Architect for a school’s second century

Deborah Berke is at home inside and outside of the academy.

Theatre critic and reporter Mark Blankenship ’05MFA edits TDF Stages and produces the film series Meet the Theatre.
Winnie Au/Deborah Berke Partners

Winnie Au/Deborah Berke Partners

Deborah Berke will be the School of Architecture’s first woman dean when she takes office in July. View full image

Deborah Berke would like to tell you about Paprika!, a student-run publication at the Yale School of Architecture. She was just announced as the school’s new dean, effective July 1—the first woman to lead the school in its 100-year-history—but when she’s discussing her appointment, she can’t help praising the young people who launched their own paper.

That enthusiasm—outward-looking, community-minded—marks her work as an architect as well. The buildings of her firm, Deborah Berke Partners, are praised not only for their beauty, but also for their sensitivity to the people inside. On campus, she is known for her understated modernist renovation of the old Jewish Community Center on Chapel Street as Holcombe Green Hall, the home of the School of Art.

“She’s one of those rare people in architecture who are genuinely concerned about the connection between the profession and the public,” says architecture critic Paul Goldberger ’72. “She’s not the kind of academic architect who only wants to talk to other architects.”

She does, however, have an academic background, having served on the Yale architecture faculty since 1987. Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch, the outgoing dean, sees her public-mindedness as a vital strength as she takes the reins. “She is like a perfect blueprint for leadership in the school,” he says, noting that her professional success will inform those around her. “She’s not going into this thing to advance her career, but rather as an expression of her commitment to the field and to Yale in particular.”

Meanwhile, Berke seeks her own continuing education from other artists. A Queens native who attended Rhode Island School of Design with members of the band Talking Heads, she spent the 1970s soaking up the downtown culture of New York City. Nowadays, she says, “I love going to see films. The lights go out, and I get consumed by a new place that I don’t know that’s the creation of somebody else’s mind. I feel that way about painting and sculpture as well. Continual exposure to the work of others is what inspires my work.”

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