Whiting stepping down as architecture dean

Sarah Whiting, dean of the Rice School of Architecture and the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture, will step down from her position June 30 to become dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

She will replace Mohsen Mostafavi, who announced last October he would leave at the end of this academic year after holding the position since 2008.

Whiting will begin her duties at Harvard on July 1.

Sarah Whiting

Sarah Whiting

“When we hired Sarah Whiting as our new dean nearly a decade ago, we were confident she would be an extraordinary dean,” Rice President David Leebron said. “We just didn’t know how extraordinary. We are grateful for her remarkable record of achievement at the Rice School of Architecture, and for her impactful contributions to the university more broadly. We wish her well in her new position, but are sad to be losing such a wonderful colleague.”

“Sarah has been a superb leader of the Rice School of Architecture for the last nine years and leaves the school well-positioned for the future,” said Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. “It has been a tremendous pleasure to work with her. We will certainly miss Sarah, but are incredibly proud of her and wish her great success at Harvard.”

Whiting, an expert in urban and architectural theory, left the Princeton University School of Architecture faculty to join Rice in 2010. Before that, she spent six years as a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

During Whiting’s tenure, Rice has consistently been among the nation’s top-ranked undergraduate and graduate architecture programs, reaching No. 2 last year in the DesignIntelligence rankings for undergraduates and No. 7 for graduate students. She was among the poll’s “25 Most Admired Educators in Architecture, Interiors and Landscape Architecture” for 2018-19.

Whiting worked with her faculty to institute the Totalization program – advanced design studios that introduce students to the heady, if unforeseeable, outcomes that happen with practice. Through the program, undergraduate and graduate students learn to navigate a profession that by nature incorporates many moving parts and requires architects to remain nimble enough to accommodate contingencies.

Whiting has also played a major role in Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts, chairing the committee that selected its executive director, Alison Weaver.

During Rice’s Centennial Celebration, Whiting provided a convenient alibi for a crew of German artists planning the Spectacle, a sound-and-light show that used buildings in the academic quad as a canvas. The artists charged with interviewing members of the Rice community for the show told them they were visiting cousins of Whiting, who co-chaired the Spectacle committee.

More recently Whiting shepherded plans for yet another building, William T. Cannady Hall, announced this week. The 20,000-square-foot building with exhibition, teaching, and fabrication spaces for the School of Architecture will be constructed next to Anderson Hall, with groundbreaking tentatively scheduled for next summer.

“Leaving Rice was a hard decision,” said Whiting, who replaced Lars Lerup as dean. “The school is doing so well right now, with our expansion in process and other initiatives coming to fruition. It’s a very exciting moment, so stepping away from that is very hard.”

Aside from her previous experience teaching at Harvard, the move will be another kind of homecoming for Whiting. Her twin brother Alex Whiting is a professor of practice at Harvard Law School.

“Needless to say, being back in the same city as my twin is a special part of the attraction of going there,” she said.

The provost’s office said planning will soon begin for interim school leadership and a national search for the next dean of architecture.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.