Mohsen Mostafavi has begun serving as dean of the College of Art, Architecture and Planning this year, replacing Porus Olpadwala, who will return to his previous position of professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning after a year’s sabbatical.
Mostafavi just completed two terms as chair of the Architectural Association School of Architecture (A.A.) in London, and has held positions at Cambridge, the Frankfurt Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as director of the Master of Architecture I program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He has studied at the A.A., Cambridge University and the University of Essex, and has written and edited numerous books.
Mostafavi is credited with having stabilized the finances and modernizing the technology of the A.A. during his tenure there.
“I think that I inherited a school that had a very good reputation but was having a lot of difficulty financially,” he said. “So [my goal] was to set up a situation whereby the school was really doing great work but also was financially healthy.”
He described his work involving new long-term leases and building purchases, as well as major technology upgrades and new Master’s programs. He also discussed the acquisition of property in Dorset outside of London, which will serve as a site for the study of sustainable architecture and environmental integration.
Michael Matier, Cornell’s director of institutional research and planning and manager of the dean selection committee that recommended Mostafavi to President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, said that the committee was enthusiastic upon speaking with Mostafavi.
“He was very engaging, very bright and very articulate when he was here for his interview, and I think there was a general consensus around him that he was somebody that rose to the top of the list of candidates,” Matier said.
Provost Biddy Martin, who chaired the selection committee, concurred, and emphasized the need for an accomplished leader.
“We felt that he was a long shot,” she said. “But the architecture college has been through a lot and really needs strong leadership and vision.”
Mostafavi explained that his decision to accept Cornell’s offer was the result of intangible factors.
“During this process, I think the thing that really made me decide was very specific people, and very specific conversations and circumstances. Often in life you have to go with your gut reaction,” he said, adding, “It was probably the way that [Provost] Biddy [Martin] had initiated a conversation, and her enthusiasm and positive vibes, and what she saw as the benefits of being here.”
Thus far, Mostafavi is enjoying his experience here, although he admits it is quite different from living in London.
“There are a lot of things happening in the evenings here, so I’m having fun myself. It’s a beautiful town. Often in London I really mean to go and do these things but I never find the opportunity, but just to be able to walk to the theater and buy a ticket and go and see a performance and bump into a few people, there’s a kind of pleasure in that,” Mostafavi said. Mostafavi said that his immediate goals are to increase collaboration between the different departments within AAP, and also between AAP and the rest of the University. He describes his outlook as “optimistic,” although he jokingly expressed concern about the reputation of Ithaca’s winter climate.
“Everybody has been trying to scare me so much about what’s going to be happening in a few weeks’ time with the weather and the snow,” he said. “But I don’t think I’m too scared.”
Archived article by Andrew Beckwith
Sun Senior Writer