Daily Princetonian pieces

NEWS: New dean of Architecture School sparks controversy

808 words. Originally published March 28, 2012 in The Daily Princetonian. A follow-up piece was published March 29.

World-renowned architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo will be the next dean of the School of Architecture, the University announced on Tuesday.
Despite the support of his predecessor and others within the department, Zaera-Polo’s appointment has been met with opposition from graduate students and doctoral candidates in the program, who say the School has been less than receptive to their opinions throughout the search process.

Zaera-Polo’s appointment is the culmination of a yearlong search by a committee led by architecture professor Elizabeth Diller. Zaera-Polo will replace Stan Allen GS ’88, who said in October he would step down as dean at the end of this school year.

Earlier this spring, amid rumors that Zaera-Polo was under consideration for the deanship, two different groups of graduate students sent letters to the school voicing their disagreement. After the appointment was announced Tuesday afternoon, architecture student Jesse Seegers GS sent an email survey to the 68 master’s and Ph.D. candidates in the program asking for their thoughts on the naming of Zaera-Polo as the new dean. At press time, 53 students had responded and only five had voted in favor of Zaera-Polo’s appointment, Seegers said.

A letter written by some of the graduate students in the architecture school, which will be delivered to President Tilghman today, argues that Zaera-Polo is a poor choice as dean.

“We believe that the selection of Zaera-Polo, with his previously stated objections to the core of Princeton’s pedagogical tradition of the thesis, as well as his poor course evaluations as a professor, puts the school of architecture’s future in danger and should be reconsidered,” the letter reads.

Zaera-Polo’s spring 2010 seminar, ARC 560: Politics of the Building Envelope, received an overall mean evaluation of 2.14 out of 5.00. His spring 2011 studio, ARC 504: Integrated Building Studios, received an overall evaluation score of 4.80 out of 5.00.

Diller, who led the search committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

Zaera-Polo has been a visiting professor at the University since 2008. A practicing architect in London, Zaera-Polo is best known for his work on the award-winning Yokohama International Passenger Terminal in Japan and a building for the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication in England. He currently works as the founder and principal at Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture.

“I am delighted to have been trusted to direct the School of Architecture and to join the Princeton community,” Zaera-Polo said in a University statement. “Princeton has a tradition of intellectual leadership and experimental work across different fields that I hope to cultivate during my tenure at the school.”

Zaera-Polo could not be reached for comment.

Allen, who in June will have completed two five-year terms as dean, said in an interview he “couldn’t be happier with the selection.” He will return to the faculty of the School in fall 2013 after a yearlong sabbatical, his first in 13 years.

“Alejandro is somebody I recruited, somebody that I’ve got a lot of confidence in,” Allen said. “In addition to being a brilliant architect, he’s a writer, a thinker, an educator — his Yokohama port terminal is one of the most important buildings completed in the last 20 years.”

Zaera-Polo will begin his deanship July 1, pending the approval of the University’s Board of Trustees. Allen said Zaera-Polo has already started communicating with the faculty of the School ahead of his summertime move from London, where he lives when not teaching at the University.

Departmental representative Mario Gandelsonas says Zaera-Polo brings the right mix of theoretical engagement and practical application for Princeton’s approach to architecture, a balance Allen said is “rare in our field.”

“He fits the tradition of our school in the way; he’s always been interested in theory and practice — in the discipline, but also in buildings,” Gandelsonas said. He added that he felt Zaera-Polo will bring the right energy to the deanship.

“It takes a lot to deal with the very intense environment and to undertake a very complex job, not just within the school but also vis-a-vis the University,” he said.

Architecture student Lucas Suarez Alperi GS took Zaera-Polo’s studio course two years ago and applauded the choice.

“I think this is great news for the School,” he said. “Not only is he connected to the most important thinkers in the architectural discipline today, he’s also really invested in new approaches, new technologies and innovation.”

Zaera-Polo trained at Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid before completing a Masters of Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

Zaera-Polo has also had extensive academic experience. In addition to his four years at the University as a visiting professor, he has held professorships at Yale University, served as dean of the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and currently holds a position as the Berlage Chair at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. His work as a critic and theorist has been published in professional magazines worldwide, such as El Croquis, Quaderns, a+u and Arch+.

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