Cultured Magazine

Winter 2015

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Page 257 of 363

Just as stunning women claim they were goofy-looking children, and business executives claim they get by just fine on five hours of sleep, the architect Deborah Berke says, "I don't know that I'm organized—but I do have a lot of energy." The art collectors Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, who hired Berke to design their 21c Museum Hotels—which includes nine hotels (five of which have been built so far) in cities like Louisville, Cincinnati and Bentonville—scoff at that. "You ever been to her office?" Wilson asks. "It's obvious that she's organized when you walk in the door. It's very simple, mostly black and white. There are rows of open racks, with samples of materials stacked almost as if they are on exhibit." So, let's grant that she has a lot of energy and she is organized. In recent years Berke has renovated her home in Manhattan, run a busy practice in New York with two partners, eight principals and a staff of 60; she taught a seminar on materials, ran a design studio at Yale and has written a book ("House Rules: An Architect's Guide to Modern Life," coming out next spring) and in addition, had a family. Her husband, Peter McCann, is a New York orthopedic surgeon and their daughter, Tess, graduated from Yale this year. There is no doubt Berke will juggle all of that successfully when she takes over as dean of the Yale School of Architecture next July. While she may cut back on her teaching duties, at least for the first year, she will still vigorously pursue her architectural practice. If history is any indication, the outgoing dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Robert A.M. Stern, seemed to become more productive each year he was in office. One of Berke's goals as dean will be to increase diversity of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic background—and she wants to see more women in practice. "Most schools are roughly 50-50 men and women," she says. "If we can encourage these women to stay in architecture that would be fantastic. But that's not what's happening." Berke, who has been described as a Modernist, a Minimalist, an art-lover (William Wegman was an early client), a construction enthusiast and a New Urbanist, turns out to be something much more interesting: a pragmatist. She studied under the ultra-Modernist Rem Koolhaas at the Architectural Association in London, then turned and designed 17 traditional houses (with names like Dream Come True ) in Seaside, the planned community in Florida. "She had a very elegant approach," says architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, whose firm Duany Plater-Zyberk created Seaside's master plan. "Her designs were calm, not elaborately decorated, but very clever." Plater-Zyberk, herself a graduate of Yale, says that Berke is representative of Yale's small-c "catholic approach to the practice of architecture." In 2007, Berke designed a ground-up three-story building in Chelsea, New York, for the art dealer Marianne Boesky, which houses both her gallery 256 CULTURED SCHOOL OF THOUGHT Deborah Berke, Yale's newly appointed dean of architecture, has one of the country's most influential seats. Linda Lee catches up with her to see how she plans to straddle academia and architecture. PORTRAIT BY WINNIE AU

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