Adèle Naudé Santos
Adèle Naudé Santos, FAIA, is an architect and urban designer whose career combines professional practice, research, and teaching. She is currently Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, as well as principal architect in the San Francisco-based firm, Santos Prescott and Associates. Her academic career includes professorships within the graduate programs of UC Berkeley, Harvard, Rice University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she also served as Chairman of the Department of Architecture. She was also the founding Dean of the new School of Architecture at the University of California, San Diego, and has had numerous visiting appointments throughout the United States and the world, including Italy and in her native South Africa.
The following interview of Prof. Santos (ANS) by the Faculty Newsletter (FNL) took place on October 27.
FNL: What brought you to MIT to serve as the first woman dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning?
ANS: MIT is such an interesting place! There’s all this unique stuff going on that makes Architecture and Urban Planning completely different from our neighbor up the street! When I was approached about the deanship here, I had been on the faculty at Harvard, the Chair of Architecture at UPenn, the Dean at UCSD, was a professor at UC Berkeley – and was heading back to private practice. I thought at the very least I should check it out. I didn’t know if they would go for a woman or even consider a third dean from the southern hemisphere – but here we are.
FNL: Those are pretty large programs, aren’t they?
ANS: Well, they are. SA+P may be a tiny school, but you know what? It’s a pretty damn good program. As good or better than our peers. And in league with our siblings here at the Institute. In fact, when compared to the other Schools at MIT, we must work harder and smarter with fewer resources, yet we do not compromise our high standards of excellence, and continue to make impressive contributions to our disciplines and to improving the overall quality of human life and the health of our communities.
ANS: It’s the company we keep! There is an incredibly diverse array of disciplines and pursuits under the roof of this School that draw on and experience cross-fertilization with many, many of the incredible and diverse activities happening everywhere else at MIT. We have Center for Real Estate faculty assembling and analyzing data into the first index for commercial real estate who work side by side in the same department where the Teacher Education Program educates undergraduates from all over MIT how to be science and math teachers in secondary high schools. We educate mid-career professionals from developing countries in SPURS (Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies) as well as working with Massachusetts community activists and local institutions in the Center for Reflective Community Practice. SA+P is home to faculty who study whether computers can learn and respond to emotion in the Media Lab, who are looking at rapid fabrication techniques for housing, or studying how sensing networks developed by engineers and all the data we can now gather and manage from these networks – can be embedded in the infrastructure of cities to help us better understand how we use and can improve these environments.
FNL: And all of this occurs within the School of Architecture?
ANS: Ahem. The School of Architecture and Planning!
FNL: Yes, of course!
ANS: It’s a common shorthand, but our faculty are architects and planners and artists, computer scientists, building technologists, experts in environmental policy and sustainability, musicians, urban economists, community activists, historical preservationists, and teachers of teachers. And that’s just a start! We have a world-class program in Urban Studies and Planning with in-depth, decades long, urban partnerships both in Massachusetts and around the world. We started the first Center for Real Estate in this country 20 years ago with an innovative approach to real estate that goes beyond investment and profit but approaches real estate development as a physical product in the built environment. The Media Lab is the first research center of its kind to investigate the boundaries and interactions between people and technology. We have a tradition of artistic innovation in our Visual Arts Program and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies that attracts world-renowned artists and has earned international recognition – yet few people at MIT know these are even part of the Department of Architecture. And, we have the oldest architecture program in the country. Our alumni in Architecture include notables like I.M. Pei and Charles Correa, and graduates who formed the architectural foundations for some of the most successful firms in the country – firms like Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) in Chicago, Bull, Stockwell and Allen (BSA) in San Francisco, Gruzen Samton in New York City.
FNL: I think a great deal of work being done in the School of Architecture and Planning is really unknown by other parts of the MIT community.
ANS: It’s true. The alumni and faculty of this School have had an enormous influence on the shape, architecture, art, development, and infrastructure of many of the major cities and communities in this country, and in cities and communities around the world. Yet, as a relative new comer to MIT, I can easily see that the contributions of this School are more widely known and understood outside the doors of 77 Mass. Ave., than on the opposite side of this threshold!
For instance, not many people here at MIT know that for 20 years we’ve been taking a team of students every other year to Beijing where we partner with Tsinghua University to tackle some intractable problem in the city of Beijing.
Based on our two decades of collaboration, our faculty in urbanism/city design and development are in the process of establishing a research entity called the China Urbanization Lab – the Urb Lab – with Tsinghua to deal with rapid urbanization. Why? Because there is massive migration of rural people to the cities of China where cookie cutter solutions are going up faster than you can speak because nobody sat down and said, “Well, what is the quintessential answer to urbanism here?” The Urb Lab gives us a chance to look at how to build in a manner that is more durable, more sustainable, more beautiful, and culturally relevant. When we were there in January and again in June, we were heralded by the Beijing Press! Back home, I found myself often explaining in great detail the history and significance of being the first MIT faculty in China 20 years ago and what it means today.
FNL: What plans do you have for the School?
FNL: Do you feel like you have been able to make some inroads?
ANS: Most definitely so. We have the benefit of having fresh leadership in the Department of Architecture, the Media Lab, the Center for Real Estate, and the Visual Arts Program, while being able to draw on the experience, counsel, and expertise of those faculty who have served the School so well in the past.
This year we will introduce a new undergraduate course called Cityscope. Modeled on Terrascope, we will bring all the focus of the disciplines in our School to examine one city each year from multiple points of view.
Everything from: How do you conduct policy and land surveys? What do you see? What policy issues are involved? What are the challenges? What happens to one part of the city infrastructure if you alter a different part? What are the environmental issues? What about energy efficiency? How do both these issues affect economic viability? I think it could be a very exciting first dip into the built world for the undergraduate student, and provide important exposure to issues that affect all of us – because we all live in communities. On the graduate level, we have finally been able to double the size of the incoming class in the Master’s of Architecture program from 12 to 24 students. This is very exciting and will truly invigorate the quality of debate and discussion by building a vibrant community of learners in this program.
We have begun to develop new cross-School initiatives. I already mentioned the Urbanization Laboratory – which will have its first demonstration project in Shenzhen under the direction of Architecture Department Head Yung Ho Chang. Emeritus Dean Bill Mitchell is working to bring form and coherence to The Design Lab, a collection of multidisciplinary research and project teams pursuing innovative design solutions to social, economic, and cultural problems. And I am very excited about two new cross-School advisory groups: an SA+P Energy Council to develop a cross-School initiative on the energy efficient city, and an SA+P Housing Task Force to review our curriculum and research initiatives to address renewed interest in housing. And, we have a working group of faculty from across the School that is developing an initiative called the Responsive City. It’s really a very fascinating inquiry – with all the sensor networks being developed by the engineers, and all the data being collected – how can the planners and architects embed this data architecture into the physical infrastructures of our communities to understand how they can work better?
FNL: What’s the biggest challenge to creating such cross-disciplinary activity in SA+P?
This is why I am so pleased that the Provost, the President, and members of the Space Committee have worked with us on two important projects – making it possible for us to move into Building 9 and restarting construction of the building designed by Maki for the Media Lab. Building 9 is the heart of the School and home to Urban Studies and Planning, and Architecture. It will be a fundraising challenge for sure, but we are looking forward to finally bringing the Center for Real Estate from across Mass Ave into its home department of DUSP, right off Lobby 7 and the Dome. When the extension to the Media Lab is completed, we look forward to bringing the Visual Arts Program, the photography labs, and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies down from the MIT Museum area and giving them a home in the Wiesner Building. Think of it! If I could get the whole School playing together from the visual artists with the architecture faculty all the way through the Media Lab where there are faculty musicians and artists and designers, and put them all next to the art at the List Center, imagine what could happen!
FNL: When is the extension to the Media Lab building supposed to happen?
ANS: Actually, it will get underway next year. We expect to break ground in the spring and are planning for completion a couple years after that. It will be exciting to better integrate the Media Lab physically into the activities of the School. Most people don’t even know the Media Lab is part of the School.
FNL: The Media Lab building is only one capital project in an ambitious program of campus development. How is MIT drawing on your expertise and the expertise of the School?
ANS: I think there is an important role the Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning can play in developing and implementing the long-term vision of campus development for MIT. I believe the Dean can and should play a role in forming policy, choosing architects, and helping to critique what goes on – because critique and peer-review are an essential part of quality architecture and planning – just as they are in the sciences. I believe that our peer review process should come from inside and outside the campus. The School has extremely talented faculty who have extensive experience in campus development at other universities in this country and around the world who can provide important and useful feedback to our own plans in campus development. And we can use what we have learned in our design studios that have studied, for example, the provision of faculty and student housing adjacent to campus.
We are invited from around the world to do studios and workshops on real problems in places like Seoul, Kiev, Sao Paolo, Zaragosa, and so on. Our proposals for the Seoul Digital Media City are being implemented. We have just shipped a prototype interactive bus shelter to Paris from The Design Lab. We have had many exciting ideas on how to re-energize our boring Infinite Corridor and how to deal with the negative impact of Massachusetts Avenue on our institutional image. We have the know-how to transform our public environment into a digitally interactive place that is focused on the future. It seems silly that the students and faculty have not been included in the process of thinking through our own environment.
FNL: Is there anything else you would like to add?
ANS: MIT is a place where people take a practical, pragmatic approach to solving problems. This hands-on approach to very real problems is exactly what we do across the School of Architecture and Planning. Our problem sets are design studios, our laboratories are physical spaces, our peer-reviewed journals are exhibits and juried competitions. But at the end of the day, we proudly share with our colleagues across MIT a common orientation to Mens et Manus, mind and hand. Who would want an architect or planner who didn’t come with both?