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Santos honored for excellence in architectural education

SA+P dean wins prestigious Topaz Medallion
Adèle Naudé Santos
Adèle Naudé Santos
Photo / Judith M. Daniels

Adèle Naudé Santos, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, is being honored with the 2009 Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, given by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

In a letter of support for her Topaz nomination, Edward Allen, the 2005 Topaz Medallion recipient, wrote: "For her entire working lifetime, she has been like a force of nature in architectural education and practice, inevitable and irresistible." BSA President Diane Georgopulos concurred: "As a practitioner, teacher, role model, leader, pioneer, mentor and articulate advocate of effective, innovative architectural education, Santos is a nonpareil soul whose impact on our profession and on both educators and students has been and continues to be extraordinary."

Santos was appointed dean of SA+P in 2004, having previously served as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design; founding dean of the UC San Diego School of Architecture and professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also chair of the architecture department for six years. She has also taught at Harvard's Graduate School of Design and at Rice, and has held visiting appointments throughout the U.S. and the world, including Italy and in her native South Africa.

As SA+P dean, Santos has recruited a whole new generation of leaders in all the school's major divisions — Yung Ho Chang in the Department of Architecture, Amy Glasmeier in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Frank Moss at the Media Lab and Ute Meta Bauer in the Visual Arts Program. Under their leadership, a number of highly distinguished new faculty have been hired throughout the school.

Of her work as dean, Pritzker Prize-winner Fumihiko Maki said, "She dramatically transformed the school by creating synergy between architecture, urban design, media arts and sciences while appointing senior positions to an international cast of educators cum practitioners. It has culminated in a renewed interest in research where a new and evolving curriculum has emerged."

In addition to her academic work, Santos is principal architect in the San Francisco-based firm, Santos Prescott and Associates. Her architectural and planning projects include affordable and luxury housing and institutional buildings in Africa; affordable housing in Japan; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; the Center for the Arts at Albright College, Reading, Pa.; the Yerba Buena Gardens Children's Center in San Francisco; City Links, A Vision Plan for San Diego; and Franklin/LaBrea Affordable Housing in Hollywood Calif.

According to the AIA, her practice is known for its holistic approach, and her academic work for its interdisciplinary attitude. "During my entire career," Santos said, "I have combined teaching and practice. There has always been a cross-fertilization between the two, and, at their best, both teaching and practice have been a form of research. The balance between the two has been an important stimulus to my creativity as a teacher and to my professional work and role as an administrator. Even now, as dean at MIT, I have a small practice, which I find an essential creative outlet, and I continue to teach."

Santos holds an AA from the Architectural Association in London and a Master of Architecture in urban design from Harvard, as well as a Master of Architecture and a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. She has won an impressive number of awards and competitions all over the world, six of them first-place finishes.

This is the second time the Topaz Medallion has come to MIT; in 2004, the award was given to Stanford Anderson, then head of the Department of Architecture and now professor of history, theory and criticism in the department.

Santos will receive her medallion in March at the annual meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and will be honored by the AIA at its convention later in the spring.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 10, 2008 (download PDF).

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