Courtesy of Meejin Yoon

J. Meejin Yoon, who will soon be the first female dean in the history of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, was also the first female head of department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she has taught for 17 years.

July 24, 2018

Cornell AAP Names J. Meejin Yoon Its First Female Dean

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J. Meejin Yoon ’94 will become the next dean of Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, the University announced Tuesday morning, making Yoon the first female dean in the school’s 122-year history.

Yoon will serve a five-year term as the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the college, set to begin on Jan. 1, 2019. She will leave her current position as the architecture department head at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she has taught for 17 years.

She was also the first woman in her position at MIT, which shares the spot of second-best graduate architecture program in the country with Cornell’s architecture school, according to an AAP press release.

Yoon described her achievement as feeling “natural, like it was finally time.”

“It’s amazing that it took 122 years for a woman to be named to this position, so it’s really an honor and awesome to be the first woman named in this deanship,” she said in an interview with The Sun.

“It’s not because I’m a woman that I’m taking on the deanship and I’m going to do things a different way,” Yoon said. “I think it’s just finally time that women in leadership positions are rising to those positions and being sought after for what they bring to the table.”

After graduating from Cornell with the AIA Henry Adams Medal, which honors one student from each graduating class for “excellence throughout their academic career,” Yoon earned her master of architecture in urban design with distinction from Harvard University in 1997.

According to Yoon, the transition from leading only an architecture department at MIT to having to oversee three departments at Cornell will be a “big change” that she finds “exciting.”

She told The Sun that she hopes to “amplify” the positive traits of each aspect of architecture, art and planning, while “fostering intersection” and allowing for cross-departmental collaboration to achieve more than what any single department can do individually.

Yoon attributes this interdisciplinary approach to her practical experience in architecture, which required her to coordinate many disciplines and “synthesize between engineering and the kind of ‘creative design’ aspects, to policy and urban planning and urban design issues.”

Yoon is the co-founder of Höweler + Yoon Architecture LLP and MY Studio, and has garnered honors across the globe for her design work, including the Progressive Architecture Award, the Architecture Record’s Design Vanguard Award and the Architecture League’s Emerging Voices Award.

As an alumna, Yoon will return to lead the department in which she studied over 20 years ago, which she called “transformative” for her growth.

“It’s very sweet,” Yoon said of the feeling. “I’m nostalgic for the Cornell of the 1990s. I always think fondly about Cornell.”

Yoon acknowledged the developments that have taken place in her department since she attended Cornell, namely a tendency towards “reaching out” into the world with a variety of programs.

Cornell AAP maintains a campus in Rome, Italy as well as a presence in New York City’s financial district.

“I’m sure it’s changed a lot,” Yoon said. “When I was there the [Cornell in Rome] program existed, but there was no New York City program, there was no Cornell Tech.”

She also views the current age as a critical time for design and its influence on social, cultural, environmental and technological spheres.

“Design has the capacity to actually make change,” Yoon said. “Because Cornell AAP has a strong legacy of both the creative fine arts and design [as well as] planning and the built environment, I think that it can do things that really change the world for the better.”

Yoon had been interviewing for the position since “early spring” and stated that she was informed of the naming decision only recently. She will take over the position from interim dean Prof. Kieran Donaghy, city and regional planning.