time. In my first year or two, I probably will not teach, because I think there is a lot of work to do, and I need to get to know the university better. So yes, someday, but not immediately.

You are the school's first female dean. What does that role mean to you?

I'm the first female architecture dean at Yale. There's a woman dean at Columbia, a soon-to-be dean at Princeton, there's been a woman dean at Penn for a fairly long time (that's Marilyn Taylor), there's a woman dean at the University of Virginia, at Berkeley [Ed. note: Amale Andraos, Assoc. AIA, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Monica Ponce de Leon, AIA, incoming dean of Princeton University's School of Architecture; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design; Beth Meyer, dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture; Jennifer Wolch, dean of the University of California, Berkeley's College of Environmental Design]. I'm thrilled to be the first woman dean at Yale, but what I think this broad sort of coterie of women deans means is that there are many women qualified to be in these positions. And that's good news for the profession and the discipline.

Are there projects that you are trying to wrap up before you take on this role?
No, in part because I don't see it that way at all. I am a practitioner, I love making things, and I am going to continue to practice, so it's not like there is some crazy race to finish something before I start spending time in New Haven. First of all, I think now architecture isn't practiced that way anyhow. It's not like I'm here with a pencil at a drawing board, right, everything is electronic. One of my partners lives in Reykjavik, one of our principals lives in Durham—we are already in multiple locations. The job is not like that, it's not the end of one thing and the beginning of another, it's just the beginning of another.

Any overall thoughts about the new job?
Other than real excitement, no. I am really excited about it and that's the honest truth—I am really excited about it. My office is supportive, my family is supportive, I have been committed for a long time to architectural education and I'm just excited.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.