Between the Lines: Falling back into place

Fall 2021: Welcome Back to Gould

I have been looking forward to welcoming everyone back in person for quite some time now. Seeing and hearing students in the classrooms, hallways, and review spaces has energized me and I realize how much I missed you all over the past year and a half. Though there are differences from pre-pandemic times (some nuanced, others more dramatic), the core experience of collectively inhabiting our spaces has a welcome familiarity. We come back together with a deeper understanding of our capacity to care for and extend grace to each other as well as an appreciation of the critical role of equity since we have seen, and continue to see, how situations affect individuals differently. We have learned new ways of working remotely, some of which we can’t wait to discard, others we see potential for extending reach and access in new ways.

Last year, we developed and adopted the College’s Strategic Framework which names three pillars: Collaboration and Impact, Bold Thought Leadership, and Equitable and Just Practices. Over the next two years, we will be implementing a plan to better align our most valuable resources, people, and spaces, to advance our goals. There will be several changes, a few are immediately visible, others will take some time to be apparent.
Some immediate changes:

  1. Creation of an office of student services led by Associate Dean for Students, Christopher Campbell. This group will expand recruiting efforts and look for more opportunities for students to connect to mentors and internships. They will build on the excellent work of the disciplinary advisors, who remain the first point of contact for students in their degree programs. Before school even started this year, this group developed and ran a set of tours for close to 200 CBE students to amazing buildings, landscapes, and precincts in the Seattle area hosted by incredibly knowledgeable members of our professional and alumni community.
  2. The Diversity Council is re-energized and reorganized to take on diversity, equity, and inclusion goals outlined in the strategic framework, and to create a plan specifically for advancing the college towards those goals in the short and medium term as well as driving discussion on long term aspirations. Student involvement in this work is critical to its success and we are thrilled with the response to the call for nominations and self-nominations for student representatives.
    Dana Bass – Student Representative, Real Estate
    Even Gebru – Student Representative, Construction Management
    Katrina Golladay – Student Representative, Landscape Architecture
    Maimoona Rahim – Student Representative, Urban Design & Planning
    Kana Takagi – Student Representative, Architecture
  3. Recruiting faculty for new full time positions will bring great people who will add to our excellent faculty. From past experience, we have seen that the search process for hiring new faculty can be a lively platform for dialogue on what we believe are the most important teaching, research, and engagement needs to help us create the just beautiful world we imagine. This year, we are structuring the search differently than has been done in the past by bringing in a set of candidates that will become a cohort of new faculty starting in Autumn 2022. By framing the goal of the searches as a cohort of 5-6 faculty, student involvement is even more critical than in the past because we need your voices in the discussions and also robust interactions with the candidates is one of the most vivid demonstrations of our engaged culture.

Work starting this spring

  1. As a college focused on the built environment, we are acutely aware of how physical places of gathering and learning can support or detract from goals we set collectively. This spring, we will work with a consultant to describe our space needs that will support goals laid out in our strategic framework, analyse our current space, and evaluate gaps between the two.
  2. We are also aware of the importance of our online presence, so a parallel effort will be done with our website and may result in the redesign of our College’s graphic identity.

During these pandemic times, I would be remiss if I didn’t close by urging you to remember to follow public health practices to keep our community safe. Conditions continue to change and policies adapt to take those changes into account. Look to the CBE COVID-19 Plan and the University of Washington Coronavirus website for facts and resources.

I look forward to a rewarding academic year, please do take advantage of my office hours to let me know how you are doing and I hope many of you engage in shaping how the strategic framework goals inform positive change in our college.


Equity and Diversity Training wood block

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Orientation Session

Dean Cheng’s session on CBE’s approach to EDI.


Iain Robertson

In Memoriam: Iain Robertson

Remembering Department of Landscape Architecture Professor, Iain Robertson.


Fritz Wagner

In Memoriam: Fritz Wagner

Remembering Adjunct Research Professor of Landscape Architecture and Research Professor Emeritus of Urban Design & Planning, Fritz Wagner.


Students standing outside the Liberty Bank Building

Aspire Internship Program

The inaugural Aspire internship program at the College of Built Environments gave students the opportunity to interact with industry and academic leaders while learning about the importance of home and homeownership to promote a thriving community.



Birds eye view of Othello neighborhood with lightrail

Associate Professor Rachel Berney Named Faculty Director of Urban@UW

Professor Berney is well-positioned to collaboratively lead Urban@UW as a cross-disciplinary research initiative and learning community. Beginning its 6th year, Urban@UW continues to bridge disciplines, sectors, and perspectives as Berney and Davison plan the future of the initiative’s work.


Students and faculty standing in the grass in front of a brick building

UW Receives $2M from National Science Foundation to Design An 'Adaptable Society'

The research team that includes Urban Design and Planning Associate Professors Dan Abramson and Branden Born, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to further research into how urban societal systems can be organized to be both efficient and resilient.


Honor Awards Celebrating the Projects and People of Our Design Community

Architecture Chair and Professor, Kate Simonen, recognized as AIA Community Service Award Honoree

“Connecting significant professional experience in high performance building design and technical expertise in environmental life cycle assessment she works to spur collective action to bring net embodied carbon to zero through cutting-edge research, cross-sector collaboration, and the incubation of new approaches.”



CBE COVID-19 Response

The following resources are intended to help CBE students during the ongoing COVID-19 crises, and back to school guidance in Autumn 2021 and through the 2021-2022 academic year. We will continue updating these FAQs and resources with the most accurate and up-to-date information. Please continue to check this page and your email for updates from our Dean and your departments.


COVID-19 & the Future of Architectural Education

The Midnight Charette is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by architectural designers David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features a variety of creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions. A wide array of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes provide useful tips for designers, while others are project reviews, interviews, or explorations of everyday life and design. The Midnight Charette is also available on iTunesSpotify, and YouTube.

This week hosts David and Marina are joined by Marc Neveu—Chair of Architecture, The Design School, Arizona State University and Executive Editor of the Journal of Architectural Education; Renée Cheng—Dean of the College of Built Environments, University of Washington; and Kiel Moe—Gerald Sheff Chair in Architecture, School of Architecture, McGill University to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted teachers and students, the future of education (changing studio, reviews, and lectures), and more. Enjoy!


Read and listen on ArchDaily

A letter to my Asian women students looking for answers

Dean Cheng sitting with two men one in a red shirt and one in a gray shirt looking at something in the distanceMy mom loved Obama, she loved his measured speech, his cool, his handsomeness, how he reminded her of JFK. She loved that America had a Black president. A few weeks before she died, her stamina wasn’t great, but she stayed up after dinner to watch his State of Union address. Sitting in her tiny rocking chair, she was rapt, nodding at the good parts, making comments like, “so smart” and “so true.” I noticed she was starting to nod off, so I offered to help her to bed. She readily agreed, “Yes, I don’t need to see anymore, he’s got it right.” She died in 2009, confident that America had moved into a post-race era. While I will always wish she lived longer, lately the stronger emotion I have when thinking of her is gratitude. I’m thankful that she died never knowing how wrong she was.

Over the past year, the historic hate against Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders has once again exposed itself. But a few weeks ago, as I drafted a message to my college community after the murders in Atlanta, I experienced something new. I tried so hard to stay in my identity as a leader and public figurehead of our college, which is usually a comfortable skin for me. But this time, for this message, for the first time in a year’s worth of tough messages, I resented being a leader crafting a statement for my majority-white colleagues and students about tolerance, culture, and bridging differences. I understand that what I say can help you, and most of the time I welcome that responsibility. But today, can’t I opt out? How can I speak when I have so much confusion over my own race?

Like many of us, my concept of race isn’t simple and can be traced to experiences over a long period of time and to the people who taught us. My mom fiercely loved America and believed it truly lived up to its promise as the land of opportunity, even when she found many aspects of America “qíguài” or even more extreme “qíguài sǐ le” which, depending on the context and the topic, translated to odd, baffling, perplexing and/or wrongheaded. When I was a child, my mom used to tell me about how hard it had been to come to the U.S. from China, homesick and disoriented. Part of earning her college scholarship was visiting places in Ohio that had never seen a Chinese person before. She dressed up in her qipao, and let schoolchildren touch her, and made small talk at country clubs, patiently correcting assumptions, assuring her audience that she grew up with both running water and books and if the curiosity seemed genuine, she mentioned that those amenities were no surprise in a country that had movable type printing presses and infrastructure at the time when many in the Western world were living in caves. She said it made her skin crawl to be touched, and that presenting felt like being a performing seal, but the scholarship was important.

My mom drew as fluidly as the most accomplished Walt Disney animator. I asked her once how she learned to draw so fast, and she told me that when she was in college, she busked to earn bus fare to visit her sister who had married a man in Florida. Drawing faster meant more caricatures, bigger crowds, and more money. As a child, what struck me most about her description of Florida in 1950 was that when she wanted to go to the bathroom, she had to choose between the “colored” and “whites only” doors. Deeply puzzled, I asked:

Which one did you go into?
I didn’t know what to do.
So which did you use?
I waited until we got home to go.
Couldn’t you ask someone?
I didn’t want to ask.
Couldn’t you wait to see what the other Chinese people did?

She shook her head and laughed.

What ‘other Chinese people’? There were no other Chinese people.
What did Aye say to do?
She said, ‘don’t drink anything so you don’t have to go until you get home.’
Are we white or colored?
Well, we aren’t white.
So are we colored?
Maybe, I don’t know. But you don’t have to worry about it, it’s one of those strange things that happened a long time ago and no one cares about that anymore.

To Mom, race didn’t matter but culture did. Chinese food, not American, was comfort food. All those cool things my friends did that I wasn’t allowed to do, hanging out at the mall, having sandwiches for dinner, calling grown-ups by their first name, treating report cards cavalierly, were all off-limits to me. The default reason was always “because our family is Chinese.” For all those reasons and more, I’ve known since childhood that I’m not white, yet I’ve never known if that meant if I was in Florida in the 1950s, would I use that door marked “colored?” Let alone answers to even more haunting questions: If that door still existed today, would I use it? If there is an equivalent metaphor for that door, have I been passing by it or through it without conscious choice?

A few years ago, planning a diversity training, I disagreed with the much younger white woman who was in charge of the program. I can’t remember what the issue was, but I remember her dismissal of my viewpoint “since you aren’t really a minority.” It’s true that I’m hardly the only Asian walking around my campus, but it’s also true that the Asian perspective is not part of the dominant white culture. The first time I was in a majority-Asian event, my freshman year of college at a Chinese volleyball tournament, I walked around in a daze, wondering to myself “What is this feeling? Look at all these Asians and not one of them is my cousin or someone I know.” It took me many more of these events over a couple of years to identify what I was experiencing was a tiny part of me relaxing, a consciousness of difference didn’t need to be held. The feeling was a missing tension, a release of pressure to try to see through white eyes; I didn’t have to be vigilant that something I said might be heard differently because of my Asian face.

A few weeks ago, sitting down to craft the message to my college, I felt an unexpected resentment. Why can’t I be that freshman at the volleyball tournament, able to speak as just me – a Chinese-American person in a crowd of Chinese-Americans. I felt burdened; I yearned to be that Chinese-American daughter being reassured by her Chinese-immigrant mother that America was the greatest country in the world and race no longer mattered. I felt insecure, as a leader that people look to for answers to complicated questions, how can I talk about this if I don’t know for myself the answer to the simple question – which door would I enter, the one marked “colored” or “white”? When my university excludes Asians from the category of “underrepresented minority,” does that close a door that I might want open, if not for myself, for my students or faculty?

In the end, I know if my words can help my college community, my built environments community,  I will always take the opportunity to talk or engage about race to an audience willing to listen. I know my actions matter in a different way from my white colleagues as we work on the systemic issues that impact all historically marginalized people. But today, I’m taking the time I need to work out some things for myself. And I’ll let you know if I have answers to share.


Renée Cheng, FAIA, DPACSA, is Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. She is the lead researcher for a multiyear project resulting in the American Institute of Architects Guides for Equitable Practice .

Archinect Deans List: Renée Cheng on How Comprehensive Design Can Engender Inclusivity

The Deans List is an interview series with the leaders of architecture schools, worldwide. The series profiles the school’s programming, as defined by the dean — giving an invaluable perspective into the institution’s unique curriculum, faculty and academic environment.

Read entire Q&A on Archinect

For this installment, Archinect spoke with current University of Washington College of Built Environments dean Renée Cheng. A licensed architect with years of experience working at firms like Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners and her personal practice, Cheng-Olson Design, Cheng has specialized in researching the application of new technologies within the design and construction process while also helping to pioneer innovative project delivery approaches. In our interview, Cheng shares how these approaches can be applied to the wide-ranging curriculum of an integrated design program.


Dean Cheng speaking at a recent Women in Construction symposium in Seattle. Image courtesy of McKinstry.

Briefly describe CBE’s pedagogical stance on architecture education.

The University of Washington’s (UW) Department of Architecture sits within the multidisciplinary College of Built Environments (CBE) that includes the specific disciplines most central to the built environment: architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, construction management, and real estate. The Department of Architecture recently completed a major revision of the professional degree program to further emphasize research, collaboration, and integration. These three themes are reflected in the other departments as well, creating a college with unique disciplinary strengths that can collaborate effectively.

design build
Photo of students participating in a neighborhood design-build studio. Image courtesy of UW CBE.

What insights from your past professional experience are you hoping to integrate or adopt as the dean?

Running my own firm, as well as working in architectural firms large and small, has given me a healthy respect for the hard work it takes to run a firm today, as well as unbounded optimism for how architectural profession can become more relevant, resilient, and equitable.

My research and teaching experience has focused on emerging practices, everything from technologies like parametric design to organizational systems like lean and/or equitable practices.

I’m also interested to see how far we can carry the focus around collaboration, asking what it would mean for all of the faculty, students, and staff to be effective collaborators.

With these experiences in mind, I am applying some practices of inclusion and values-based decision-making to understanding the processes of the college. I’m also interested to see how far we can carry the focus around collaboration, asking what it would mean for all of the faculty, students, and staff to be effective collaborators.

All of this is related to the research practices program that I started at the University of Minnesota. I am in the process of growing that model and network here at the UW with the multiple disciplines of the college. At UW, for example, we are starting an applied research consortium with a group of founding members we hope to announce before the start of the next academic year.

Read the rest on Archinect

AIA releases new chapters of “Guides for Equitable Practice”

WASHINGTON – June 19, 2019 – The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the University of Washington are releasing three new chapters of “Guides for Equitable Practice” today.

“Architects can do great things, if we work together to lead the changes we need to secure a better future for our profession, without regard to race, socio-economic background, gender, physical ability, native language or sexual orientation,” said AIA 2019 President William Bates, FAIA. “The guides are a one-of-a-kind resource that can help architects build a greater understanding of one another, which is the foundation to creating the meaningful changes we want to see in the architecture profession.”

Newly released chapters of the guides cover strategies for attracting and retaining talent—for individual firms and the profession as a whole—using equitable recruitment and retention practices; skills for equitable and inclusive negotiations; and insights for how mentorships and sponsorships can make workplaces more diverse and inclusive. Last year, AIA released the first three chapters of guides, which explored intercultural competence, workplace culture, and compensation. AIA will issue three final chapters later this year.

Guides are developed using current research on gender, race and culture in the U.S. They include perspectives from architects on what equity, diversity and inclusion mean as well as moral, business, ethical and societal cases that can help individuals, architecture firms and others build equity in their organizations.

“Guides for Equitable Practice” are one component of the AIA’s broad commitment to work with members to overcome inequities and advance the profession. In 2015, AIA formed the Equity in Architecture Commission to address broader concerns about the equitable practice of architecture. The development of the guides was one of the Commission’s eleven recommendations adopted by the AIA’s Board of Directors.

In 2017, the commission’s work was assumed by the AIA Equity and the Future of Architecture Committee. The committee is tasked with helping implement the commission’s recommendations and tackling other equity, diversity, inclusion and workforce issues.

Learn more about AIA’s equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives online.


Guides for Equitable Practice – Introduction >

Guides for Equitable Practice – Chapter 1: Intercultural Competence >

Guides for Equitable Practice – Chapter 2: Workplace Culture >

Guides for Equitable Practice – Chapter 3: Compensation >

Guides for Equitable Practice – Chapter 4: Recruitment and Retention >

Guides for Equitable Practice – Chapter 5: Negotiation >

Guides for Equitable Practice – Chapter 6: Mentorship and Sponsorship >

Dean’s Dialogue Discussion Series Summary: Research Impact

On Wednesday, May 22nd, over a dozen people gathered in Architecture Hall, or joined the discussion via Zoom, to discuss the topic of research impact as the last session of the Dean’s Dialogue Discussion Series launched by the College of Built Environments’ dean, Renée Cheng. Participants in the meeting comprised of faculty, students, and professional advisory group representatives from CBE’s five departments (Architecture, Construction Management, Landscape Architecture, Real Estate, and Urban Design & Planning).

Dean Cheng welcomed participants to Wednesday’s meeting and began the conversation with a question: When we talk about CBE’s research having more impact, what do we mean and how do we measure it?

Impact is widely shared goal for research at the UW among colleges, schools, departments and individual faculty, staff, and students. Does “impact” mean the same thing across the UW? Are there specific CBE definitions? Are there multiple definitions even within the CBE community? Is there a different impact for each type of research (scholarly, applied, collaborative, community-based, interdisciplinary, etc). What metrics might be consistent with CBE values? What metrics do our partners use to measure impact?

Participants in the meeting discussed what measures of impact could look like for CBE’s research and consensus arose around the indicators of public policy, scholarship, and design practice. Other topics included bridging the impact of our college’s research in practice and within the greater university community, measuring community impact through studio work, and conducting an assessment of quarterly interdisciplenary studio.

You can review the discussion here (closed captioning available):[vimeo url=”″ height=”800″]

Dean’s Dialogue Discussion Series Summary: Collaboration

On Wednesday, May 15th, over a dozen people gathered in Architecture Hall, or joined the discussion via Zoom, to discuss the topic of collaboration as part of the Dean’s Dialogue Discussion Series launched by the College of Built Environments’ dean, Renée Cheng. Participants in the meeting comprised of faculty, students, alumni, and professional advisory group representatives from CBE’s five departments (Architecture, Construction Management, Landscape Architecture, Real Estate, and Urban Design & Planning).

Dean Cheng welcomed participants to Wednesday’s meeting and began the conversation with a question: What would it mean if every CBE graduate, staff, faculty knew how to collaborate, really collaborate?

The term collaboration is used to describe many different types of work across many different groups. In the built environments, collaborators can include people with widely different agendas, values, training, and degrees of engagement. If we believe that progress in improving the built environment requires deep collaborative skills and ability to facilitate collaboration, what can CBE do to develop and support those skills? How well do we do that now? How are we measuring success? Does anything need to change?

Participants in the meeting discussed what successful collaboration would look like for our college and how it could integrate with our curriculum and research as well as across the UW. The biggest obstacle to successful collaboration identified in the meeting was how fundamentally different language and vocabulary can be across the different disciplines and how a shared language in practice could help close the gap.

You can review the discussion here (closed captioning available):

Last of the Dean’s Dialogue Discussion Topics:

Wed, May 22nd: When we talk about CBE’s research having more impact, what do we mean and how do we measure it? (7:30 am in Arch Hall Room 042, light breakfast provided)

Please RSVP to Susanne Adamson at if you plan to attend any of the above sessions so that she can plan for refreshments.

OR Join the Livestream (Zoom)

Same link for all five meetings:

Dial-up is also available:

+1 669 900 6833 US – West

+1 646 876 9923 US – East

Meeting ID: 407 331 2015