Letter From The Dean

Deborah Berke

Photography by Winnie Au

Architecture is a broad and complex discipline, a profession and a part of culture, an art that shapes the built environment but is also influenced by the world at large. Architects create, respond, direct, and elicit. They can draw inspiration from nearly anything: rap, ballet, philosophy, the social sciences, and the expanding digital universe, but also from meditative moments of solitude, hand-wrought objects, and everyday urban and domestic life. I believe in embracing this expansive interdisciplinary approach.

Back in 15 BCE, Vitruvius made the case that an architect should “be educated, skillful with the pencil, instructed in geometry, know much history, have followed the philosophers with attention, understand music, have some knowledge of medicine, know the opinions of jurists, and be acquainted with astronomy and the theory of the heavens.”

That analysis predated our educational system; it preceded any sort of worldwide consciousness of the built environment or, indeed, awareness of anything global at all. But its central claim holds up today, evident in our comprehensive understanding of the profession. In fact, Vitruvius’s call for a broadly trained architect seems all the more relevant now with technological advances leading to new building practices and contemporary problems necessitating new solutions. A robust architectural education, I believe, must offer expansive breadth and intense depth. Here, at Yale, we understand architecture as the most public of arts, and as a discipline that is inextricably linked to others, including the humanities, the social and physical sciences, the applied and fine arts, and business and finance.

We seek to respond to the complexity of today’s globalized world— rapid urbanization and climate change, contested spatial and geographic borders, the increasing disparities in living conditions— with the claim that architecture has never been more important, more challenging to create, and more potentially transformative. And although the global nature of our work would take Vitruvius by surprise, he might recognize some version of his call for theoretical and practical mastery— for a rigorous, syncretic approach— in our own educational program.

At Yale, we also approach architecture with curiosity, appreciation, and— when necessary— a healthy dose of skepticism. We encourage lively debate even as we foster inclusion and respect and embrace diverse perspectives. These values are a part of our tradition; I believe strongly that they continue to represent the way forward.