On July 1st, 2004, Professor George Baird assumed the deanship of the U of T’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Last Friday, he spoke with The Varsity about his plans for the next four years.
“I’m one of those strange people who was interested in architecture from my childhood, so it was a more or less direct trajectory all the way through,” he said. Professor Baird was born in Toronto and received a bachelor of architecture from U of T. After postgraduate work at University College in London, Baird returned to Toronto.
Recently, Professor Baird held the G. Ware Travelstead Professor of Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. While working at Harvard, he continued living in Toronto and working at his design firm, Baird Sampson Neuert Architects Inc. Baird Sampson Neurert’s notable projects include the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls, and Cloud Gardens Park in downtown Toronto. While teaching and practicing architecture, Baird has continued with his research.
“I do work in contemporary, modern architectural history and what has come to be known as architectural theory,” he said. “I’m interested in the interface between the evolution of ideas about architecture and ideas as they arise out of social and political theory.” His next book is ambitiously titled A New Theory of Public Space.
Professor Baird has won several awards, including the Canadian Architect Award, the Governor General’s Award for Architecture, and the da Vinci Medal.
The Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design is emerging from a major restructuring that took place from 1998 to 2002. Since much of the faculty’s curriculum was recently overhauled, Baird plans to focus elsewhere.
“One of my challenges will be to build up the faculty further. Fortunately the provost has agreed that we’re in the position to hire three new people, which for a small faculty is a rather large number to be doing all at once, but in fact we badly need them.
“I’m also interested in the idea of building a design culture in the city, which is a kind of subtle business of graduating interesting architects and designers. It also means bringing interesting visitors to the school.”
In the first week of his deanship, Baird invited Glen Murray, Winnipeg’s former mayor, to visit U of T for the fall of 2004. Murray is now teaching for the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as well as the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Munk Centre for International Studies. Professor Baird hopes to strengthen his faculty’s ties to other parts of the university.
“We’re hoping to forge some new linkages with arts and science and engineering in the areas of environmental work, which is increasingly important in architectural design.”
On his opinion of recent architectural developments in Toronto, Baird said, “Everyone’s heard about the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario College of Art and Design, but we’re equally interested here in [other] projects.”
Baird highlighted U of T’s still-under-construction Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (CCBR), the upcoming Faculty of Pharmacy and the recently-opened Terminal 1 at Pearson International Airport.
“All of these projects are grist to our mill, and we’re interested in active discussions of all of them.”
Nonetheless, the faculty has been invited to work on an exhibit at the AGO in 2006. The exhibit will involve student input.
“This school has traditionally been fairly strongly related to urban design developments in the city and I’m interested in reinforcing that tradition.”
Professor Baird has much to say about the distinctiveness of his faculty at U of T.
“We’re an interesting kind of hybrid, halfway in between a traditional academic university department and an art school, and we have some features in common with both of those. It makes us the same as other parts of the university and different from other parts of the university in endlessly provocative ways.”
Asked for the most difficult part of his job, Baird settled on the amount of email he receives.
“It’s unrelenting,” he said, laughing.