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Drafting change: Amid dean search, School of Architecture transitions to new leadership, embraces digital age

Micah Benson | Art Director

Students poured into Slocum Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon, struggling to find seats. Faculty stood in the aisles and students knelt on the steps – all itching to see Ray Gastil, a candidate for the deanship of the School of Architecture, begin his presentation.

Gastil is one of five candidates being brought to campus throughout the next few weeks for two-day visits packed with interviews and meetings with faculty, staff and students. They lunch and dine with search committee members, converse with other deans of the university and meet with the chancellor and vice provost.

They also give a public talk to the School of Architecture community on architecture and its role at Syracuse University.

Sitting in the front row of the audience was Randall Korman, the current interim dean. Assuming the dean search, now in its final stages, is successful, he will step down July 1.

“The process is comprehensive and exhaustive and necessarily so,” Korman said. “It helps assure that the best person is selected for this important position.”

Paving an administration

Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina began conversations with faculty last May on the state of the architecture school and on the qualifications the school was looking for in its new dean.

The architecture school community wasn’t looking for someone who was necessarily the world’s best architect or engineer, but someone who understood architecture’s growth. They needed someone who could interact with SU’s several colleges, and who would raise money and advocate for the school’s interest, he said.

A search committee was developed early in the summer of 2012, and consisted of Ann Clarke, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and architecture professor Ted Brown as chair and vice chair, respectively.

Also sitting on the committee are Richard Gluckman of Gluckman Mayner Architects, Hilary Sample of MOS Architects and Laura Steinberg, dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. Additional members include School of Architecture faculty and students, Spina said.

The search began with the hiring of outside consultants Mirah Horowitz and Ilene Nagle of Russell Reynolds Associates, who looked not just within the United States but across the world for qualified candidates. They compiled a short list of candidates in December, Spina said, who were then interviewed for the opportunity to come to campus.

Spina said Horowitz and Nagle were hired because it’s impractical for him to take time off from his work and go on the road looking for candidates. The practice of hiring outside consultants is standard, and they spend a lot of time reporting back to the committee. Horowitz and Nagle declined comment.

Candidates will be visiting campus through February, and then the search committee will make recommendations to Spina, who will narrow his decision from there.

“Sometimes it stays quiet for three weeks, sometimes it’s quick,” he said. “I’d hope to say by March we’re at a place where we can make some sort of announcement.”

Paving the future

The School of Architecture is amid a larger transition, too — a transition toward a new method of teaching architecture. Dean Korman has taken steps to ensure that when he steps down, the school is ready to step into the digital age.

Historically, it has been difficult for a client to understand a building plan in special terms, but currently, 3D models can be used to create photo-realistic animation sequences, as if the architect was taking the client’s hand and walking them through the building, Korman said.

This new technology, which the school hopes to install, will let students clearly depict what they’re imagining, and easily convey that depiction to their instructor.

“I think the trajectory of technology will continue so that it won’t be long before we professors put on helmets and walk through the spaces students created for us, walk through a virtual environment,” Korman said. “That’s coming.”

Currently, Korman is working on developing the Einhorn, a 21st century experimental studio conceptualized to create a more technological work environment. The school’s method of teaching architecture hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years, Korman said, so the studio is an initiative for students to transition from mechanical hand-drawing to drafting projects exclusively on computers and laptops.

The studio will be created by converting a graduate studio into the new space, which will be test-driven for a year. From that, the initiative could expand by eventually converting all of Slocum’s studios, Korman said.

“We need to rethink the way in which we teach architecture over the next 20 or 30 years,” he said. “The profession has gone through a dramatic change and I think architecture schools have to adapt.”

The Einhorn studio should be completed by September, in time for the first semester of the new dean’s administration.

A second initiative Korman has been working on involves bringing two students from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology in Rwanda to SU for a semester or two. The idea was inspired after he spoke to architecture assistant professor Yutaka Sho, who teaches in Rwanda on a regular basis during the summer. While Sho said in an email that finances are still being resolved, Korman hopes to bring two students as early as next September, also in time for the new administration.

The students would have their tuition, room, board and supplies paid for, Korman said.

Paving the way

Slocum Hall’s large windows allow sunlight to seep through Korman’s second-floor office, bringing shelves of wooden architectural prototypes and textbooks to light. A large, polished desk and stacks of papers give the room an administrative touch.

“I’ll continue teaching,” he said definitively, with a smile. He paused, staring at the office. “I’m honestly looking forward to getting back to the studio and classroom.”

Though only named interim dean in July, he has already made strides in advancing the architecture program. His main responsibility has been paving the way for the transition to the next administration by attending to budgets and finalizing a curriculum change in which a third-year studio class will be moved up to a fourth-year one.

Spina calls Korman a “pro.” Korman immediately picked up where former Dean Mark Robbins left off, worked with faculty and the curriculum to ensure courses were taught by the best professionals possible, and was engaged in the development and fundraising of the architecture school, he said.

“He’s earned the confidence of the chancellor and faculty,” Spina said.

Assuming the search is successful, Korman will take a one-year sabbatical that he has postponed for a few years now, before returning to teaching. He hopes to finish the book he’s currently working on during this time, and anticipates possible invitations to lecture and teach abroad. The working title of his book is “Art of the Facade,” which explores the importance of the front of a building — the aspect people remember most.

Korman previously taught a class on the iconic nature of the facade, and hopes to incorporate lectures into the chapters, along with his 20 years of research.

He is not involved in the dean search and purposely chose not to be on the committee so as to remain independent of the process. While Spina often consults with him, Korman’s influence on the outcome is limited, but he’s not worried.

“They’re all top notch,” he said. “Any one of them could be a great dean.”

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