Berke honored for ‘distinct’ contributions to architectural education

Yale School of Architecture Dean Deborah Berke has been awarded the Topaz Medallion, the highest honor given for architectural education in the United States.
Deborah Berke.

Deborah Berke

Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, has been awarded the 2022 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, the highest honor given for architectural education in the United States.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) annually award the Topaz Medallion to an individual who has been involved in architectural education for at least a decade, and whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students.

I am delighted to learn that Dean Berke has been honored with the Topaz Medallion,” Yale President Peter Salovey said. “With an unwavering commitment to education over her long career, she has created new programs of study, increased support for students, and advanced the role of architecture in solving longstanding and emerging challenges in our local community and around the globe.”

The medallion will be presented at the ACSA annual meeting in March and again at the AIA’s 2022 conference in June. 

For more than 40 years, Deborah Berke, FAIA, has leveraged her nimble harmonization of education and practice to share the discipline of architecture with students and professionals from a wide range of backgrounds,” the award citation says. “Through her accessible and purposefully non-monumental pedagogy, Berke advances her deep-rooted belief that architectural education should be available to everyone. Her contributions and inexhaustible spirit have inspired countless students and design professionals.”

In July 2016, Berke became the first woman to lead the School of Architecture. She was appointed to a second five-year term earlier this year.

During her tenure, Berke has led efforts to diversify the faculty and student body, and forged collaborations with other schools and departments on campus. She has recruited top-flight faculty, expanded financial aid by 60%, and created a new undergraduate major in urban studies that bridges multiple disciplines. She also supported the establishment of the Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture — a multi-field effort to develop a sustainable built environment — and the Regenerative Building Lab, a program that teaches students design and building techniques that reduce a structure’s environmental impact during construction and throughout its existence

Deborah has not only played a critical role in welcoming new faces to the school and to the profession, she has also proven herself an intellectual leader, advocating a point of view that has done much to counteract the navel-gazing theories of recent architectural pedagogy,” wrote Robert A.M. Stern, Berke’s predecessor as dean and the 2017 recipient of the medallion, in a letter supporting her nomination. “Her studios and seminars, imbued with what she describes as ‘the architecture of the everyday,’ reflect a fundamental humanity she brings to all her work.”

Berke is the fourth woman to receive the medallion since the award was founded in 1976. She is the first person awarded the honor while serving as dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

Before she was appointed dean, Berke had served as an adjunct professor of architectural design at Yale. She has also taught at the University of Maryland, the University of Miami, the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of California-Berkeley, and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies.

Her approach to teaching and design emphasizes “an architecture of the greater good,” stressing the idea that great design is inclusive, demonstrates a concern for the community, and produces buildings where all feel welcome and comfortable. She has partnered with the school’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, through which first-year students design and build, in partnership with Columbus House, a local nonprofit organization that serves people who are experiencing homelessness, a house in New Haven. Each year, students design and build comfortable, aesthetically appealing, and affordable homes for people in the organization’s support system.

In the past, the unfortunate standard for universities has been to follow the pathways of power —whether through the presence of the singular ‘starchitect’ or star practices,” wrote architect Billie Tsien, the Charles Gwathmey Professor in Practice at the School of Architecture. “From her earliest days as dean, Deborah has instead spoken of the need for collaboration, for a balance of life and work, and of the architect’s responsibility to the larger world.”

Berke is founder of the New York-based architecture firm Deborah Berke Partners. In her professional practice, she designs private residences, hotels, residential and commercial developments, and institutional art and music buildings, including the renovation and expansion project that created the Yale School of Art’s Holcombe T. Green Jr. Hall. Her firm designed the home of NXTHVN, a not-for-profit arts and community incubator founded by artist Titus Kaphar in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood. In 2017, the firm received the National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

In her roles as professor and practitioner, Berke has evolved critical design thinking and equipped tomorrow’s architects with the skills to face pressing societal and environmental challenges for the greater good,” stated the award citation. “Her insightful leadership and distinct contributions to the profession ensure that her influence will continue to reverberate for generations.”

Past Yale winners of the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education include Stern, Serge Chermayeff (1980), a faculty member from 1963 to 1969; the late Vincent Scully Jr. ’40, ’49 GRD (1986), who was Sterling Professor in the History of Art; the late Charles Moore (1989), chair of the Department of Architecture from 1965 to 1970; Spiro Kostof ’61 Ph.D. (1992), who served on the faculty from 1961 to 1965; and Peter Eisenman (2014), the inaugural Charles Gwathmey Professor in Practice.

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Bess Connolly : elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu,