Legacy

Legacy

 

Coinciding with the celebration of 100 Years of Architecture at USC, and the related panel discussion, Legacy of Leadership: The Deans of the USC School of Architecture held on April 2, 2014, architectural writer Guy Horton has been interviewing the deans who took part on the panel. Five deans were asked a series of questions to get their perspectives on what it means to be dean at the School, how they approached the role, and what its greatest challenges are.

 

The Legacy Interviews:

Sam T. Hurst, FAIA

Dean 1961-1971

As one of the longest-serving deans (1961-1971), Sam T Hurst has had a significant and lasting impact on the School, including designing the School’s home, Watt Hall, and getting it built. He also helped bring the Gamble House to USC. Guy Horton met with Hurst at his home in Santa Barbara. The house, designed by USC alumnus, Thornton Ladd (1924-2010), defined by its glass walls and shoji screens, was the perfect setting for their conversation on the essence of architecture, capitalism…and poetry.

 

Guy Horton: How would you describe your leadership style as a dean?

Sam Hurst: I was hands on. I wasn’t practicing at the time so I could devote myself full time to the role. It was Walter Gropius who influenced me most when it came to teaching. He considered it a high calling.

 

GH: What was it like being dean during the period you held the position? What were the major issues, objectives, challenges?

SH: The school was mostly relying on part-time faculty so it was important to build a full-time faculty as the core. I brought Harlold Hauf from Rensselaer, Dimetry Vergun, educated at MIT and then practicing, and Crombie Taylor who had been the director of the Institute of Design in Chicago. It was Taylor who had introduced me to European modernism when I was at Georgia Tech. I also brought in Ralph Knowles, trained at MIT, who would later become dean at USC.

 

GH: How did you become dean?

SH: After one year at Harvard with Gropius, I taught at Tulane. I was interested in regionalism and had done some consulting in Los Angeles. I went back to Georgia to practice in a large firm but was later invited by Auburn University to chair their School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. I told them I didn’t’ think I could work well with the current dean so I turned them down. The next day I got another call and was invited to be the dean. This was the beginning. Then I got a call from the USC president, Norman Topping. I was asked to help rebuild the program. I left Auburn, where I had just built a new home near a stream, for the opportunity to move to a larger realm of influence. The deal was that if I came I would re-unite fine arts and architecture and be able to consult on campus architecture. Most US schools were deep in classicism and beaux arts tradition. My mandate was also to reform the curriculum and bring in more modernist influences with people like Taylor.

 

GH: You worked for Walter Gropius from 1948-49. At the Legacy Lecture you said it changed your life. How?

SH: I got a job at TAC, The Architects’ Collaborative, Gropius’ firm, along with I.M. Pei. I would be with Gropius in his office in the a.m. and in studio at the GSD in the afternoon. The important contribution he made to me was a method of approaching things. He always asked why, why make something. He would make you justify what you did. He opened my mind and encouraged me to stay in education. In later years, when I was teaching at Georgia Tech, I invited him for a Bauhaus exhibition.

 

GH: You said architecture has lost its moorings and needs to return to the meaning of life and social improvement. Could you explain this a little more? What needs to change in architectural education to promote this?

SH: In simple terms, architecture has sold out to highest bidder. Its lost its soul to capitalism and is designed to appeal to advertising and financial interests. We need to return to the ground of its meaning, the social dimensions of architecture. Architecture needs to return to its social, humanist roots.

 

GH: How did you come to design Watt Hall and what was your role? What were you trying to achieve and do you think it succeeded?

SH: The president of USC at the time wanted me to be the design architect and lead the effort for a new building. The federal government was making grants to universities so I wrote a proposal and it was accepted. The building is called Watt Hall because one of the trustees, Ray Watt, matched the federal grant with a generous donation. Killingsworth, Brady & Associates did the final drawings. I rented an office off-campus to work on the design. We ran a fifth-year studio to study of the program.

 

GH: So what’s that cantilever at the second floor all about?

SH: It was originally conceived as a two-story building but structurally designed to take a third floor. It started with Fischer Gallery next door. The new had to connect with the old so the initial concept created a relationship with two bridges. I wanted a building you could see in and out of, see through in parts, so we used concrete columns with glass in-fill, translucent and transparent. Trying to move away from red brick on campus, we used bush hammer concrete—the finish is like stone. There was already a precedent for concrete with the graduate school of business and the law school, both done by I.M. Pei. Watt Hall was one of three or four buildings being built for noteworthy architecture schools, including the GSD. I’m proud that it was the only one that didn’t need repairs.

 

GH: How did you get the Gamble House?

SH: Randall Makinson was on the faculty as an instructor, he was a friend of Jim Gamble so this is why it was offered to USC. At that time, the trustees turned it down. They didn’t want the responsibility. Makinson and I proposed a joint title with city of Pasadena where the city would take care of the grounds and USC the house. When it was being threatened by a condo development I testified to save it. Makinson was the first curator. We got the house in 1966.

 

GH: Do you think the challenges of being a dean today are different from when you held the position?

SH: Not so different. The test is still about development.

 

GH: You read a poem at the Legacy Lecture. Why is that poem meaningful to you and when did you discover it?

SH: To me it expresses the essence of architecture: how to deal with light. Tom Adams, the poet, was his neighbor.

 

Sketch for a House

By Tom Adams

Build me a house of changing light

That shall reflect the moving year

And not forget the robin’s sound in spring

Nor yet deny the frightened leaf

Chased by winter wind.

Build me a house of strong forgetfulness

Of world’s small wrong and thrice forgotten right

Where toil and pain and weariness

Evaporate in harmony of space.

Wherein remembrance catches time

And holds it on a thrush’s note

Or swift thought fixing on a falling star

Awakes to do bold things,

Unheard of things, at once so brave, so new

That all of time caught here

Beneath these windows on the world

Is one, and the ages that shall be,

Though savage yet and dark of hope

Shall feel this light

And still with winter breaking into spring

Unfold their hands and with new open eyes

Live.

 

GH: You’re quite the eloquent speaker. Where does that come from?

SH: I had to develop that more and more because I was asked to speak so much. As one of the nation’s youngest deans, I was invited all over the country. I was 37 when I became dean at Auburn. The AIA also appointed me to committees on housing and the future of profession so I had lots of chances to speak. But where it really comes from, I think, is from being raised in the rural south and being part of the Baptist Church. I was brought up reciting passages from the Bible and speaking in front of people.

 

GH: What three words best describe you as an architect?

SH: Humanist. Consistent. Open. I’ve been open to change, able to respond, take advantage of opportunities, speak to problems of urbanism, and what the AIA could do to encourage city planning. I also brought planning, architecture, and landscape architecture together.

 

GH: What three words best describe you as dean?

SH: I don’t think I can do that. It doesn’t dignify the position.

 

Ralph Knowles

Professor Emeritus

Dean 1973-1975

 

Having taught at the School of Architecture for over 40 years, Ralph Knowles has witnessed the School’s evolution firsthand. He was dean from 1973-1975, following Sam Hurst. Through his teaching and leadership he has played an instrumental role in reasserting the importance of research and developing new knowledge in architecture. Guy Horton spoke with him about the importance of generating new knowledge in the field, the rewards of teaching, and the challenges that lie ahead.

 

Guy Horton: What was it like being dean during the period you held the position? What were the major issues, objectives, challenges?

Ralph Knowles: Sam Hurst (Dean, 1961-1971) brought the influence of the Bauhaus. At that time it was fine arts and architecture. That’s the school I inherited. Watt Hall was just completed and we had to figure out how to make everything work spatially with the two programs. It was our first semester in the new building. The question of where architecture as a profession and as an academic discipline was going was also very acute at that time. We were looking at alternative models for schools. My emphasis was on research as a way for the school to generate new knowledge and enrich the profession. This wasn’t happening much at that time. This eventually lead to establishing Building Science as a degree program. So there was a shift in the value of research at the school. Generating knowledge became important. The landscape architecture program in some ways came out of this, too. There is always this conflict between the designer as form-giver and the designer as a creator of new knowledge. The question is, what informs design intuition? I think research is the key to this. The school has to accept the responsibility of doing research that furthers the profession.

 

It was also a period of great strife in the country. There had been race riots in the city and the trustees thought of moving the campus west, leaving that part of the city behind. I had done research on how street patterns predict development so I presented this to the trustees and showed them how downtown and the surrounding areas had the most pressure to grow. I could be wrong about this but I think this is what convinced them to keep USC where it is. This set a lot of things in motion for the future.

 

GH: How would you describe your leadership style as dean?

RK: Sam had hired a whole bunch of great new faculty so my goal was to let them do their thing. The dean is powerless in an academic sense and this is how it should be I think. The faculty set and implement the curriculum. I worked on larger issues and spent a lot of time on university committees. I was on 8-10 different committees and was able to do things outside the school at the university level.

 

GH: How did you become dean?

RK: I was very happily working on a book over summer recess in Aspen, Colorado for MIT Press. I got a call. Sam is leaving, would I like to take over as dean? I had been director of the design program so I had some experience in administration. My interests were in teaching and research. Being a dean needs a whole different set of skills.

 

GH: What do you perceive to be the current challenges facing the acting dean and the School?

RK: Research has to be the basis for informing design intuition. We have environmental challenges, housing, dealing with drought, all issues require cooperation between research and design. Housing is a big one. How does an architect respond to that? How does the architect remain relevant? We often conceive of the profession as being about design, but that’s not what is pressing on us right now. Energy problems, too. Here we’ve built a balance between design, research, landscape and building science, a balance of different programs. But how do these programs interact and feed off of each other. The next great challenge is becoming a better school by integrating these different programs.

 

GH: You started teaching at Auburn right after completing your M.Arch at MIT. Did you always know you wanted teach and what drew you to Auburn?

RK: I did graduate work at MIT. Sam brought me from MIT. He was very persuasive and ultimately allowed freedom. I started my solar research at Auburn.

 

GH: How did you make the journey from Auburn to USC? Sam Hurst mentioned that he wanted to bring you to USC after he had become dean. Why did he want you at USC?

RK: My mentor at MIT was Eduardo Catalano. When Sam asked me to come to USC after he had made the move from Auburn I asked him what he thought and he said, “Go west, young man. There’s more freedom.” And he was right. There was. Sam brought a social sense to the School and this was an influence on me. He put me in charge of the design program. He gave me the freedom to explore. I converted a studio into a research lab for studying the impact of nature on buildings. We generated a lot of knowledge on the impact of sun, wind, and water on building form. Tom Mayne was one of the students who experienced this.

 

GH: What do you value most about teaching?

RK: Learning. Absolutely. I once joked that you don’t teach what you know, you teach what you don’t know. You pose problems in studio that have social and environmental dimensions. Knowledge accumulates over the years and designs get better and better. It’s an exciting and productive way to teach. It’s a great way to live a life.

 

GH: How did you get interested in the sun, solar access, and the solar envelope?

RK: At Auburn I was interested in how sunlight was controlled in buildings. That led to the issue of solar access, how to use the sun. The oil embargo and energy crisis in the early eighties opened up this field of research. Unfortunately as the energy crisis eased under Reagan the funding dried up. The two major issues I was interested in were converting sunlight via photovoltaics and daylighting. One example is a solar access study for development along Wilshire. I studied the impact of proposed high-rises along one stretch where there was an existing residential neighborhood. I was able to show how a low-rise alternative would preserve sunlight for this residential area to the north. At that time there was an interest in applying this model to the whole city but it was never applied universally. These things are tough. That’s why they are issues. But we have to confront these issues and make them part of the problem solving in our studios.

 

GH: What did you take away from the Legacy lecture?

RK: It was a great time. I saw it as honoring Sam. Sam set the tone. I liked hearing from the others. It was interesting to hear Bob Harris talk about education. It was a nice thing to do and it was interesting for the faculty to hear. I gives people a chance to answer relevant questions. There’s been a lot of good things to come out of the  school. I’m very grateful to the School. It continues to be an important progression of learning and development for me.

 

GH: What are you working on currently? Is there another book in the works?

RK: I doubt there is another book. But I do chapters in other people’s books. Writing a book is incredibly hard. I’ve gotten what I’ve wanted to say said. I travel. I communicate with past students. I do a little gardening, writing, cooking. I’ve always been interested in cooking and now I have the time to do it. We’ve lived in the same house in Silver Lake for 50 years. Across from the lake. We moved in in 1964. I didn’t design the house, but we’ve re-done it four or five times—double glazing, solar on roof, re-doing the front, there is always something to do!

 

Robert Harris, FAIA, Hon. ASLA

Director, Discipline of Landscape Architecture

Dean 1981-1992

 

He recently talked to Robert Harris, dean from 1981-1992, about his experiences and what he sees as the challenges for the School moving forward. He was director of Graduate Programs in Architecture from 1993-2004 and since 2007 has been director of the Master of Landscape Architecture program.

 

Guy Horton: How would you define the role of dean at the USC School of Architecture? And is there anything distinct about the role compared to other architecture schools?

Robert Harris: I always thought the role of dean was to help as many people as possible. It’s  important to participate in what’s worth doing. What’s different? In LA you are in the center of a complex region defined by different relationships. The mountains, the sea, cultural diversity, environmental issues, water resources. All require the attention of all disciplines at the School. LA is like a creative lab that attracts people to do remarkable work in places that desperately need help. It’s urgent. So being at USC is different in this way.

 

GH: How would you describe your leadership style as dean?

RH: In studios we go desk to desk, not waiting, not passive, we need to bring something. We need to figure out ‘Where the hell am I?’ At the beginning of a project I like to figure out what’s going on, then I look to how can I help. When I came to a meeting I used to bring something. It was a way to focus our attention and attend to something urgent or critical.

 

GH: What was it like being dean during the period you held the position? What were the major issues, objectives, challenges?

RH: It was a tumultuous time, following a period of three interim deans. By the time I came along there was a bit of messiness. Secondly, I was 46 years old and the core faculty were older so there was some awkwardness because of that. Thirdly, during the interim dean period there was a need to hire new faculty. We had to figure out what positions were needed. It was important to figure out how to make a difference. The program needed reconstituting but I also had to attend to the advanced studios of the School. We were also in a recession and there was a new USC president. Add to this the problem of white flight from the city center. So there was the plight of the city going on just outside the campus. And there we were. It was distracting from research and teaching. All the complexity and uncertainty. I had to figure out what was real in the world and get used to it.

 

GH: How did you become dean?

RH: I was dean at the University of Oregon (School of Architecture and Allied Arts) for ten years (1971-1981) and it was there that I began to think more about how cities grow and how to manage the environment. USC was a good setting to think about things like this. What really worked was to focus on city centers.

 

GH: You were very involved with the city. Do you see this as part of the role of the architect, ideally?

RH: A city evolves project by project. Whether it’s a big freeway, or an addition to a home, it’s all remodeling the city. You have to take care to enhance the space around a project. It’s iterative. Thousands of projects can make the city better…or worse depending on what they are. The façade of a building is the inside face of the street, this is the ‘street room’. The School needs to teach this.

 

GH: You co-chaired the Downtown Strategic Plan Advisory Committee and were instrumental in establishing the city’s first Design Advisory Panel in the late 1980s. How did that come about?

RH: As dean at USC, I worked with then dean of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA, Richard Weinstein, and Merry Norris, who was Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission, to improve professional advice to both the Cultural Affairs Commission and to the Mayor’s office. A meeting with Mayor Tom Bradley (Mayor of Los Angeles, 1973-1993) was arranged and the Design Advisory Panel was established. I served because it was an important responsibility and because each project posed complex architecture and urban design issues. Each public project is an opportunity to study more deeply what matters to you and to the city.

 

GH: Did you continue to practice while dean? Teach?

RH: My research was civic work. I taught studios and helped develop four theory courses required for students in the Mater of Architecture program and the Master of Landscape Architecture program. Over the years I have taught two of them: ARCH 561, Architecture in the Urban Landscape: Projects and Places; ARCH 563, Architecture in the Urban Landscape: Comparative Theories. All four courses continue to be taught with revisions over time. In fall 2013 I taught ARCH 544, Urban Landscape: Process and Place.

 

GH: How did you make the journey from architecture to landscape architecture and why was this important to you?

RH: That long story began in graduate school where architecture was understood as part of its place and surroundings. An important journal was “Landscape”, which I read cover to cover each month. My subsequent teaching and practice was “urban” architecture, always connected to places and districts. I proposed the initiation of a landscape architecture program at the University of Texas during the third year of my first teaching appointment. When I moved to the University of Oregon I especially respected and learned much from its strong degree programs in landscape architecture. My professional practice increasingly included more urban design then architecture commissions.  At USC it seemed natural to co-found its first degree program in landscape architecture and to continue urban design teaching, practice, research and civic engagement. I believe that if I had known about landscape architecture when I was young that I may very well have followed that path.

 

GH: You were instrumental in setting up the landscape architecture program. How did that come about?

RH: Emmet Wemple had been teaching landscape architecture courses within the Bachelor of Architecture program for many years prior to my arrival at USC in 1981. Together we founded the first Master of Landscape Architecture degree around 1985, and Emmet was the first Director of the program.

 

GH: What is the role of preservation in architecture and architectural education?

RH: The basic truth is that every project is remodeling. There’s already something there, cultural signs. You can’t see what is real to people, memories, meaning. You have to figure out what you are about to mess up and be very careful in the beginning. Where am I? It’s all one thing. Not two separate thing  At the University of Oregon I established the first heritage conservation program west of the Mississippi.

 

GH: Did serving as dean change you or your perspective, the way you practice or view the profession?

RH: I became more aware of attending to the wholeness of things. From first becoming dean, I was aware that any part relates to the whole, a room is part of a cluster of rooms.

 

GH: Do you think the challenges of being dean today are different from when you held the position?

RH: For one thing there is more happening at the speed of light. Global connections, being bombarded by emails. Enhanced complexity does not make it easier. When I was dean I lived through a period of radical social change and this had its own challenges.

 

GH: What do you perceive to be the current challenges facing the acting dean and the School?

RH: The increased complexity of social and cultural realms is staggering. There are opportunities to be had from diversity, but a dean from anywhere has cultural mountain to climb. What is  critical now is to understand where are we as a school and who are we now.

 

GH: What are you looking forward to at the Legacy lecture? And where do you hope the discussion will go?

RH: It could be that it will instill interest in what I said before: who we are now and where we are going. The School is much bigger now so its hard to get a community to come together.

 

GH: Here is something I’m asking everyone even though it sounds ridiculous. What three words best describe you as an architect?

RH: Attentive, responsive, inventive.

 

GH: That was fast. OK. What three words best describe you as dean?

RH: Persistent…I always find a way.

 

GH: That’s only one word.

RH: I know, but it’s a good one. 

 

Victor Albert Regnier

Professor

ACSA Distinguished Professor

Professor of Architecture and Gerontology

Dean 1992-1996

 

Victor Regnier was dean from 1992-1996, a time of great change. He recalls that period as like being in the “wild west”, when the University considered a “re-organization” that could have merged the School of Architecture into another unit (like engineering).  Regnier’s leadership helped turn the situation around. He credits his success at that time, in part, to being plugged into the greater University community through his contacts with faculty in other disciplines and his experience as a researcher working with USC administrators.
 

Guy Horton: How would you define the role of dean at the USC School of Architecture? And is there anything distinct about the role compared to other architecture schools?

Victor Regnier: Deans have enormous power at USC because they can make decisions at the school level without the need for faculty approval. Also, in a private institution there is a lot of autonomy--no state budget to worry about. This makes it easy to pursue ideas, but raising funds to pursue new initiatives is always a challenge.

 

GH: How would you describe your leadership style as dean?

VR: I was very open to our faculty and students, but tough-minded with USC administration. The architecture school was in a vulnerable position with a sizable inter-center debt. USC was thinking about consolidation. I asked, them what was needed to remain a self-sufficient, separate school?  They said simply--balance the budget and create a reserve.  My allegiance was to the architecture school and my colleagues. I was very involved with student and faculty organizations as well--always seeking their perspective on our situation and our future.

 

GH: What was it like being dean during the period you held the position? What were the major issues, objectives, challenges?

VR: Our decades long budget deficit was turned into a surplus. That was the major achievement (especially hard for architecture).  That set us up for a decade of expansion when Bob Timme arrived.

 

GH: How did you become dean?

VR: The faculty met, nominated me and forwarded that request to USC administration.  I thought it would be for one year--but it turned out to be closer to 4 years.

 

GH: You are well known for your work in the field of elder housing. How do you think this informed your approach to being the leader of an architecture school?

VR: I really understood the university. Gerontology has 25 joint appointments. I had colleagues all over campus so I had a broad perspective of the place and how it operated.  I’m a very methodical person. I made decisions with our interests in mind but presented them in a way that was attractive to USC higher-ups.

 

GH: You seem to work in the terrain between different disciplines. What have you learned from other disciplines like gerontology that could inform the discipline of architecture? For example, could the School leverage models from the sciences, say, to go after grants to fund research?

VR: My degrees are in architecture and engineering. How you are trained, affects the way you think about everything. Not making connections is a missed opportunity. For example, architecture can and should affect public policy.  Having more knowledge is usually helpful. It provides a better foundation for affecting the world. Also--USC prides itself in being multi-disciplinary.  Showing them how architecture can make a difference is powerful.

 

GH: Following this, should architecture collaborate more with other disciplines on campus to carry out funded research? Is there potential for this?

VR: Yes. USC is a major research university and some of the best research happens between disciplines. My work focuses on how the environment matters in the area of elder care. Small changes in the environment can help in significant ways to improve independence. The government also provides research funding for studies that are beneficial to society. Other disciplines can provide tools that help us mine our knowledge base.

 

GH: Should architecture be more interdisciplinary at the academic level?

VR: We have to focus on teaching architecture, but students also need more understanding of human behavior.

 

GH: How did you get interested in elder issues and housing in particular?

VR: I was awarded a grant from the Administration on Aging for graduate study. After visiting a number of buildings--I knew I could make a difference. The multi-disciplinary exposure I had to ideas was specific but could also be broadly cast.  This introduced me to power of theory building and the satisfaction of application. 

 

GH: Did serving as dean change you or your perspective, the way you practice, view the profession, etc?

VR: It made me more sympathetic to the practice of architecture. My involvement in the (USC Architectural) Guild introduced me to a broad range of practitioners. I became more interested in helping students acquire the skills that would make them more self-reliant and successful.

 

GH: Do you think the challenges of being dean today are different from when you held the position?

VR: The job is totally different. There is less emphasis on day-to-day management and more focus on fund raising and "glad handing". When I was dean, there was no associate dean or multiple department chairs. I had ten people on staff. Today we have more administrators and there are twenty-five staff members. Ironically--it worked better with fewer people who were more engaged and focused.

 

GH: What do you perceive to be the current challenges facing the dean and the School?

VR: Money will always be a challenge. We have a huge amount of space (every student has a desk), low student-teacher ratios, very few major donors, and very little research overhead. The University also needs to be constantly reminded that architecture matters in the city/world. In Forbes recent “30 Under 30 Who Are Changing The World 2014”, there are no architects. It is not on society's radar either. We need to demonstrate the utility of what we do in areas like sustainability.  We need to show that our work matters and is important to the future of the environment.

 

GH: What three words best describe you as an architect?

VR: Disciplined, hard working, and obsessive. I am committed to finding creative solutions to complex problems.

 

GH: What three words best describe you as dean?

VR: Bold, creative, tough-minded. I am impatient with people/ideas that waste my time.

 

 

Qingyun Ma

Dean

Della & Harry MacDonald Chair

Dean 2007-Now

 

Qingyun Ma became dean in 2007. He is the first dean in the School’s history to come from abroad and brings a global perspective to the role. He has been instrumental in developing the School’s ties with China, establishing the USC American Academy in China, a re-boot of the concept of the American Academy in Rome, but with a China angle to promote greater intellectual exchange between the US and China in architecture, the arts, and humanities. He also recently become a winemaker.

 

Guy Horton: How would you define the role of dean at the USC School of Architecture? And is there anything distinct about the role compared to other architecture schools?

Qingyun Ma: First, the dean enables what has been built up in the School’s legacy and tradition to have impact in the present. Second, the dean’s role is to incorporate new voices, newness, new energy. Being dean is a tremendous art, all starting with vision, taking all things into account. The dean is like a winemaker. There is a flow of work and every step contributes to the final result. In wine making you adjust as you go with a view to the end. The role requires enthusiasm, risk taking, and leadership. But as a leader I’m more comfortable as a pusher from behind. Being dean is also like being a curator, I think. You are working with a collection of things that came before you and finding the best ways to let them express their own natures.

 

GH: What does it mean to you to be dean at a school with such a legacy and such a close connection to the city?

QYM: I’m deliberately ignorant about history, whatever value system I bring will alter that history, what I see as valuable actively changes history. I move away from history and into a space of hope for today, a space of confidence, energy. This is more neutral ground.

 

GH: How did you become dean and why did you want to be a dean?

QYM: My practice had flourished. I was in a middle of a moment of success. But with this came insecurity. Who will evaluate my success? I decided to reconnect to an academic environment that is western-centric, from west to east, to infuse my practice. I think the reason USC picked me was because of my experience coming from an emergent economy and transformative society, where there is new life and architecture is going in profound directions. The west is more self-referencing and I think USC was aware of this and wanted to look beyond itself. I also defined my academic agenda from the point of view of my practice, a global point of view.

 

GH: How does this global point of view inform your role as dean?

QYM: There are fundamental reasons to build and design, I try to identify projects for the social impact they can bring, how they can lead to transformation. I try to identify people around that agenda and then bring them in to contribute to real problem solving.

 

GH: When you came to USC what did you see as the most important challenges to address?

QYM: The biggest one is to establish a reciprocal system between money and ideas. Things are rational here. There is a clear process. There are good ideas but things cost too  much here. I’m used to immediate action and reaction. The US not used to this.

 

GH: What are the most important challenges now?

QYM: Building the right team, leadership, strengthening core faculty.

 

GH: How has serving as dean changed you?

QYM: It hasn’t. I changed the dean. My purpose is to bring impact, to be provocative, to bring a certain oddness to the role. I like things that are beyond the usual, beyond normal expectations. Wrong things can be comfortable. So I like to be in the uncomfortable zone of the unfamiliar. As a wine maker I pay attention to how things blend together and how to accentuate differences.

 

GH: What three words best describe you as an architect?

QYM: Surprising, destructive, transcendent.

 

GH: What three words best describe you as dean?

QYM: Calm, persistent, entertaining.

 

GH: Entertaining?

QYM: (Laughs) As in, I entertain others.

 

GH: What inspired you to start making wine?

QYM: It’s a different way of building upon the fundamentals of architecture. The process is completely self-generative and self-reflective, constantly evolving and gradually correcting.  It starts from a connection to the landscape and the sense of creating a condition which I call “CAN”, Culture, Agriculture, and Nature.

 

GH: But you also like to drink wine, right?

QYM: I do actually like to drink wine. Absolutely!