Sarah Whiting Named Dean of Graduate School of Design

Currently dean of the Rice University School of Architecture, Whiting will assume her new post on July 1. 

Photograph by Tommy LaVergne/Rice University

Sarah Whiting, dean of the Rice University School of Architecture, has been named dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), effective July 1, 2019. She succeeds Mohsen Mostafavi, who has served as dean for the past 11 years, and will be the first female dean to lead the school.

Whiting, who was a design critic, assistant professor, and associate professor at the GSD between 1999 and 2005, and is thus familiar with the institution, returns as an experienced leader. Provost Alan Garber praised her commitment to “strengthening connections across the departments of the GSD and between the GSD and the rest of Harvard. At a time when the role of design is increasingly important, and when design education and practice face an array of challenges, her creativity, wisdom, and leadership experience will help the GSD navigate the changing demands of the design professions and the evolving interests of our faculty and students. She is the right person to lead the School forward.”

Whiting earned her master of architecture degree from Princeton, and her Ph.D. from MIT. She is known as a leading scholar, educator, and architect who has worked to ensure that ideas forged in the academy make their way into practice. At the outset of her career, she practiced with architects Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, and Michael Graves. She is herself a co-founder and partner of WW Architecture, a firm she launched with Ron Witte in 1999.

At Rice, Whiting led efforts to reform the curriculum, introduce innovative studio options, recruit faculty, boost funding for research and course development, enhance facilities, and raise new resources, according to the University announcement. In 2017, Architectural Record recognized her work as an educator with its Women in Architecture award.

Harvard president Lawrence S. Bacow called Whiting “an outstanding leader with broad interests that range across the design disciplines and beyond. She has a keen understanding of the intellectual dimensions of design and its distinctive power to shape the world of ideas. And she has an equally keen understanding of design as a force for shaping the communities we inhabit and for engaging with some of contemporary society’s hardest challenges. I have been deeply impressed by her during the course of the search, and I greatly look forward to welcoming her back to Harvard.”

The announcement that Whiting would lead the school came one year after GSD students rallied against perceived sexism, sexual misconduct, and racism both within the profession and at the school (although no specific allegations were ever reported). Several dozen junior and senior female GSD faculty members signed a letter supporting the student activists at the time, and the school took action to ensure that it would be a “welcoming” and “inclusive” place to learn. 

Mostafavi, whom Bacow thanked for his “devoted service” to the school, praised Whiting as “an exemplary academic leader and colleague. Her intellectual commitment to design education has enhanced the future of practice. I am delighted that she will be returning to the GSD to help shape the next phase of this incredible School’s journey.”



Read more articles by: Jonathan Shaw

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