Campus & Community

Rowe to step down as dean of the Design School

6 min read

Urban planning authority will return to teaching


Peter G. Rowe, dean of the Harvard Design School and an authority on urban planning and design, announced Wednesday (Oct. 29) at a faculty meeting that he would step down as dean, effective June 30, 2004, after 12 years of service. Under Rowe’s leadership, the faculty of the School has been significantly expanded, educational offerings have been broadened, and new initiatives have been launched in such areas as technology and real estate.

In a letter to the Design School community, Rowe thanked faculty, students, staff, and alumni for their many contributions to the School’s progress. “It has been an honor to serve, as well as a source of considerable personal satisfaction,” he wrote. “I have been fortunate to be surrounded by an extraordinary, dedicated, and talented group of colleagues among the faculty and staff.

“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished together,” he added. “We have built a truly outstanding faculty across the core disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design that attracts the most thoughtful and skilled students in the world. And we’ve begun to build strength in new areas like materials and technology, sustainable design, and real estate. This has been an extraordinary decade in the life of the design disciplines; Harvard’s been a terrific vantage point from which to observe, study, and reflect on these momentous changes.”

Rowe plans to return to the faculty to teach and conduct research after a year’s sabbatical.

President Lawrence H. Summers said of Rowe: “Peter has left an indelible mark on one of the world’s preeminent design schools, recruiting extraordinary scholars and practitioners, focusing on significant new areas of research, and improving its facilities. Peter has also been a passionate advocate of design education for nonspecialists and a patient and thoughtful adviser to me on the design and planning challenges that the University has faced.”

Summers continued, “At a moment when design – of monuments, of buildings, of public spaces, of cities – is the subject of intense public attention, multidisciplinary centers of study and training like the Harvard Design School have a tremendously important role to play, both in pushing the boundaries of the art and science of design and in reflecting critically on the state of our built environment.”

Summers said that he plans to consult widely with faculty members, students, staff, alumni, and outside experts about Rowe’s successor. Consistent with Harvard practice in such searches, he intends to appoint a faculty advisory group to assist him in seeking a new dean.

Rowe started his career at Harvard as professor of architecture and urban design in 1985 and was appointed Raymond Garbe Professor of Architecture and Urban Design in 1987. Before becoming dean, he oversaw the School’s urban design programs and later chaired the Department of Urban Planning and Design.

During Rowe’s tenure, the Design School’s faculty has grown by 40 percent, and its senior faculty has more than doubled in size. The senior appointments have included the School’s first three tenured women professors. Rowe has also led efforts to expand and diversify the School’s educational portfolio, adding a professional program in urban planning and recruiting more students to the School’s advanced degree programs.

New research initiatives in emerging areas like materials and technology and real estate have also been developed during Rowe’s tenure. At the same time, the dean has nurtured relationships with important design schools and design projects outside the United States. A native Australian and an expert in urban planning and design issues in Asia, Rowe is a committed internationalist. He has expanded the School’s global orientation by encouraging the recruitment of international students and faculty and the development of design studios focused on projects around the world.

Rowe has also sought to improve the Design School’s own physical environment. He oversaw the renovation of significant parts of Gund Hall, the School’s landmark building on Quincy Street, designed by John Andrews and completed in 1972. Recently, teaching space has been improved, and the CAD-CAM, IT, and woodshop facilities have been greatly enhanced.

This growth was made possible largely by gifts secured during the University Campaign, completed in 1999. The Design School, under Rowe’s leadership, raised more than $38 million – 29 percent more than its original goal. Since the start of Rowe’s deanship, the School has brought in more than $66 million in gifts, grants, and contracts.

Rowe has also sought to strengthen the Design School’s relations with and contributions to other parts of the University. He advocated for the introduction of design courses in the Core Curriculum for undergraduates and sponsored new freshmen seminars on design issues. He himself has taught undergraduates and overseen senior honors theses. Rowe has also served as an architectural adviser to Presidents Rudenstine and Summers and has consulted with various deans on important building projects at their schools.

Rowe was trained as an architect at Australia’s Melbourne University and studied urban design at Rice University in Texas. After taking a master of architecture degree at Rice, Rowe remained in Houston, conducting research in the area of urban design before becoming associate professor at the Rice School of Architecture and, in 1980, director of the school. During his time in Houston, Rowe was also director of the Environmental Program at the Southwest Center for Urban Research and vice president of the Rice Center, an off-campus urban research organization.

Rowe’s research interests are wide-ranging: He has studied and written about the design of public space, urban development in China, the reconstruction of Beirut, and housing in the United States. The subject in each case has been modernity and its specific, local impact on and manifestation in the built environment. Titles from his last decade of work illustrate the theme: “East Asia Modern: Shaping the Contemporary City” (forthcoming); “Architectural Encounters with Essence and Form in Modern China” (2002, with Seng Kuan); “L’Asia e il Moderno” (1998); “Civic Realism” (1997); and “Modernity and Housing” (1993).

Rowe has remained an active teacher throughout his deanship, offering courses and studios. His course on “Urbanization in the Pacific Asia Region” introduces students to the urban phenomenon exemplified by Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei. Rowe has also taught “The Design and Provision of Housing in the United States” and offers studios on projects in such diverse locations as Tokyo, Wuhan, Beijing, Rome, and the Canary Islands of Spain.

Rowe is also active in the field of planning, serving as an adviser to the cities of Wuhan and Wenzhou in China and as a member of several committees and task forces for the city of Boston. He is a member of the American Planning Association and a fellow of the Institute for Urban Design.