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Sarah Whiting named next dean of Harvard Graduate School of Design

Travis Dagenais
First Published:
April 17th, 2019. Graduate School of Design
Photos Courtesy of:
Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University

Sarah Whiting, a leading scholar, educator, and architect widely respected for her commitment to integrating design theory and practice, has been named dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), University President Larry Bacow announced today.


A Harvard GSD faculty member early in her career, Whiting has served since 2010 as dean of the Rice University School of Architecture, where she is the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture. She is also co-founder and partner of WW Architecture, a firm she launched with her partner, Ron Witte, in 1999.

Whiting will assume the GSD deanship on July 1, succeeding Mohsen Mostafavi, who is stepping down after more than 11 years of distinguished service.

“Sarah Whiting is an outstanding leader with broad interests that range across the design disciplines and beyond,” said Bacow in announcing the appointment. 

“She has a keen understanding of the intellectual dimensions of design and its distinctive power to shape the world of ideas. And she has an equally keen understanding of design as a force for shaping the communities we inhabit and for engaging with some of contemporary society’s hardest challenges. I have been deeply impressed by her during the course of the search, and I greatly look forward to welcoming her back to Harvard.”

“The GSD has long been a center of gravity for my thinking and actions, and I’m thrilled to be returning,” Whiting said. “It is altogether tantalizing to look across the School’s three departments, with their individual and collective capacities to shape new horizons within Gund Hall. And it’s even more enticing to envision working with the GSD’s remarkable faculty, students, staff, and alumni to help imagine and create new futures for the world, not just at Harvard but beyond.”

As dean at Rice, Whiting said she has been guided by an overarching commitment to “dissolving the divide between architecture as an intellectual endeavor and architecture as a form of engaged practice.” She has led efforts to reform the curriculum, introduce innovative studio options, recruit faculty, boost funding for research and course development, enhance facilities, and raise new resources.

Her interests are broadly interdisciplinary, with the built environment at their core. An expert in architectural theory and urbanism, she has particular interest in architecture’s relationship with politics, economics, and society and how the built environment shapes the nature of public life. Her work has been published in leading journals and collections, and she is the founding editor of Point, a book series aimed at shaping contemporary discussions in architecture and urbanism.

In recent years, Whiting has been recognized as an educator of the year by the publication DesignIntelligence (2014, 2018), by Architectural Record magazine’s Women in Architecture program (2017), and by the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects (2016).

“Sarah Whiting has earned an extraordinary reputation as dean of the School of Architecture at Rice, where she has pursued educational innovations while building connections across the university,” said Harvard Provost Alan Garber. “She is similarly committed to strengthening connections across the departments of the GSD and between the GSD and the rest of Harvard. At a time when the role of design is increasingly important, and when design education and practice face an array of challenges, her creativity, wisdom, and leadership experience will help the GSD navigate the changing demands of the design professions and the evolving interests of our faculty and students. She is the right person to lead the School forward.”

Whiting has held many other leadership roles at Rice, chairing search committees for the dean of graduate studies, the dean of humanities, and the director of Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts. She sits on the Rice board of trustees’ buildings and grounds design subcommittee and has been active in the university’s efforts to engage with its home city of Houston.

Before becoming dean at Rice, Whiting served on the Princeton architecture faculty as assistant professor from 2005 to 2009. From 1999 to 2005, she was a design critic, assistant professor, and associate professor in the Harvard GSD’s Department of Architecture. She also has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Florida.

A graduate of Yale College, Whiting earned her MArch degree from Princeton and her PhD in architectural history, theory, and criticism from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Early in her career, she practiced with the architects Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, and Michael Graves.

In announcing her appointment, Bacow expressed thanks to the “many members of the GSD community — faculty, students, staff, alumni — who offered thoughtful advice during the search. Provost Alan Garber and I are grateful to all of you — and especially to our faculty advisory committee, whose members provided valuable counsel throughout. Special thanks go again to Mohsen Mostafavi, whose devoted service as dean these past 11-plus years has guided the GSD’s continuing leadership and progress.”

“Sarah Whiting is an exemplary academic leader and colleague. Her intellectual commitment to design education has enhanced the future of practice,” Mostafavi said of his successor. “I am delighted that she will be returning to the GSD to help shape the next phase of this incredible School’s journey.”


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