Two recent announcements from Rice Architecture have caught the attention of the state and nationwide architecture communities: On April 16, the school announced the imminent construction of the new William T. Cannady Hall, the result of a generous lead gift from Emeritus Professor William T. Cannady, to be designed by Swiss firm Karamuk Kuo. One day later, it was announced that Sarah Whiting had been named dean of the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard. Whiting has served as dean of the Rice University School of Architecture since 2010.
Prior to Whiting’s appointment, Lars Lerup served as dean from 1993 to 2009. His deanship brought a focus on large-scale questions relating to cities built in the postwar period, and on how formalism in architecture can affect cities with spatial problems. With Lerup’s decades of studying urbanism, his leadership moved students and faculty at Rice to examine juxtapositions in the growing sprawl of Houston’s informal landscape within which the school resides. According to Associate Professor Troy Schaum, Whiting continued Lerup’s line of questioning but realigned the focus to situate problems at the scale of individual works of architecture. “If there is a new social collective emerging in the city that we’re describing at Rice,” Schaum says, “how do we make buildings for that population? How do we make buildings that embrace that understanding of the collective? How do we deal with those kinds of spaces of exchange and community, but at the scale of a building?”
A trained urbanist as well, Whiting has researched the interface between large-scale urban projects and how shifts across scale change the understanding of legibility and questions of the collective. At Rice, she applied this expertise to introduce new events, engagement curriculum reform, and publications. The Cullinan Seminars bring four high-level lecturers to the school each semester for a public talk; these talks are then tied to the material that Whiting covers in her Cullinan Seminar course, during which the students interview the speakers and condense the talks and interviews into a publication. Whiting’s solution to the extensive list of requirements enforced by the architectural accrediting board is the Totalization Program, which breaks down the traditional comprehensive studio into four advanced studios, each centered around a specific architectural issue. This format allows students to engage in the complexities of different projects while still focusing on research, and it also affords them the opportunity to travel and meet with consultants. Recent publications of the Architecture at Rice Press, under Whiting’s direction, include “Core Houses,” by Danny Samuels, FAIA, and Nonya Grenader, FAIA; “Shotgun,” with Jesús Vasallo as editor; and a second edition of Albert Pope’s 1996 “Ladders.”
Both Schaum and Professor Nonya Grenader underscored the level of engagement Whiting has maintained with students and faculty during her tenure. “One of the things that is front and center for Sarah is teaching and the well-being of students,” Schaum says. “Sarah embodies the role of an educator. Part of her legacy is going to be the focus the whole faculty has had on producing the kind of support and collaboration with students that is possible at a school the size of Rice.” Grenader stated similarly via email that, during the past nine years, Whiting “has been fully engaged with faculty and students, demanding a high level of quality while generously lending her knowledge and support.”
As Whiting also sits on the Rice Board of Trustees’ buildings and grounds design subcommittee, another lasting part of her legacy will be the Karamuk Kuo-designed Cannady Hall. The 20,000-sf wing will have dedicated exhibition space, research space for collaborations across faculty and students, new teaching spaces, jury spaces, and new fabrication facilities. It will be designed as an annex that connects to the school through an extension of the arcade, as opposed to attaching it to the iconic Stirling facade.
During the planning process, Whiting and the rest of the design subcommittee sent RFQs to a shortlist of five firms: Selldorf Architects, 6a Architects, Tuñón Arquitectos, Tatiana Bilbao, and Karamuk Kuo. Members of the design subcommittee in collaboration with the steering committee, the facilities engineering and planning committee, and various school faculty members interviewed all five practices. Whiting described the deliberation process as an interview with questions about the firm and how they conceive of architecture, as well as all-school conversations with faculty and students. The feedback from the school was taken to the steering committee for consideration.
According to Whiting, a number of Karamuk Kuo’s qualifications led to the final decision, including “their engagement with the American architectural school system, flexibility in their projects, innovation in how they design different programs and interiors, and their engagement with the communities of different past projects.” Established in 2010 by Jeanette Kuo and Ünal Karamuk, the firm is based in Zurich. Both Karamuk and Kuo have significant teaching experience: Karamuk taught at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich, and Kuo has taught with a Maybeck Teaching Fellowship at UC Berkeley, as well as at MIT, EPFL, and the Harvard GSD. Cannady Hall will be the firm’s first built project in the United States.
Whiting is optimistic about the future of the school, as this new building comes on the heels of her departure: “It’s particularly hard to leave right when Cannady Hall is becoming a reality — this additional building will bring so many opportunities to the school. It’s an exciting endorsement from the university to realize the impact of the role that architecture plays and why architecture is important for the whole university.” Whiting will assume the GSD deanship on July 1, 2019.
John Casbarian, FAIA, dean emeritus and the Harry K. and Albert K. Smith Professor of Architecture, was named interim dean. Casbarian, a Rice alumnus who joined the faculty in 1973, is the school’s director of external programs and founding director of the Rice School of Architecture, Paris. Casbarian also founded Taft Architects with Danny Samuels, a Rice professor of architecture, and the late Robert Timme. The university will soon begin an international search for a permanent dean.
Mackie Kellen is a rhetoric student at The University of Texas at Austin and an editorial intern at TA.