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Wiel Arets Named Dean of IIT

By Laura Mirviss
August 8, 2012

Dutch architect Wiel Arets will take the helm as dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture this fall, the university announced yesterday. Arets’ appointment falls in line with the university’s long lineage of modernist-minded leadership, spurred by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who famously ran the school’s architecture program from 1938 to 1958 and designed much of the campus.

Image courtesy IIT
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Arets, who is widely regarded for his sleek and minimalist geometries, has an active design practice with offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, Maastricht, and Zurich. He has a slew of high-profile projects in the pipeline, including the Allianz headquarters in Zurich and the Ijhal Centraal Station in Amsterdam. The number of projects (and offices) naturally raises the question of how Arets will run a school with so much going on. (Arets, who is traveling in India, could not be reached for comment.) “He will be spending a good deal of time in Chicago, so we are looking forward to that, but we are obviously conscious of the fact that he has a thriving practice in Europe and around the world,” says Jeanne Hartig, IIT’s vice president for marketing and communications. “He is internationally acclaimed, and we expect him to practice here and around the world.”

Arets served as dean from 1995-2002 at the Rotterdam-based Berlage Institute, an experimental research center founded in 1990. Some of his more noted projects include the Academy of Art & Architecture building in Maastricht (1993), the Uithof campus library at Utrecht University (2004), and the Euroborg stadium in Groningen (2006). He also currently teaches at the Berlin University of the Arts. “He has a defined body of work, and I suspect he will bring many of those aesthetics and sensibilities to IIT,” says Hartig.

Arets will replace longtime dean Donna Robertson, who had announced her plans to step down last year to devote more time to her design practice. Robertson, who spent 16 years as dean of IIT’s architecture program, kept her post until last week for this transition. She will continue to serve as president of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

During her tenure, Robertson negotiated the program’s ongoing debates about fusing Miesian Modernism with a forward-thinking architectural education. “We had to devise a curriculum that would both be progressive and respect Miesian pedagogy,” she says. “When I came to the school, the faculty was suspicious of change but knew it needed it. It had been battered by the diminished reputation of Mies in the 1980s, so it was necessary to find the relevance of the Miesian legacy.”

Robertson oversaw a number of high-profile building projects for the IIT campus, including the McCormick Tribune Campus Center by Rem Koolhaas and OMA (2003) and the renovation of Mies’ Crown Hall in 2005. She hopes that current building and renovation projects will press ahead, despite the grim economic climate for both universities and architects. “The biggest challenge facing the new dean is to define the role of architect in 21st century,” she says. “Opportunities abound in the expanded field of practice, but the economy remains a liability.”

Suzanne Stephens contributed reporting for this story.

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