Frederick Steiner

Architecture Dean Frederick Steiner. 

Photo Credit: Marsha Miller | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. This interview has been condensed.

The Daily Texan: You are one of the longest-serving deans on campus, having been in the position since 2001. What are the most interesting changes you have seen in the work done in the school and the types of students who matriculate?

Frederick Steiner: We get very bright young people. They are very smart, motivated and hard-working. I think the thing that has changed the most in the past couple of years is that they have become more idealistic. Before the recession, jobs were plentiful, so every student had several offers. During the recession, the students became more entrepreneurial... their idea of architecture expanded. A lot more became interested in public interest design. They also began to blur the edges of design. A lot of them are now interested in gaming and graphic design. 

DT: What are the major projects that are going on in the School of Architecture? 

Steiner: The biggest thing we are working on is the renovation of Battle Hall. Battle Hall is our initial library on campus, which is over 100 years old and needs restoration. And the library is not handicap accessible. So one of the three parts of the project is to connect us to buildings that will help our handicap access... and fire safety. We will convert the West Mall Office Building into much-needed studios and classroom spaces. We’ve also ramped up our research areas like green building design. The third part of the project is a modest addition for John Chase who was one of the first African-American students at the University. The three parts of the project involve preservation, infrastructure improvement and classroom and research space issues.

DT: What kind of work do your graduates do?

Steiner: Most architecture majors end up working at private firms. Planning majors mostly work at public agencies. Landscape architecture is kind of in between. Interior design did well during the recession because buildings may not be built, but they still have to redo interiors. They are mostly in the private sector. The growth area has been the nonprofit sector. More people have gone to work for public health or nonprofit housing agencies or watershed associations. 

DT: Since you started as dean, have you seen any changes in the numbers of students enrolled in the school’s programs?

Steiner: It’s been really constant. The undergraduate enrollment is pretty constant all the way back to the ‘70s. The graduate’ enrollment has increased through time. The number of graduate application in architecture spike during the recession, then came back down a little bit and now just went up by 100 more applicants this year. Our intake is about the same. We stay around 700 students.

DT: How important do you find fundraising to be to the School of Architecture?

Steiner: Absolutely essential. 

DT: And do you find it’s become more essential since you started?

Steiner: Yes. The Capital Campaign was a huge success. Battle Hall is a $70 million project. President Powers has said that [we] need to come up with between $10 and 15 million.

DT: How soon does the school expect to reach that goal?

Steiner: I get discouraged a little bit because people are generous but sometimes not as generous as we would like them to be. [Laura] Bush has been incredibly helpful [as our honorary chair]. She really loves libraries, so that’s her connection. She is really hands-on, and has been giving us really specific suggestions. 

DT: Is there anything else you’d like students to know about the School of Architecture?

Steiner: It’s a terrific school. The one other challenge we face is keeping up with technology. If we want to stay as a leader, we need to invest more technology. My fear is that we have fallen behind where we should be with technology. If the biggest budget challenge is Battle Hall restoration, technology is probably the second big one, followed by faculty salaries and graduate student stipends for recruitment.

The efforts of Professor Larry Speck and his colleagues have contributed to the School of Architecture undergraduate program ranking second nationally for 2012, according to professional journal DesignIntelligence. Nonetheless, Dean Frederick Steiner voices concerns whether decreased funding will jeopardize the prestigious ranking.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

Competitive tuition and faculty accomplishments within the School of Architecture were likely factors in the school’s undergraduate program being ranked second in the nation for 2012. Budget cuts could threaten to bring that ranking down in the future, architecture dean Frederick Steiner said.

UT’s ranking, compiled by DesignIntelligence, a journal that produces the only national rankings for accredited bachelor’s and master’s architecture programs in the United States, was second only to Cornell University.

“Students definitely look to rankings, so it’s better to be ranked high,” Steiner said. “I actually believe at the undergraduate level, we’re the best in the country. I think we’re stronger than Cornell who is ranked ahead of us. We are certainly the top public university in the nation at the undergraduate level.”

DesignIntelligence did not respond to requests to disclose their ranking system on Monday, but Steiner said cost was a significant factor. Of the top 10 universities, UT was the least expensive in 2010 for in-state tuition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, according to information compiled by the School of Architecture.

“We are by far and away the cheapest, most inexpensive school,” Steiner said. “What keeps me up at night is if we will be able to continue to keep that ranking when obviously our budget is not increasing.”

Steiner said the School of Architecture has filled faculty vacancies with lower ranking titles than their outgoing predecessors to save $52,000 in the past year. He said support from the university president and provost have helped navigate through budget cuts, but he said he knows maintaining the quality of the program with less money is unsustainable.

As Steiner and other administrators dealt with the logistics of funding, he said the fantastic work during 2011 by faculty contributed to the school’s 2012 ranking, which rose from seventh place last year.

“Larry Speck won the Topaz medallion which is the highest honor for an architectural educator,” Steiner said. “The faculty also won quite a few awards and published several books that year, so we were quite productive.”

DesignIntelligence added architecture professor Larry Speck and associate professor Hope Hasbrouck to its list of “top 25 most admired educators of 2012.” These designations, released in conjunction with program rankings, are achieved through recommendation from architecture students and academics, which makes the accomplishment more rewarding, Speck said.

“It’s the sort of thing you can’t campaign for or apply for, which is great,” Speck said. “I love it when you don’t apply and people say ‘Yeah, that’s someone I admire.’”

Architecture graduate student Nelly Fuentes expressed her admiration for Hasbrouck.

“She’ll be the last one to brag about herself, but her wealth of knowledge and experience in the profession is quite impressive,” Fuentes said. “As a professor she is invested and insightful, particularly with regards to the making of place and representing landscape.”

Architecture senior James Spence said he took a class with Speck freshman year and said talented instructors like him had to have benefited UT’s ranking.

“UT’s strengths are the sure-fire reasons the school was ranked No. 2 in the nation,” Spence said. “Most of these strengths come from our staff. Not only are our professors very well versed in their respective fields of architecture, but they are deeply involved with the progress of their students.”

The Austin Police Department released the name of a UT student who was killed in a hit-and-run on Sunday night.

Adam Conrad Grote, 22, was a student in the School of Architecture. He was due to graduate in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

“Everyone at the School of Architecture is saddened and stunned to learn of this tragic news,” said Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture in a statement released today. “Adam Grote is remembered by his professors and classmates as an amiable young man and a talented and hardworking student.”

Grote was hit at about 3:15 a.m. while walking on the shoulder of the southbound Interstate Highway 35 frontage road just south of East Riverside Drive. The car then fled the scene, according to police. Grote was pronounced dead on the scene.

“The loss will be deeply felt by everyone in the School of Architecture community,” Steiner said in today’s statement. 

Dean of Architecture Frederick Steiner's book, "Design for a Vulnerable Planet," will be featured at the Texas Book Festival this weekend. The book talks about sustainability and uses examples from the UT campus.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

What we choose to build has a huge impact on our natural world. Buildings consume 50 percent of energy used in the United States and as the human population grows exponentially, our need for homes, offices, parks and public buildings is not easily abated. By 2030, half of the buildings in our cities will have been constructed in the last 30 years. In his book, “Design for a Vulnerable Planet,” UT Dean of the School of Architecture Frederick Steiner explores how design and planning can create a more sustainable world.

Steiner is speaking at Texas Book Festival this Sunday.

“There’s lots of challenges when we look at the planet becoming increasingly urban,” Steiner said. “But I think there is lots of opportunity for creative people to shape a healthier and more beautiful future.”

In his book Steiner argues that, to achieve sustainable design, we must understand the full economic social and environmental costs of development and act accordingly. Understanding these costs means being aware of the interplay between the man-made and natural environment.

Architect Paul Cret, who planned the UT campus in 1933 and designed many of its older buildings such as the Union and Goldsmith Hall, exemplified this kind of awareness in many ways. In one chapter of “Vulnerable Planet,” Steiner discusses what we can learn from Cret, who used local materials such as limestone and live oak and took sun angle, weather conditions and topography into consideration in his arrangement of UT campus.

The success of architects like Cret was achieved by consulting their environment but ignored by the Modernist movement, which shaped the design of many of our cities, Steiner said. “Around the planet we produced an architecture of boxes, some glass, others transparent and windowless,” he writes. “We created cities disconnected from nature.”

According to Steiner, designers and planners need to abandon this “one-size-fits-all” point of view and use knowledge of the place if we are to shape a sustainable future.

“The great English poet Alexander Pope said ‘consult the genius of the place.’ Japanese garden designers live a year in a place before they make a design,” Steiner said. “They try to understand the four seasons, the wind and the light.”

But “consulting the genius of the place” does not just mean aesthetics for Steiner. By understanding that the natural and man-made environments interact as part of the same ecosystem, designers and planners can bring about powerful environmental changes. Transitioning to renewable energy sources and reusing existing sites rather than encroaching on “prime farmland” or “environmentally sensitive areas” are two steps that Steiner said can have both environmental and economic benefits.

In cities growing vegetation on roofs, using absorbent paving materials, building smaller parking lots and planting more trees can minimize runoff, keep temperatures in cities from becoming unnaturally high and generally make cities more enjoyable places to live, he said. The social impact of design is important, Steiner said.

“Certainly we spend a lot of money as tourists to go to environments that make us feel better,” he said.

The Woodlands, an environmentally sound community outside of Houston, is one example where sustainability and livability have gone hand and hand. Now one of the country’s largest, most successful planned communities, The Woodlands began as a government-funded effort to build community that meshed with local ecology. Wooded communities have helped change the suburban aesthetic, Steiner said.

“When The Woodlands first started, people thought it was crazy,” Steiner said. “It was about protecting old trees and water courses, and now a lot of rich people want to go there and play golf.”

In his book, Steiner emphasizes that shaping a sustainable future requires interdisciplinary cooperation and the opportunity for involvement in shaping our environment goes beyond just architects and designers.

“If we aren’t involved in the creative process, we’re involved as consumer and interpreters,” he said. “We can make good choices.”