Harvard Design Dean to Step Down

Mohsen Mostafavi plans to step down after leading the Graduate School of Design since 2008.

Mohsen MostafaviPhotograph courtesy of the Harvard Graduate School of Design

Mohsen Mostafavi, who was appointed dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in August 2007 and took office the following January, announced that he will conclude his service at the end of this academic year, next June 30. His departure represents something of a generational turnover: other than the School of Dental Medicine’s long-serving R. Bruce Donoff (dean since 1991), Mostafavi is the senior school dean. After a sabbatical year, he will return to the teaching faculty.

Alongside his decanal responsibilities, Mostafavi himself has been involved in Allston campus planning, the Cambridge campus “common spaces” initiatives under President Drew Gilpin Faust (culminating in the recent dedication of Smith Campus Center), and the University committee on the arts (he has been co-chair).

Consistent with that personal reach, during his tenure, the school itself radiated outward in several ways. A master’s degree in design engineering—a program created with the engineering and applied sciences faculty—illustrates GSD’s interest in interdisciplinary education extending across several parts of the University. (Another new joint degree, with the public-health faculty, melds health and urbanism.) Its teaching also became available to undergraduates through the architectural-studies track within the College’s history of art and architecture concentration.

Its Center for Green Buildings and Cities’ new HouseZero expanded GSD’s local footprint while accommodating programmatic growth and investment in new sustainable-building systems. And with the debut of the Wimbledon House and Richard Rogers Fellowship, in London, this highly international school (the Iranian-born Mostafavi himself did his professional training in London) now has a permanent physical presence beyond the United States.

His announcement comes shortly after he achieved an important milestone in campus expansion: concrete steps toward augmenting the landlocked GSD’s facilities to accommodate increasingly complex design and teaching technologies and other demands. The school recently announced the appointment of architects to rework and likely expand the 1972 Gund Hall—a goal Mostafavi identified as important when he was appointed, and one of the objectives of the GSD’s $110-million capital campaign, which secured a gift to proceed with the facilities planning; presumably, important design milestones can be met before the dean departs.

In the announcement, President Lawrence S. Bacow said:

I know from my years on the Corporation how much his leadership has contributed to strengthening the Design School over more than a decade—and how much he has done to elevate the role of design within Harvard more broadly. Mohsen has led with imagination, energy, and dedication. Those qualities have strengthened the GSD’s position as a worldwide leader in design education and research and as a critical bridge between design theory and practice. He has also been an outstanding University citizen, not only in creatively connecting the design achool with other parts of Harvard but also in helping steer University-wide initiatives to fully embrace the arts and to create common spaces that contribute to our sense of community. All of us owe him our thanks.

According to the announcement, the GSD faculty has grown from 62 to nearly 90 members during his deanship, expanding its expertise in fields such as urbanism, sustainability, technology, social equity, and other areas of rising interest.

Bacow will bring interesting perspectives to the search for a successor dean, which he and Provost Alan Garber will launch soon. Bacow instituted renewed campus planning during his Tufts presidency, and chaired the Harvard Corporation’s capital facilities committee during his subsequent service on the governing board. And Adele Fleet Bacow is a planning professional (she is the founding president of Community Partners Consultants, an architecture and planning firm), so interest in such matters runs in the family, as well.

Read the University announcement here. 

Read more articles by John S. Rosenberg

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