Inside Job

Preston Scott Cohen

Late last week, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design announced that, in July, Toshiko Mori will be stepping down as the chair of the Department of Architecture, after a six-year term. Taking her place will be Preston Scott Cohen, a professor who teaches the department’s foundation course and runs the first-year design studios.

Cohen, a well-regarded architect and author, is a relatively low-profile choice for the position, which in past years has been occupied by Walter Gropius, Rafael Moneo, and other world-renowned designers. (Compare this with RISD’s fairly risky selection of John Maeda as its new president.) Mori herself—presiding over a faculty that includes Rem Koolhaas, Lise Anne Couture, Jacques Herzog, and others at the top of their field—has had an outsize influence at the school and beyond.

I spoke with Mori earlier today about the transition, and she had kind words for her colleague and friend. “We work very closely together. He has been my program director for at least the last four years, and we are very close personally, too,” she said, adding that she doesn’t expect drastic changes. “The school has an incredible amount of continuity, but allowing new voices, so that there’s always a fresh take of where we should go.”

Does she have any advice for the new chair? “You really have to be a devoted teacher to understand the content of courses and understand the temperaments of students, and really work closely with pedagogy,” she says.

After an unusually long tenure as chair—the term has only been extended beyond five years a few times before—Mori will continue teaching at Harvard, but first she’s taking a yearlong sabbatical. “That means I really have to focus on practice,” she says. “It’s not really time off.”

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