Photograph by Saverio Truglia.
Since 1996, Donna Robertson,
AIA, has found herself in the bastion of Miesian Modernism
as the dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois
Institute of Technology in Chicago. (The campus was designed
from 1945 to 1968 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who ran its
architecture school until 1958.) Yet Robertson graduated from
Stanford University with a B.A. in English and received her
M.Arch. from the University of Virginia in 1978. She directed
the architecture program at Barnard College from 198592
and then became dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture,
a position she held through 1996. She is also principal of
the firm Robertson McAnulty Architects.
Someone said that IIT eats
its architecture deans for breakfast. Hows it going?
Ive been the dean eight years,
and Im still here. Yes, I have a non-Miesian, non-IIT
background, and I am female. There have been rough moments.
But enrollment in the College of Architecture went from 368
in 2002 to 472 in 2003. We hope to keep growing and not soften
our standards. Now, with Rem Koolhaass McCormick Tribune
Campus Center (page 122) and Murphy Jahns State Street
Village (page 130), with which I was involved in the role
of a client, architecture is again drawing attention to the
What have been the most difficult
things about your post?
The issue over pedagogy. The faculty
has been worried about the status of Miess curriculum.
It had eroded over the years and needed to be updated if it
was to be fully implemented.
What was the basis of Miess
In the classic Miesian format, you didnt
design a building until the fourth year of your undergraduate
education. The first year was devoted to developing visual
literacy and craft; the second year to constructing with brick
and wood; the third year, steel and concrete. Then the fourth
and fifth years were focused on building design. I am interested
in teaching construction technology through studiothe
central tenet of Miess principlesbut I want to
be sure that any time a student is asked to produce a building
form, he or she can take design into consideration.
What about the new generation of
architects? Is there a place for them?
Yesfor example, we have
Ron Krueck of Krueck & Sexton, Jeanne Gang and Mark Schendel
of Studio Gang, and Martin Felsen of UrbanLab teaching at
the school. There are still former students of Mies on the
faculty, and they are invaluable. We all realize we cant
do stale Mies, however, and so we try to create a balance
between construction technology and design. It is so delicate
to maintain. And we have to keep finding building forms that
are of our time, not of Miess.
What about Koolhaass effect
on the school?
We hear some of the old guard has not
been all that happy with the Campus Centers brash, not-too-detailed
approach. It was fascinating to see Rem go toe-to-toe with
Mies. We like to call our educational and architectural program
Mies and Beyond. We are making the studio the
locus of experimentation, and the new buildings by Koolhaas
and Jahn embody that idea. We want to keep growing and plan
to expand by moving upper-level studios and research classes
to a building3410 S. State Streetsouth of Crown
Hall. It too was designed by Miesso his presence
is still felt physically and pedagogically.