Feb. 18-24 , 2000
What's the University for? Series of speakers will address the role of higher education in a changing world
Holt book honored
University to begin drug testing for safety-sensitive positions

New book of personal essays reveals what teachers hope will last a lifetime

Q&A: Karen Van Lengen's challenge as dean
Bush stumps for involvement in politics
Notable - awards and achievements of faculty and staff
From the Desk of ... Jill Hartz, Bayly Art Museum director
Hot Links - theangle.com
In Memoriam - Dr. Wayne Stephen Cail
Gates' film gives new view of African history

Karen Van Lengen's challenge as dean:
Bringing the Architecture School into view

By Jane Ford

It hasn't taken long for Architecture School Dean Karen Van Lengen to blend the 19th century architecture of Jefferson and modern design. Although she wasn't sure if she would like living on the Lawn, she now says she loves it. "It's such a beautifully designed space and so thoughtfully put together and in some ways very eccentric, not following all the rules of the time and of the vocabulary that was presented to Jefferson.² Van Lengen hopes to follow in Jefferson's footsteps -- transforming models from the past for a changing community -- as she leads the Architecture School in the 21st century.

Q: You've just completed your first semester as dean. What would you like to accomplish, and do you have specific goals?

A: I would say after one semester, I have at least an overview of what the school is about and where I think the school direction can go. I would divide it possibly into three different areas. The first is the development internally within the school, and the second is the development of the Architecture School in relationship to the University, and the third would be the Architecture School in relationship to its peer institutions and the professions.

Stephanie Gross
Van Lengen presents slide lectures to graduate students for their trip to Berlin.

A quick study of Karen Van Lengen

Education: Master of Architecture, Columbia University 1976; B.A., Vassar College, 1973

Previous jobs/accomplishments: Former chair of Parson's School of Design, 1995-1999; associate with I.M. Pei; established her own architectural practice in 1986.

Family: Husband, Jim Welty, a sculptor who works primarily in metal. His work is shown at the John Davis Gallery in New York City. He worked with the artist Frank Stella for 10 years in the 1980s. Daughter, Kiran, age 4 1/2; loves to draw and visit her U.Va. student friends who also live on the Lawn.

Relaxation: Sports, especially skiing and swimming. "It's something I can do with my family. With my demanding schedule, spending time with my family is important to me."

Current Reading: Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture, by James Corner. Also reading E.B. White's Charlotte's Web to Kiri.

If I look at the internal structure, we're made up of four distinctly different but interrelated departments who share bodies of information and also have distinctly different bodies of information.

Something that had happened prior to my arrival is the beginning of the very strong interdisciplinary program within the School of Architecture and I wholeheartedly support that direction. We now have double degrees in planning, landscape and architecture. A student can come to the graduate programs and study two disciplines at once and get two degrees in a shorter period of time than if they were to do them separately. I think the future of the design of the environment will be in understanding how the different disciplines relate to one another. We're probably further along than most schools in developing this.

In terms of the relationship between the Architecture School and the University, I think there are also a number of potential overlaps. We are beginning to develop a new arts village. It will include the Architecture School and many of the arts-related disciplines -- studio art, music, drama, etc.

It would be interesting for our school, and particularly with my background coming from an art school, to begin to make more interrelationships between those disciplines, and I think that when you have everyone in the same space, those issues will evolve much more easily.

And then I think there is an opportunity to carve out a special identity for the school within the context of other architecture schools. The future of environmental design lies in understanding a much more holistic approach to the design of the environment, understanding how planning is affected by landscape design, [how] it's affected by architecture and that they're involved in the same kind of sets of issues.

I think that we have such a strong program in architecture and landscape that for us to really focus on creating programs that promote that kind of thinking with a new kind of language will be very powerful.

Q: As dean of the sixth-ranked architecture school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, what is the most important challenging issue facing you?

A: The school's a very strong school. It's very competitive with the top schools of architecture and where I think we have a huge challenge in front of us is the new area of financial development. If we compare ourselves with our peer schools, with other public institutions like the University of California and the University of Michigan, both states are beginning to increase the budgets to the schools.

We don't have that situation here, and if you compare us to the private institutions that historically have had such great endowments, it makes it difficult to stay competitive in terms of getting the best students, particularly at the graduate level; getting the best faculty; and in serving faculty initiatives, opportunities for the school, for initiating new programs. It all ends up requiring money, so I think that's one of the biggest challenges that I face in this job.

Our alumni are very loyal in terms of giving, but architecture as a profession is not as highly paid compared to some others, so we have the additional challenge of simply not having the alumni out there to give very large amounts. We can't always count on them to provide the kind of funding that we will need in the future.

On being at Thomas Jefferson's university

"I was astounded that Jefferson was in the vocabulary of every single person here. I've never come across an environment where one single theme seems so dominant in the lives of the whole community. One is reminded of him on a daily basis because of the buildings he made. It is the buildings that spoke about his dreams for the culture, and it really is a lesson about the importance of architecture in the community that leads us to believe that our buildings and our design of space need to be attentive to the culture we are serving. It doesn't mean that they are not harmonious with the existing buildings. I think thatıs a part of the challenge: to put new vocabularies into the context of older landscapes, but I donıt think we can imitate the past. We need to work with the past but to design for our future, always remembering where we've come from."

Q: You touched upon interdisciplinary programs. Do you have any plans for, or any thoughts about, University-wide interdisciplinary activities and programs?

A: We have a very large group of undergraduate architecture students, some of whom go on to Architecture School and others who do not. The group that does not go on is normally very well-trained to go into a variety of different careers and avenues that revolve around a certain kind of thinking process which I would call three-dimensional thinking, strong conceptual thinking. A lot of them are often able to go into other design areas and do very well -- from the design of real environments to the design of virtual environments, and that can include the design of information.

I think there's another potential in the new Media Studies Program that's being developed right now under the auspices of Arts & Sciences, for perhaps [some of] our undergraduates to begin to look at the whole area of information design in the context of media studies.

There's another area that seems to be of interest in our community and also in the larger University community, and that is the discussion of ethics. Ethics is normally associated with law and medicine, but actually the ethics of the design of the environment is also a very large and growing interest group and can mean a variety of different things. We have developed this semester a lecture series to begin to explore that idea of ethics in the design of the environment. We have talked to the institute here on ethics [Darden's Olsson Center of Applied Ethics] and would like to become more involved in that University initiative. This lecture series is meant to initiate that discussion and to continue to have it grow within the development of the School of Architecture.

Stephanie Gross
Van Lengen at home in Pavilion IX.

Q: Diversity is a topic on everybody's mind in higher education these days. What plans do you have to increase diversity?

A: We have a committee on diversity that has been very active, particularly in the time that I've been here. That committee primarily focuses on the recruitment of minority students into the school. We find that once we get them to apply, many of the students end up coming, so it's really a question of getting the word out.

In the last year we developed a brochure that was targeted for minority students and in collaboration with that, we set up a web site so that all students could talk to fellow students about the curriculum, about the facilities, about the basic landscape of the school. We made sure that in that group of students we had minority students as well as non-minority students to represent different voices in the schools. I think that's been very effective because it's been a one-on-one relationship for the students, asking very personal questions about what it's like to go to U.Va. and what issues are facing students.

This year we also have targeted a number of schools and have gone to them to recruit minority students. We went to two fairs, one in D.C., another one in New York, and the one in New York was particularly targeted to minority students.

So I think there's a great effort on our part going on to at least identify groups of people who might be interested in our program and going after them.

Q: Are there any specific initiatives that you'd like to put in place for curriculum and/or for faculty?

A: We just put together a special curriculum committee to review not only the individual curricula of each department, but the places where there might be overlapping that would require some new design or courses to do that. I think there is a great deal of support in the school to look at it from a more holistic point of view rather than just department by department.

As we do that, one of the most important components will be the integration of technology. So there's an agenda there as well to begin to critique how we teach the different disciplines and how this new environment will alter and suggest other kinds of courses, other kinds of curricular initiatives.

Q: On technology, are you referring to architectural technologies or computer technologies or some of both?

A: I would say that the focus right now is on using technology as one of the new tools in architecture. One of the distinctive qualities of U.Va. students that we see is their famous ability to draw beautifully, build models beautifully. They are well known in schools of architecture, at least on the East Coast, for having some of the most beautiful drawing techniques. But you need to add the expression of architectural ideas to this whole new medium of the computer, and it doesn't mean that students won't draw, but it means they also need to become proficient in expressing themselves in another environment. For us, that's a huge transformation. [We hope] we will find a way to combine the legacy of drawing with the new media, and that, I think, is a challenge.

Q: What plans do you have to raise the profile of the school?

A: I think that the school ironically has a greater profile outside of the University than it has within the University. Everyone on the East Coast knows about U.Va.'s Architecture School, but I'm not sure everybody on Grounds knows about the Architecture School. One of the problems I see is its location. It has no presence in the landscape.

It's ironic to me that on a campus where Jefferson built one of the great spaces of all time, that has such a presence, we have an Architecture School that's kind of hidden, that many of the people don't even know where it is.

I think for me the bigger issue is in allowing the [Architecture School] building addition to articulate a new entrance which is visible from Rugby Road and will then allow visitors who are walking down Rugby Road to see the Architecture School, to enter a public space that could also have within it a large exhibition hall that can have traveling exhibitions, that can often show the work of our faculty and of our students, so that someone coming into the Architecture School can see what it is, in fact, that we do.

Q: Jefferson's design of the original buildings at U.Va. is considered one of the most significant architectural achievements in America. With the addition planned for the Architecture School and the Carr's Hill Arts Precinct on the horizon, what role do you see the Architecture School playing at this time in the University community?

A: The Grounds have a central space -- the original Lawn -- and that's really the only prominent central space for the whole campus. One of the opportunities I see as we develop not only the Grounds bloc but also the other centers, one of which might be the Arts Village, is to begin to develop another kind of public space for the University.

One of the roles that the architecture faculty might be able to play in this process is in helping people to understand the outcomes of different configurations of space. We can do that through studio designs, through lectures, through a number of different ways to help to understand the nature of that space before it unfolds.

As one looks at the Lawn, one realizes that Jefferson's idea was about landscape and about buildings together. He had put together a very interesting configuration of buildings but the landscape component was a very important part of it. It was not something that was done after the fact -- it was done concurrently with the development of the architecture. I think that is a key part of the development of the arts complex, that the landscape component be thought of in tandem with the development of the buildings, the placement of the buildings, and the articulation of the building and the articulation and design of each building.

Q: How do you describe your management style and what do you see as your strengths?

A: I think it's important as a dean to be able to lead the school, to move the school forward, so there's a leadership aspect to becoming a dean and to focusing on the meaning of the school and where it goes. But in order to do that I don't think it's a single vision; it's a question of almost weaving together an elaborate tapestry that involves my interests and my vision, in collaboration with the rest of the energies that are inherently in this school. I don't think you can really be successful until you have both of those things working together, so it's a collaborative style I would say, in general.

Q: You juggle many roles. You're dean, fundraiser, educator, wife and mother. What's your typical day like?

A: There are no typical days. The only typical part of my day is when I take my daughter to school on my way to work. On the days that I travel, my husband does it. Usually the days are different, a different set of issues every day and I don't mind that. I think it's interesting. It's a full schedule, but I also have to say that it's a full schedule for everybody in the Architecture School as well.

One of the areas that I need to carve out time-wise for myself is my own research in architecture which deals in part with practice and in part with ideas that I'm interested in developing. Specifically, I've become interested in understanding how to build in a more comprehensive way -- one that involves the recognition of all the senses, and particularly, the sound of space. That's a project I'm working on now in collaboration with someone in New York. I hope some of those issues will come out in a house that I hope to design here in Charlottesville. So that's a particular interest of mine, and I hope it will be influential in the school at some point, but I really need to develop it myself before I bring it into the school.


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