On Jan. 1, Marvin Malecha, FAIA, took over as president and chief academic officer of the NewSchool of Architecture & Design in San Diego. Previously, Malecha had been a member of the NewSchool Board of Directors since 2010. He also previously served as AIA president in 2009, dean of the College of Design at North Carolina State University for 20 years, and dean of the College of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, for more than a decade.
ARCHITECT spoke with Malecha to learn what he hopes to accomplish in the new position and where he thinks the profession is heading.
ARCHITECT: What are your goals for this new position?
Malecha: One goal is to continue that vital relationship between the school and its context, a city that’s in a major, vital transformation. [The NewSchool has] a model of education that allows us to change and transform our curriculum with the agility that most big public universities can only admire from afar. I want that vitality. Another goal is to build into the school's culture a responsiveness for new ways of doing things and new technologies. I see design thinking at the essence of an architectural education. We [as architects] begin [solving] problems not just when a client hands us a program, but [also when] we decide on whether the site or the investment is appropriate. Now, architects are getting involved not only with designing the building, but also helping to design the organization of the people who work in the building. They work on commissioning buildings, post-occupancy evaluations, accessibility, and energy audits. That culture change is, at the core, my highest priority.
How has architectural education as a whole
changed over the course of your career?
Now faculty members are expected to be practitioners and teachers who are accountable for their work. Students are coming into the program now with amazing credentials. I'm a college student of the late ’60s and early ’70s, the supposed cultural revolution, and I can tell you that was more a period of chaos than it was of clarity. There is greater clarity today. These students want to be socially involved and the faculty is prepared to give them the tools to be socially involved. There is a greater [emphasis] on preparing people to enter a dynamic profession than there was before. That’s why the future of the profession is so exciting.
How has the shift in the diversity of
architecture students changed the way that the discipline is taught?
There are more women studying and the diversity of the population [is growing]. At a moment in time after 2008, architectural education was challenged in such a vital way as to whether it was relevant to the future or not. What we see now is an architectural education where faculty and students are acutely aware that there is no single way to practice architecture. … [Young people] are seeking different ways of practicing. Some are practicing with artists; others are practicing with social activists. We’re at an exciting moment in time. I think the model at NewSchool gives the freedom to be responsive to that kind of profession in a much more agile way. That’s frankly one of the reasons why I came to NewSchool. I'm not one of those people who will tell you that architecture is dead—I believe it’s more vital now than it ever has been. We just have to make our case, be strong, and make people understand how important designers are to the future of our culture.
What inspires your passion for
architecture and architectural education?
As architects and designers, we have such a special way of seeing the world. What we do is valuable to the rest of the world—we need to be aware of that as an architecture profession. When I was AIA National president, I saw this passion for the future of our culture, cities, and environment. We should promote that and be proud of that. The people who enter these professions want to make the world better and enhance people’s lives. It isn’t really architecture until people live and work in it. It’s not really architecture until those lives are improved somehow. That’s my fundamental commitment to what I'm doing.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.