Brett Steele, director of the Architectural Assn. School of Architecture in London since 2005, has been named dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh announced the appointment, effective August 2017, on Wednesday morning.
As dean, Steele will take on a wide-ranging portfolio, overseeing UCLA’s programs in art, architecture, design and dance as well as the university’s two museums, the Fowler and the Hammer, and its Center for the Art of Performance.
He succeeds David Roussève, interim dean since July 2015. Roussève followed Christopher Waterman, who served as dean for 12 years.
Steele, 58, is an American-born, naturalized British citizen who grew up in Oregon and Idaho. He received his diploma in architecture from the AA and also studied at the University of Oregon and the San Francisco Art Institute.
“What got my attention and interested me is the nature of the role at UCLA and the composition of the school,” Steele said in a phone interview from London. “I think we live in a time when the ability to assemble and invent audiences is as crucial to schools as all of the attention that most of them give to individual artists and performers and architects and designers. It’s in my view two sides of the same coin. There are a few very special places in the world where that’s built into the DNA and UCLA is simply one of those places.”
That is true, he added, “in the sense of not just the faculties themselves, which at UCLA are very much oriented toward engagement with the world in different forms, but in the public venues themselves, the Hammer and the Fowler and the Center for the Art of Performance. That’s a really rare quality to find in a school and certainly what attracted my attention -- the ability for the school to leverage that, to become not just a gateway across the university but indeed connecting the university to a larger community in Los Angeles.”
Steele joins a school that is taking on some ambitious new projects even as it has been reconstituting itself. Earlier this year UCLA established the Herb Alpert School of Music as an institution separate from the School of the Arts and Architecture, where it had been based since 2007. Under the direction of Ann Philbin, meanwhile, the Hammer is pursuing an expansion and redesign with the L.A. firm Michael Maltzan Architecture. UCLA is working to build graduate art studios in a new Culver City facility designed by architecture firm Johnston Marklee.
Steele also takes over a department of architecture and urban design that is without a permanent chair. Architect Neil Denari, former director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, is leading the department on an interim basis, following a nine-year stint as chair by Hitoshi Abe.