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Newly Formed Dean’s Council Reflects on the Buffalo School Advantage

Jin Young Song with Hyundai E&C CEO

The Buffalo School Dean’s Council (clockwise from top left) is chaired by Louis P. Ciminelli with members Randy Asher (BS ’95); Charles L. Davis II (MArch ’02, BPS ’99), Diane Georgopulos (BA ’73), Clark Manus (BA ’74) and Mark Mendell.

Published December 12, 2013

The School of Architecture and Planning has convened its first-ever Dean’s Council, a leadership group of distinguished alumni and top practitioners from across the U.S. that will work to raise the school’s global profile, build its network of support and forge new connections with the professions. The six-member advisory board gathered for a two-day inaugural event in Buffalo last month.

Representing private practice, the real estate industry, government, academia and secondary education, the council will be a key partner in the school’s efforts to develop the enrollment pipeline, extend the Buffalo School message to new markets, prepare students for an evolving practice landscape, and support strategic fundraising efforts. Members are:  

  • Louis P. Ciminelli, chair of the Dean’s Council and CEO of the Buffalo-based construction firm LPCiminelli, ranked in the top 150 of all construction companies in the U.S.;
  • Randy J. Asher (BS ’95), principal of Brooklyn Technical High School, an elite technical school and the largest high school in the U.S.;
  • Charles L. Davis II (MArch ’02, BPS ’99), assistant professor of architectural history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; his research explores the historical integration of race and style theory in modern architectural debates and the effect of racial discourses on the architectural profession; 
  • Diane Georgopulos, FAIA (BA ’73), head of the Design and Construction Department at MassHousing, the country’s leading affordable housing finance agency, where she oversees construction lending for a $3 billion rental portfolio;
  • Clark Manus, FAIA (BA ’74), CEO of Heller Manus Architects in San Francisco, former president of the American Institute of Architects, and a 2013 recipient of the UB Distinguished Alumni Award;
  • Mark Mendell, FAIA, MRAIC, co-chairman of Cannon Design, an international practice ranked by World Architecture, Design Intelligence as well as Building Design and Construction among the top 10 design firms in the world.

“We’re honored to have this distinguished group of professionals – four of them graduates of our program – as advisors to the school during this pivotal time of growth and transition,” said Dean Robert. G. Shibley. “This council connects us to some of today’s most important conversations about the state of our disciplines and how we teach and think about architecture and planning.”

These six members represent the first of three annual Dean’s Council “classes” as the school builds toward an 18-member advisory group by 2015-16. 

Dean's Council tours Materials and Methods Shop

Members of the Dean's Council on a tour of the school's Materials and Methods Shop, one of the largest machine and assembly shops at any architecture school in the U.S.

For the opening session, council members sat down with the school’s academic and administrative leadership to learn more about its degree programs, learn-by-making/doing pedagogical philosophy and growing research enterprise. Members also engaged in dialogue on enrollment strategies, recruitment opportunities and new efforts to build a distinctive “Buffalo School” brand and engagement program.

A tour of the school’s facilities gave members a first-hand glimpse of the Hayes Hall restoration and the school’s state-of-the-art materials and fabrication shops, including an arsenal of digital fabrication technologies that have opened new avenues for design research in partnership with local manufacturers.

Council members were genuinely impressed with what they saw and heard, and offered this primary advice: get the message out.

“There’s nothing laudable about being the best kept secret,” said Louis Ciminelli, chair of the council.

Mark Mendell noted that the Buffalo School is an exceptional educational value, and suggested such a huge benefit should be vigorously promoted as an integral part of the school’s recruitment program. 

Added Randy Asher, whose Brooklyn Technical High School enrolls over 5,500 students and is a major feeder school for architecture programs around the country: “UB is a strong school, and the School of Architecture and Planning is a gem. It’s time everyone else knew it.”

Clark Manus, who graduated with the school’s second class in 1974, says the spirit of experimentation that defined the school during its early years remains one of its key advantages. “Design thinking is the face of this program. It’s always been about pushing boundaries. That innovation is still embedded here, and I’ve been incredibly impressed by what the program is doing. At the end of the day though, the message is just not being put out there in a way that reflects the caliber of this work.”

Diane Georgopulos, another pioneering member of the then “School of Environmental Design,” similarly urged the school to keep its edge: “That renegade spirit gave us so much energy. Don’t lose this quality.”

A powerful network of support has coalesced around the school based on its impact in the region, noted Ciminelli, who firm has expanded world-wide since it was founded in Buffalo 50 years ago. “We’ve become a much smarter city because of the collective efforts of the school,” he said, referring to the urban planning framework guided by Dean Robert Shibley, and countless other contributions through the school’s engagement of Buffalo as its design laboratory. “You have a lot of fans here in Buffalo and throughout the business community.” 

Dean's Council reception

The two-day Dean's Council event was capped by a reception with faculty and staff and UB leadership at the Darwin Martin House's Greatbatch Pavilion.

Council members also emphasized that the school has the opportunity to take the lead in developing career pathways during a time of great change in the practice landscape.

Mendell, who sits on the AIA’s Large Firm Roundtable with about 50 other global firms, said, “There is a large gap between what is taught in the academy and what the profession is looking for.” For instance, he said, collaboration and creative problem-solving are eclipsing the era of the “starchitect.”

Noting the school’s interdisciplinary focus and the leadership and entrepreneurial skills it instills in students through research in the community practice environment, Mendell said, “UB could become a model.”  

Charles Davis, a recent graduate who went on to earn his PhD in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, said engaging alumni as mentors and supporting the pathway to licensure through the curriculum is a critical factor in building sustainable and successful careers.

He said the school’s expertise in the field of architectural history and criticism can’t be ignored. “There is a lot of potential here for students in historical and intellectual pursuits,” he said, referring to the new PhD in urban and regional planning and historic preservation specialization in the MS Arch program. “I am very encouraged by what I see.”

As the two-day event drew to a close, council members met with UB leadership, including Alexander Cartwright, vice president for research and economic development; Nancy Wells, vice president for development and alumni relations; and A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs.

“Their comments were right on point. They are advocates for this school and that is a super thing for you to have,” said Cartwright, addressing faculty and staff gathered for a closing reception at the Darwin Martin House's Greatbatch Pavilion.

“I think it’s a moment for this school and for the university,” added Wells. “There’s nothing better than having the partnership of those who have been involved with and care about the school.”

As council members shared their final thoughts, Davis captured the enthusiasm around this milestone for the school. “I owe Buffalo a lot. Any chance to give back is a good one.”

The Dean’s Council will convene in Buffalo again this spring.