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Adèle Naudé Santos, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, to step down

Ten-year tenure marked by an invigorated faculty, consolidated space, increased applications; Reif applauds ‘her remarkable eye for talent’
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Adèle Naudé Santos
Adèle Naudé Santos
Photo: Judith M. Daniels

Today, Adèle Naudé Santos, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), announced to the school’s faculty that after 10 years as dean, she has decided to step down and return to the faculty, effective at the end of this semester. She is the ninth dean of the school and the second woman to hold the position of school dean at MIT.

Santos, who is a professor in both the Department of Architecture and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and a practicing architect, arrived at MIT with three goals for her deanship: She wanted to consolidate the School’s six locations, so that faculty and students from different research groups could more easily be together; she wanted to make crucial hires and promotions to add strength in key areas and encourage greater inter-school collaboration; and she wished to increase the School’s overall visibility. 

In an email to faculty and SA+P staff today, Acting Provost Martin Schmidt praised Santos for her stewardship of the school. “Dean Santos has been a powerful force for MIT,” he wrote. “With focus and sustained effort, she has added strength and vitality to a School whose creativity and scholarship have become increasingly integral to the Institute.”

MIT President L. Rafael Reif also praised Santos. “I arrived at MIT just as the Media Lab was taking off,” he said. “In the 30 years since, the School of Architecture and Planning has continually renewed itself to stay on the cutting edge. Dean Santos brought to the role her considerable gifts as an architect and administrator, but we will always be most grateful for her remarkable eye for talent. She brought SA+P to greater prominence — even as the global financial crisis hit at the midpoint of her tenure. I am very proud of her accomplishments.”

Dean Santos’ tenure has been marked by dramatic increases in interest in SA+P. Since 2004, applications for the Master of Architecture program have more than doubled. In the same period, applications for the Master’s Program in the Media Lab’s Media Arts and Sciences program have also more than doubled – and applications for the Master of Science in Architecture Studies have risen by 85 percent. Applications for Master in City planning have risen by 70 percent.

“I have loved this appointment, because I have loved this school,” said Santos. “The excellent faculty and students I’ve had the honor to collaborate with are more MIT than they’ve ever been: they’re intent on doing interesting research, crossing aisles, and pushing boundaries. Their good work makes me incredibly proud.”

Santos came to MIT from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was a full professor. Previously, she served as the founding dean of the School of Architecture at the University of California at San Diego. She held previous appointments at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was Chair of Architecture, and Harvard University.

In parallel to her academic career, Santos has maintained her own architecture studio: San Francisco–based Santos Prescott and Associates. The firm, which has won numerous awards, has built work in California, Pennsylvania, and Boston — as well as in Japan, China, and Guatemala.

A focused list of priorities

Santos worked to consolidate the School physically: She saw such a move as vital to nurturing cultural synergies for creative and collaborative teaching. Once dispersed over six locations, the School’s faculty now center in two locations: MIT’s Main Group and the Media Lab.

In the Main Group, Dean Santos oversaw renovations in Buildings 7 and 3 that added the Steam Café, the Long Lounge, and the Fab Lab — and made vast facilities improvements for DUSP. In the Media Lab, a long-awaited signature additional building had become stalled in the process of design. Dean Santos helped restart the process through intensive fundraising; the new building was completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

Santos also worked to make key faculty hires and promotions, aiming to maintain the strength of all departments while also encouraging cross-disciplinary interaction. In particular, she was keen to make hires in the Department of Architecture that would elevate SA+P’s status as a center of design; toward that end, she hired high-profile design faculty (such as two successive heads of the department, Yung Ho Chang and Nader Tehrani). She also increased enrollment in the Master of Architecture program by 16 percent and made a number of tenure appointments in DUSP.

She leaves to her successor a school refreshed and reenergized: 40 percent of SA+P’s current faculty were hired since Santos was appointed dean. In that same period, 38 percent of the faculty have been tenured and 55 percent promoted.

Santos championed a collaborative attitude that connected SA+P to creative minds across the Institute. The Festival of Arts and Sciences (FAST), for example, which was created for MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration, was spearheaded by SA+P but drew enthusiastic participation from the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Finally, Santos set out to increase the overall visibility of SA+P. In addition to strengthening the School’s primary functions and consolidating the faculty into two creative centers, Dean Santos created a new website, new publications, more events for alumni and for the public, and a more deliberate and interactive process for recruiting students.

During her tenure as dean, Santos, who has earned advanced degrees in city planning and architecture from Penn and Harvard, received the Topaz Award, given annually by the American Institute of Architects and the Collegiate School of Architecture for excellence in architectural education.

In his email to faculty and SA+P staff, Acting Provost Schmidt asked for insights and suggestions from the MIT community to help identify the best candidates for the Institute’s next dean for SA+P. All correspondence sent by email ( or letter (Room 3-240) will be treated as confidential.

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