August 01, 2019

By Dan Pitera

It is the first week in my role as the dean of University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Architecture (SOA). I am very honored to serve as dean and share this message.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here and to continue to work with the unique mix of people at Detroit Mercy's School of Architecture. Part of our strength at the SOA is that our skills and backgrounds add to and complement each other. We challenge and encourage each other. These are essential traits for an institution to remain vibrant and relevant. I look forward to moving the School of Architecture forward with all of you. In this spirit, I would like to share my perspectives on direction and intention for the School of Architecture. Whether you are a faculty or staff member, student, alumnus or SOA community partner, I hope that some of following resonates with you and provides a context for our future conversations.

SOA Traditions

First, history may be defined by points or moments in time. Tradition is the natural process that connects those points into a meaningful synthesis. Although the SOA's points of history have changed over time, its faculty, students and leadership enjoy a tradition and heritage of critically engaging the opportunities Detroit has to offer. The SOA was all about Detroit before Detroit was cool.

Secondly, the School of Architecture has also a long tradition of understanding the profession as encompassing both the academy and practice. One does not feed the other. Instead, they learn from each other—education inside and outside of the classroom, where education includes learning by doing.

Lastly, the School of Architecture's heritage is grounded in the understanding that each student must be a citizen of the world and not merely of Detroit, Michigan, the Midwest or the USA.

As we move forward in defining our future, I believe we can celebrate our past heritage while not mimicking it.

Taking on Tomorrow's Challenges

The three traditions I chose to highlight above illustrate that the core of this unique School reaches far beyond teaching students to design aesthetic objects. For 55 years, the SOA has found creative ways to expand or to provoke the questions about what it means to consider the built environment as we move into the future. With the social, economic and environmental challenges facing all of us locally in Detroit, as well as in our state, nation and abroad, it is hard not to be cynical or even defeatist in our outlook. But I am a realistic optimist and I submit that the architect and the community developer do more than realize visually appealing buildings and spaces. We must continue to shift the perspective that design is more than making cool looking things. Our faculty, staff, students and alumni have always used design to question and

imagine alternatives to the issues ahead. We are not afraid to challenge select things that we (society) take for granted. Questioning our assumptions helps us move beyond the status quo and the conventional ways of seeing the world around us, as well as the cities we inhabit.

Affecting the National and International Discourse on Architecture and Urbanism

The Detroit Mercy School of Architecture has established a respected and honored reputation for its knowledge and work in Detroit. As I mentioned earlier, the SOA celebrated Detroit before Detroit was cool. At the same time, this expertise has limited people's view of what the School offers. The work and research that the School of Architecture engages within Detroit should be and is applicable at the national and international levels. The School of Architecture is not merely an expert on Detroit-based urban architecture. It is an expert on urban architecture based on its work in Detroit. Detroit has been of interest—both positive and negative—to the world for decades. As eyes and interest continue to focus on Detroit from every angle, Detroit Mercy's SOA should be the a key institution at this nexus.

Nurturing our Graduates

It is typical for schools of architecture to send graduates of varying demographics into the world with high hopes and passions to change the world. However, it is clear through National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) statistics that many interns who are female or people of color never make it to the point of licensure. There are many reasons for that and I submit that potential interventions of our academies after graduation can positively affect these rates in the future. As dean, I will work with the faculty, current students and alumni to develop methods that will nurture our graduates. We have the power to alter this trend for SOA graduates. The school should work toward constructing a future where we can tell a freshman and their family that the SOA will have their backs from their first day in class until licensure and beyond.

Concluding Thoughts

As I step into this role to serve you as dean, I reflect back on my 20-year history with Detroit Mercy, its administration and the School of Architecture. I cherish our strong tradition and commitment toward urban issues developed over the past 55 years. Detroit Mercy School of Architecture critically thinks about and connects all aspects of city design to ultimately create the places that celebrate the people who inhabit them. Our alumni have continued this work to create ecological, equitable and inspiring cities. I wish to build upon this background. I plan to enter this position with a fresh perspective and develop a collaborative agenda with everyone connected to the School of Architecture on how we evolve as an institution made up of dynamic individuals. The success of this effort will help us to address the challenges and celebrate the opportunities that move us into the future. We should build the next phase together with all faculty, students (past, present and future), Detroit Mercy's other colleges and schools and our community partners.

This is a pivotal time for the School of Architecture and our community. We must continue to play an important role in thinking critically and working in the natural and built environment of Detroit and beyond.