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Dernie named dean at Westminster

Architect David Dernie has been named the new dean of architecture and the built environment at Westminster University

The former head of the Leicester School of Architecture at the city’s De Montfort University replaces outgoing Westminster dean Jeremy Till, who is to become vice chancellor at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in September.

In a significant leap of responsibility for the Cambridge-based architect, who also ran Manchester’s University’s School of Architecture from 2004 until 2008, Dernie joins a growing roll call of architects to have stepped up from being heads of department to the higher profile deanships in universities across the UK.

That list includes Anne Boddington, dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Brighton; Oren Lieberman, dean of Faculty of Art and Design at the Arts University College Bournemouth; Alan Penn at The Bartlett; and Steven Spier at Kingston University.

Speaking about the raft of architects now in top academic roles, Dernie said: ‘It is interesting to note how an architect’s training furnishes them with the ability to lead strategically in design/built environment disciplines, to see connections between academia and the industry, and hold on to the central role of design in future construction. An architect’s training perhaps helps them to adapt to and lead change.’

He added: ‘Recent appointments in London are [of] quite different people, different generations even, in very different jobs, so I don’t think there is specific connection between us or our roles. It will, however, be exciting to see how the landscape of built-environment education shifts with more architects at the helm – perhaps there’s a better chance that ‘design’ will shine through as an essential, driving force. Let’s hope so.’

Neil Spiller, dean of architecture, design and construction at Greenwich University said he was ‘not particularly surprised’ by the number of architects who have been appointed as deans. He said: ‘Architects have a broad, pragmatic and creative training. Being a dean is on one level very similar to running large projects with complex teams.’

Spiller, whose faculty accounts for a ninth of his university, said that the recessions of the late 1980s and early 90s may help account for the number of architects who have become deans:

‘Of my generation, some were badly played, scared by those recessions, and a move into academia, teaching part time, helped take the heat off,’ he said.

As well as marshalling the architecture department at Westminster, Dernie will oversee the property and construction, tourism, and planning and transport departments.

Although he would not be drawn on his plans for Westminster, he assured the AJ that he had ‘big ideas’ for the London university.

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