School of Architecture Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk to Step Down

Plater-Zyberk helped establish a philosophy centered on design as a means to address community issues.

Coral Gables (June 25, 2013) — Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who as dean of the University of Miami’s School of Architecture for nearly two decades helped establish a philosophy centered on design as a means to solve community issues and foster sustainability, has announced her decision to step down from her post effective July 1, 2013.

A faculty member at UM when the School of Architecture was established in 1983, Plater-Zyberk has served as dean since 1995.

“Dean Plater-Zyberk has been a brilliant leader of the School of Architecture. She has been at the forefront of sustainable development and community planning, and our students and community have benefited greatly from her unique vision and pioneer spirit,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala.

That leadership has included many outreach efforts to aid communities in need locally and internationally.

“A visionary in our field and an extraordinary person” is how Associate Dean Denis Hector, who will serve as acting dean until a successor is named, describes Plater-Zyberk. “Amidst a daunting 24/7/365 schedule, she maintained a collegial and open personal style, constantly engaging students and faculty in community advocacy both within and beyond the University. Her role in shaping the school can’t be overstated, and I am sure that she will continue to contribute in ways that challenge current thinking and open new avenues of inquiry. I am honored to have been a part of her legacy.”

Plater-Zyberk is a proponent of New Urbanism, an urban design movement that promotes the creation of walkable, compact, mixed-used communities composed of a range of housing and job types. She co-founded the Congress of New Urbanism, launched in 1992 with a charter that sets forth the key tenets of the movement.

During her deanship, the school developed an identity that ran counter to all trends in architectural education at that time, focusing the curriculum on traditional architecture and urbanism as well as contemporary innovation. Programs launched during Plater-Zyberk’s watch reflect the faculty’s engagement in the New Urbanism movement. For example, the Master in Real Estate Development + Urbanism, an interdisciplinary initiative of the Schools of Architecture, Business Administration, and Law, blends the fundamentals of real estate development with livable community planning and design.

“As the only school involved in developing the tenets of the movement, our programs have provided opportunities for students to develop new techniques, to be sought out for employment by leading [architectural] firms, and to expand the professional reach of the movement,” said Plater-Zyberk. “Today our alumni are leading the movement as professionals, public servants, and civic leaders.”

Under Plater-Zyberk, the school’s presence has been felt not only regionally, but internationally. The Design-Build Studio created the prototype for a sustainable, overnight camping facility in Everglades National Park. The Center for Urban and Community Design (CUCD) organized design projects on behalf of communities throughout South Florida, including West Coconut Grove, collaborating with city and county government agencies. The real estate program led capstone charrettes in Hollywood, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and Opa-locka. In 2007 some 300 UM architecture students participated in a semester-long project in which all studio coursework focused on designing a public walkway along Miami’s waterfront.

Even before Plater-Zyberk became dean, her influence was felt in the community; After Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, she spearheaded the school’s participation in the New South Dade Charrette, with many of the ideas and proposals that emerged from those planning sessions coming to fruition.

On a national scale, the school’s Knight Program in Community Building organized design and planning sessions for revitalization in cities such as Coatesville, Pennsylvania; Duluth, Minnesota; Macon, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Jose, California.

Just two months after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2010, School of Architecture faculty and students hosted and collaborated with architects, engineers, planners, and civic and government leaders from the island nation and elsewhere during a five-day charrette focused on rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Teaching and research projects in Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, France, Germany, Mexico, Santo Domingo, and Saudi Arabia occurred under Plater-Zyberk’s tenure, and students continue to study classical design in Rome, where the school runs programs each semester.

Plater-Zyberk increased support for the school, playing a major role in securing gifts from prominent donors and obtaining grants that established the Knight Program in Community Building and the Luce Professorship in Family and Community. The Kaplan Foundation supported the CUCD’s work in the Caribbean.

Plater-Zyberk spearheaded the construction of the school’s new home, the Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center, designed by famed architect Leon Krier with School of Architecture alumna Natividad “Nati” Soto. The building, Plater-Zyberk says, has “allowed us to share our culture with the South Florida community as well as improve the learning environment for our students.”

School of Architecture faculty members have flourished during her tenure, publishing books and journal articles as well as showcasing their work at exhibitions. The school’s programs and faculty have been recognized by Architecture magazine, ranked in the top 20 by DesignIntelligence, and honored with the John Nolen Award from the Florida Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism. “It’s been an honor to be part of a faculty of increasingly high profile,” Plater-Zyberk said.

During her deanship, the renowned Vincent Scully, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of the History of Art in Architecture at Yale University, served as a visiting faculty member at UM, exposing students to the “greatest architectural historian of our time,” Plater-Zyberk said. “These students will be forever affected, as I was as his student many years before.”

She encouraged faculty partnerships across the University with the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, Miller School of Medicine, School of Business Administration, and Frost School of Music.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, the daughter of an architect and a landscape architect, Plater-Zyberk earned her undergraduate degree in architecture and urban planning from Princeton and her master’s in architecture from Yale. She is a founding partner with her husband, Andres Duany, of the firm DPZ (Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Architects and Town Planners), which received international acclaim for its creation of Seaside, Florida, which exemplifies the appeal and vitality of the New Urbanism philosophy. She was selected by the City of Miami to help write and implement Miami 21, a new zoning code intended to promote pedestrian activity with wider sidewalks, narrower roads, tree-lined streets, and pedestrian-friendly building facades. More recently, Plater-Zyberk led a team of designers in the creation of Ibis House, the new LEED-certified University president’s residence, located at Smathers Four Fillies Farm.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Medal of Architecture, the Vincent J. Scully Prize, the Richard H. Driehaus Prize, and the Seaside Prize for contributions to community planning and design are among the awards she has received. Her publications include The New Civic Art and Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, co-authored with Duany, among others. In 2008 President George W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. That same year, she was tapped into the Iron Arrow Honor Society, the highest honor awarded by UM.

Plater-Zyberk will continue with the School of Architecture as a faculty member. “I am grateful for the positive and stimulating group of colleagues with whom I have shared the dean’s work,” she said. “It has been a genuinely enjoyable experience to collaborate daily with staff and faculty members dedicated to the betterment of the lives of the students, each other, and the larger community. I plan to intensify my focus on built-environment adaptation to climate change in South Florida, returning to teach with an agenda for exploration and research to share with students.”

A search committee for the dean’s successor will be appointed soon.


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