Building Magazine


Harvard professor to head University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

The Academic Board’s agenda committee of U of T’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design has approved the appointment of Professor Richard Sommer, a member of the architecture and urban design faculty at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and specialist in urban environments, as dean of the faculty for a five-year term beginning July 1. He succeeds Professor George Baird.


“Professor Sommer is a perfect fit for a university so closely entwined with the city where it is located,” said Professor Cheryl Misak, U of T’s vice-president and provost. “We look forward to welcoming him to both the university and the city.”


Sommer, an architect and urbanist, has taught at Harvard since 1998, serving as director of the school’s urban design programs for the past six years. He has also held a number of other distinguished academic appointments. For the past four years, he has been a Visiting American Scholar and the O’Hare Chair in Design and Development at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, where he has been working with academics, government agencies and designers in private industry to develop innovative design models with which to reform Northern Ireland’s cities and towns. This includes the creation of a complex, GIS-based three-dimensional city model and laboratory for urbanism in Belfast.


Previously, Sommer was the scholar-in-residence at the California College of Arts in San Francisco for three years. He has also held appointments at the University of Leuven, Belgium; Washington University; Barnard College-Columbia University; and Iowa State University of Science and Technology, where he was given a legislative award for teaching excellence in 1991.


“Because Daniels is already one of the leading schools of its kind in North America, I have the luxury of setting very high goals for its future. The three disciplines joined at Daniels – architecture, landscape architecture and urban design – each have a unique role to play in creating more beautiful, ecologically sound and socially enriched environments,” said Sommer. “Yet, the most important design challenges we face today – from the creation of more integrated transit infrastructures to rethinking relationships between home, industry and nature – escape the exclusive purview of any one discipline or professional expertise. Many of the current approaches to designing and developing our cities and towns are unable to adequately address these challenges. Set within a city that is cosmopolitan in every sense of the word, the Daniels school is in an ideal position to model new modes of practice by drawing on the remarkable community of minds at the University of Toronto, and thereby make research and speculation on better ways to design and inhabit the built environment a focus across the university.”


Sommer’s design practice, research and scholarship have developed along two interrelated lines. The first pertains to reconceiving architecture and urban design’s disciplinary basis to better address the competing forces of liberalization in property markets and the increasing expectations for democratic access in city-making processes. The second line of research frames the monument as the historical exemplar of architecture, tracing its transformation through its encounter with modern forms of democracy and the American landscape. He subsequently co-authored a series of articles with Glenn Forley on the topic of the democratic monument that will be collected in a forthcoming volume.


His other writings and projects have appeared in publications such as Perspecta: The Yale Architecture Journal, the Journal of Architectural Education, Any and Arcade and in a number of books, including Shaping the City: Studies in History, Theory and Urban Design, Regenerating Older Suburbs and Urban Design. Support for Sommer’s research has included awards and grants from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the LEF Foundation, the Tozier Fund and Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.


A native of Philadelphia, Sommer earned his bachelor of fine arts and bachelor of architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design and his master of architecture from Harvard University. Sommer and his wife, Laura Miller, his architectural partner and a member of Harvard’s architecture faculty, will be relocating to Toronto with their family. Miller will also join the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.

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