The College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley is pleased to announce Professor of Architecture and Urban Design Renee Y. Chow as the newest Chair of the Department of Architecture. Chow, who has taught at the College since 1993, began her tenure in July. Most recently, she was the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and formerly held the Eva Li Chair in Design Ethics (2005-2010) at CED.
For the past 25 years, Chow has taught beginning and advanced design studios, design seminars and housing seminars at the College. Her practice and research focuses on the intersection between architecture and its locale. The author of Suburban Space: The Fabric of Dwelling (UC Press, 2002) and Changing Chinese Cities: The Potentials of Field Urbanism (University of Hawaii Press, 2015), her work considers the urban challenges of the 21st century — increasing density, reducing resource consumption, and intensifying urban diversity — and aims to find solutions that are locally rooted. Part of Chow’s research has included developing analytic and generative design tools for integrating urban and architectural systems across sites and individual buildings.
Chow is also a principal of Studio URBIS, an internationally-recognized architecture and urban design practice formed in collaboration with her partner Thomas Chastain. Chow has designed single- and multi-family residences, institutional and commercial projects as well as urban and community specific development plans and studies.
Below is a discussion with Renee on how she first became interested in the field of architecture, what her hopes and goals are for the College, and where she sees the future of architecture heading.
Congratulations on your new role. Tell us about you: where are you from and how did you choose architecture as a profession?
I was born on the Upper East Side of New York and grew up in the suburbs outside the city. My parents are both from Shanghai, coming to the U.S. for college studies before the Communist revolution in China. My mother studied psychology and my father studied engineering. I suppose one view of architecture is as a combination of those two.
What is your first order of business as chair?
Now that the semester has started, any plans have been superseded by the the immediate needs of running the department! That said, I hope to immediately strengthen our connections with the larger community—professional, alumni—and with residents and agencies in the Bay Area. I want the department to be seen as a resource and a partner in exploring the future of architecture and environmental design.
What do you think makes architecture at CED unique? Not just at UC Berkeley, but across other institutions?
We are unique in our advancing of the discipline to be a contributor to multidisciplinary enterprises. This is rooted in our establishment within a college of environmental design. We have great strengths in architectural design, architectural humanities and architectural sciences at Berkeley, but we also ask: How can we learn from and contribute to other disciplines and professions toward the building of a better environment?
From the Bay Area’s housing crisis to the US-Mexico border wall, architecture’s role in society is more relevant than ever. How do you hope to educate the next generation of architects?
One hundred years ago, architects were key to the building of cities. They defined the problems of cities and shaped the visions of what cities could be. Interestingly, the systems that were formative then are again being disrupted: mobility, water infrastructure, and urban health. The academy needs to be at the forefront of reimagining and reshaping our cities through both research and speculation about what the future can be.
What are you most excited for?
Having been an educator at Berkeley for 25 years, this is my first full-time administrative role. I’m excited to use this position to shape education in more collective ways. I will be looking at curricular initiatives and the cultural shifts toward re-shaping architectural education. This is a very different way of teaching, and I’m looking forward to it.