Office d'Ann Arbor: Monica Ponce de Leon named Dean at Michigan

On April 29, 2008, the University of Michigan’s A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning announced the appointment of Monica Ponce de Leon as incoming dean. A tenured professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Ponce de Leon is the founder and principal of Boston-based Office dA with Nader Tehrani. The firm is known for its sensuous forms, innovative use of materials, and pioneering use of digital technology and production, and Ponce de Leon has balanced teaching with a full-time thriving practice since she graduated from the GSD in 1991.

She will arrive at the school with the institution on very strong footing. Michigan has the largest endowment of any public architecture school in the country, and is undertaking an expansion of its building. Over two five-year terms, outgoing dean Douglas Kelbaugh, an architect and planner who has been closely associated with New Urbanism, launched an urban design program, as well as a certificate in real estate development. Kelbaugh expects Ponce de Leon, who has a Masters of Architecture in Urban Design, to continue the school’s focus on urbanism and strengthen its commitment to sustainability and technological advancement. “She believes that technology is revolutionizing the field,” Kelbaugh said. “She’s one of the best designers in the country. She has an incredibly refined sense of techtonics.”

“Michigan is one of the best universities in the country,” Ponce de Leon told AN. “I want to see how we can advance architectural education and address how technology is transforming the field.” She expects to open an office in Ann Arbor and retain a presence in Boston. Office dA has won numerous design awards–including a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award–for buildings ranging from the Tongxian art center in Beijing to the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Macallen building, the first large multi-unit housing development in Boston to attain LEED certification.

“She’s a catch. She’s young, she’s tenured at Harvard. I think it’s a real vote of confidence in the place that she would come here,” Kelbaugh said. “We think she will continue to push the school on its current upward trajectory.”

by Alan G. Brake, The Architect’s Newspaper