Dear Alumni and Friends,

With the GSD community together on campus again, we return to a world that needs thoughtful, caring designers more than ever. I recently listened to an interview with George Saunders, one of my favorite writers, and a phrase he said truly resonated with me: “Kindness is the only non-delusional response to the human condition.” This short sentence captures a great mindset for all of us as the GSD community.

We have many ways of responding directly to what is going on in the world through what we do at the GSD. We have an impressive range of courses this fall, many of which take on the question of where design intersects with critical contemporary issues of equity, health, climate, infrastructure, re-use, and migration. We also have courses that look at a whole host of other topics, ranging from Michelangelo to insects, social infrastructure, and finance. We will have our hands and heads full this semester. As we dive into this remarkable range of intelligence and knowledge, we’ll be doing it together again.

Our students, faculty, and staff will once again learn and work alongside one another under the same roof (and I’ll note that over the summer, we replaced all 120 of Gund Hall’s roofs!). We’ve also expanded outward, with tents, tables, chairs, and portable digital screens on Gund’s “front porch” as well as in the “backyard”—spaces that we can now use for teaching as well as for eating or napping. Taking forth some positives from our experience online, we will continue to make extensive use of digital technologies to produce and share ideas, collaborate, and communicate with each other. The guiding priority for us remains as it has been throughout the pandemic: the health and safety of each member of our community. Community-wide vaccination, weekly testing, and indoor masking have enabled us to return to campus and I am grateful to everyone for their cooperation.

I want to highlight our new class—the students who will eventually join your esteemed ranks as GSD graduates. Our incoming class hails from 34 different countries; more than half of the class population is international. There are 1,073 students total at the GSD and 23 programs of study, thanks in part to the overlap this year of the former MDes “tracks” and the inauguration of the new MDes “domains.” Things I love the most about the GSD include the spontaneous and informal intersections of these many different areas of expertise that happen when students from various programs take courses together or sit near one another in the Trays, and when faculty from different departments discover productive overlaps in their work.

We are also pleased to welcome back the Loeb Fellowship this year, with ten Fellows coming to us with backgrounds in activism, urbanism, public art, film and media, technology, and real estate development. This year’s cohort marks the 51st class of Fellows and inaugurates collaboration between the Loeb Fellowship and the ArtLab at Harvard University. Also, this year, alongside the customary cohort of Irving Innovation Fellows, we have a group of Irving Instructional Technology Fellows, likewise made possible by the John E. Irving Dean’s Innovation Fund. All of the Irving Fellows, who are recent graduates of the school, are furthering their individual postgraduate research while also helping academic departments and programs navigate and incorporate new pedagogical approaches.

This semester, our campus buildings are open only to Harvard University ID holders, so while we will have to wait a little longer to welcome you, our alumni, to events with us in person, we look forward to offering many ways to connect virtually. Starting today, September 23, you can join the two-day global virtual summit “Design Impact – Following the Sun: Design Futures at the Intersection of Health, Equity, and Climate Change,” an initiative of the Alumni Council. This fall, the GSD’s robust Fall 2021 public program will be live-streamed. I hope you can join us for the Loeb Lecture “Felon: A play; A discourse” featuring Reginald Dwayne Betts; the “Black in Design: Black Matter” conference with keynote addresses by Lesley Lokko and Mpho Matsipa; the issue launch and conversation for Harvard Design Magazine #49: “Publics,” edited by Anita Berrizbeitia MLA ’87 and Diane Davis; and many more events. In the new year, we will hold the annual GSD Town Hall, which is an opportunity for us to connect and discuss my priorities for the school.

I’m looking forward to the return of exhibitions inside Gund Hall in the Druker Design Gallery, with content being available to you on our website. The first exhibition of the fall semester, “GSD: A–Z 2020 & 2021,” is a compendium of work from the last two graduating classes and coincides with a new A–Z yearbook for each graduating class. Opening in October is “Interrogative Design: Selected Works of Krzysztof Wodiczko,” GSD Professor in Residence of Art, Design, and the Public Domain, which will introduce, or reintroduce, you to the diverse and wide-ranging aspects of one of the most vital artistic practices of the 21st century. The exhibition will reemphasize Wodiczko’s practice as one bridging art with design, weaving social engagement with innovative technologies, mapping marginalized identities onto architecture, and reinscribing new memories onto existing monuments.

Also on the faculty side, I am thrilled to announce that Rachel Meltzer was appointed the inaugural Plimpton Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics, effective July 1. This role was established in 2019 and made possible by a generous gift from Samuel Plimpton MBA ’77, MArch ’80, and his wife, Wendy Shattuck. Also as of July 1, Antoine Picon assumed the role of Director of the Doctor of Philosophy program, which Erika Naginski has tirelessly overseen for the past seven years. Our PhD students have done extremely well in obtaining terrific positions after graduating, and I know that Erika’s organization and mentoring were instrumental in helping them succeed.

I’m thankful for our thoughtful and creative students, who are at the forefront of that crucial work. I encourage all of you to tune into the African American Design Nexus’ podcast, The Nexus, which explores the intersection of design, identity, and practice through conversations with Black designers, writers, and educators. The African American Design Nexus was developed by the Frances Loeb Library in collaboration with the GSD’s African American Student Union. In the latest episode of the podcast, Dmitri Julius connects the dots between terrestrial, sustainable building practices and new technologies being developed for human habitation in outer space through a conversation with two student hosts, Tara Oluwafemi and Darien Carr, who pepper Julius with thoughtful and provocative questions.

Finally, our beloved Gund Hall received some upgrades before it celebrates its 50th birthday in 2022. Improvements focused on safety, sustainability, and modernization, including a rewired fire alarm system and gleaming polished concrete floors in the Trays. The lounges now have cork floors, the entrances to Gund have 10-foot doors, and I already mentioned the 120 roofs. Refurbished bathrooms include an accessible non-gender bathroom on the first floor. And, given the emphasis on outdoor activities during the pandemic, we’re especially happy with the plein-air experience that our new outdoor furniture provides.

I am very much excited by our return to campus, and I thank you for all that you have done over the last year to keep the GSD, our faculty, and our students safe, supported, and engaged. I look forward to when we can greet each other in person soon.

Yours optimistically,


Sarah M. Whiting
Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture
Harvard University Graduate School of Design