Following Brett Steele

From UCLA to USC

John Hill
7. December 2023
Photo: Tim Brotherton

The moving around of administrative higher-ups in architecture schools is not a subject covered widely in this magazine, but the announcement of Brett Steele stepping down as director of the AA in late 2016, after eleven years in that position, was significant enough for us to write a short headline. His move then was 5,400 miles to UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles, which was something of a return for him, given that he grew up on the American West, in Oregon and Idaho, and attended art and architecture schools on the West Coast before moving to the UK and becoming a British citizen. Steele had started at the AA in 1997, leading the AA Design Research Lab before becoming the school's director in 2005.

Steele will make his geographically smaller move, from UCLA to USC, also located in Los Angeles, on February 1, taking over from interim dean Willow Bay, who has served in that role since Milton Curry left in 2022. In addition to his dean title, Steele will be the Della & Harry MacDonald Dean’s Chair in Architecture, per a press release from USC.

In his six years at UCLA, Steele oversaw fourteen degree-granting programs in four academic departments spread across the fields of art and architecture, as well as two museums (one of them is the recently transformed Hammer Museum in Downtown LA) and a performing arts center. Although the school at USC is focused squarely on architecture, the press release mentions that Steele will “bring that interdisciplinary approach to USC's School of Architecture as its newest dean.”

Of interest to USC President Carol Folt is Steele's “creative and inclusive ways of thinking that bring architects closer to their communities.” The statement from USC also singles out how Steele “led several initiatives that resulted in the school’s highest enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds, the revision of curricula to be more inclusive, and increased civic engagement, especially with communities often underrepresented in higher education.”

“I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have spent my adult life in New York, London and Los Angeles, cities full of amazing artists and designers and architects, but also full of amazing audiences for that work. One of my great hopes at USC is for us to build upon this amazing legacy of architecture that’s identified with this great school, but also continue to find ways in which USC plays a vital role in the building of those audiences surrounding architecture and landscape and conservation, and the making of the kind of cities which are genuinely possible here in ways in which it just isn’t in so many different schools and cities around the world.”

Brett Steele, incoming USC School of Architecture dean

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