Dennis Doordan

Associate Dean of Research

Dennis Doordan

Researching Doordan’s new role

Dennis Doordan, a popular professor who teaches a variety of courses on the history of architecture and design in the modern era, became the School of Architecture's first Associate Dean of Research on July 1, 2012. In an interview about his new role, Doordan was asked, among other questions, why create this new position, especially in the School of Architecture?

The University of Notre Dame has clearly articulated the goal of becoming the premier Catholic research and teaching university in the U.S. This is an ambitious goal and one with implications for every academic unit in the university including the School of Architecture. Part of my responsibilities as Associate Dean include serving as a liaison between the School and the rest of the University on matters related to research opportunities, collaborations, policy, and funding. But Dean Lykoudis made it clear to me that he expects more of this new position than coordinating policies with the rest of the University. A big part of my job will involve promoting an articulated understanding of the nature of research in architecture and the related fields taught within the School.

What defines research in the field of architectural education?

Traditionally, architecture has been thought about as a professional degree charged with preparing the next generation of practitioners. But in a very real sense, research has always been part of the challenge of providing good design. Think about it for a moment: whether it is mastering new digital tools or evaluating the merits of traditional versus new materials and practices, or acquiring an in depth knowledge about the particular people, the distinctive place and the specific program associated with design problems, these all involve research. Good architects and good architectural educators are always involved in some form of research: asking questions, collecting information, comparing experiences and perspectives. One thing that is not part of my job description is defining research in the field of architecture. The faculty will do that through their collective efforts; they will define the scope of research in architecture. It is impressive and important to note the range of work across the faculty in Bond Hall. You have people reflecting on critical issues in history, theory, and practice, and presenting their work in traditional publication formats. You also find faculty working to combine traditional and new technologies in order to enhance our understanding of historic architecture. And, you find faculty developing new design tools and collaborating with specialists elsewhere in the University to explore aspects of sustainable design and management of the built environment. No single model of research or creativity captures what this faculty is doing. That’s exciting!

How do you plan on assisting faculty with their research?

Representing, connecting, and reviewing are the key words in answering this question. One way to conceptualize my new position is as a bridge between Bond Hall and those divisions of the University charged with promoting research and scholarship. I like the bridge metaphor because it conveys the notion that traffic can move two-ways across a bridge. I am charged with representing the interests of the architecture faculty; I am also charged with explaining the policies and interests of the University as a whole to my colleagues in Bond Hall. Connecting people with resources, opportunities, and other people will certainly be a big part of the job. Finally, we need to review our own resources and needs in the School to see if there are ways we can enhance existing and create new ways to encourage, support, and clarify the value of research, scholarship, and creative practice.

What excites you about your new role?

I find the range of research going on in Bond Hall stimulating. I think projects like the proposed Center for Classical and Traditional Architecture and Urbanism clearly have the potential to make a major contribution not just to teaching and research in Bond Hall but to significantly raising the profile and reputation of the University of Notre Dame as a research destination, i.e. a place where scholars from other institutions come to pursue their research.

You’re one of the most sought out professors in the School. Will you continue to teach?

Oh yes, Dean Lykoudis made it clear that my new post will not take me out of the classroom and frankly, I am not interested in “leaving” the classroom. Juggling schedules is one of the challenges of taking on a position like this, but I will still teach.

What are your professional areas of interest? How do your academic endeavors coincide with your interests?

I was trained originally as an architectural historian and I have published books and articles on a variety of topics in 20th century architecture and design. Last fall I gave a paper at the International Design History Society Conference on the work of the English artist and type designer Eric Gill. It turns out the University holds a major archive of Gill’s work—housed in Hesburgh Library—so I am trying to take advantage of material that is close at hand. Teaching also keeps me involved with major issues and challenges confronting the architectural community and I can think of few challenges more pressing than promoting a sustainable built environment. So, when I was invited to contribute a chapter on developing a theory of sustainable design for a new handbook on Sustainable Design to be published by Berg Press early in 2013, I jumped on that opportunity. One quick comment on the issue of sustainability; while physically Bond Hall is often perceived as being “on the edge” of campus, on this issue, we have a central role to play in helping the University of Notre Dame effectively respond to one of the central issues of our times.