World-renowned architect Brett Steele named new dean of the USC School of Architecture
Steele brings a global perspective to the practical and academic study of architecture.
Architectural scholar Brett Steele has been named the new dean of the USC School of Architecture, effective Feb. 1. Steele will also hold the Della & Harry MacDonald Dean’s Chair in Architecture.
“The interdisciplinarity of the work within the different programs, faculty and curriculums I’ve been involved with in my career is something I very much look forward to building upon in coming to USC, which, as a school of architecture, is remarkable for the breadth and depth of its portfolio of creative activities and professional interests,” said Steele, who comes to USC after serving as dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture since 2017.
“Brett Steele’s collaborative leadership is a perfect fit for our School of Architecture,” USC President Carol Folt said. “One of the things that impressed me most when I met him is that throughout his career, he has inspired creative and inclusive ways of thinking that bring architects closer to their communities — and that keep innovative design and research top of mind. He’s a dynamic addition to our architecture community.”
At UCLA, Steele oversaw 14 degree-awarding programs in four academic departments, two world-renowned museums (the Hammer Museum of contemporary arts and the Fowler Museum at UCLA for world arts and cultures) and the Center for the Art of Performance.
Steele led several initiatives that resulted in the school’s highest enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds, the revision of curricula to be more inclusive, and increased civic engagement, especially with communities often underrepresented in higher education.
He also helped lead successful fundraising efforts to improve the school’s facilities and enhance student and faculty support, as well as expanding the school’s footprint in Los Angeles, including the acquisition and renovation of the UCLA Nimoy Theater in Westwood and the UCLA Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios in Culver City.
New dean of USC School of Architecture: An interdisciplinary approach
For Steele, the interdisciplinary nature of his work at UCLA proved to be a rewarding aspect of the job.
“The exciting part of the role for me was the chance to work in four very different creative fields on the academic side of the house, which includes not just architects and urbanists, but also artists, designers, makers, performers, dancers and scholars of all kinds related to the arts,” Steele said.
He’ll bring that interdisciplinary approach to USC’s School of Architecture as its newest dean.
“One of the things I learned early on about USC is that the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration that is so important to creative fields and professions of all kinds is built into the culture of the campus,” Steele said. “I can already think of ways in which we can be a valuable creative partner to work that’s taking place all across campus, and that relate to President Carol Folt’s ‘moonshots’ and some of the big ideas that are leading USC forward today, but also the opportunities that exist between us as a school of architecture with the other creative schools on campus.”
Steele will also draw from his experience serving as a member of a variety of international review panels that explore the challenges architecture schools face and changes within related fields and professions.
“The key takeaway for me has been the urgent need we in schools should always be aware of and address, which is the ways in which architecture schools need to continue to adapt and evolve with the world around them,” Steele said.
A global lens
The first in his family to attend a university, Steele grew up in Oregon and Idaho, attending art and architecture schools on the West Coast before founding his own architectural offices in New York and London, where he became a naturalized British citizen. While in London, he graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture before being elected as the 19th director of the AA school, one of the world’s most influential schools of architecture.
As director of the AA, Steele oversaw all full- and part-time academic programs, the association’s global membership and two subsidiary companies: AA Publications and the Hooke Park Educational Trust. Steele’s contributions during his tenure include the launch of a worldwide visiting school that operated dozens of schools across five continents and in more than 50 cities. Steele was also instrumental in the creation of a PhD by design program, new master’s programs and an MA/MFA program exploring spatial performances and constructions throughout phases of research, design and production.
Before becoming director of AA, Steele also designed and led the school’s first accredited Master of Architecture program, the AA Design Research Lab, an impactful, team-based interdisciplinary studio he led for eight years.
“The USC School of Architecture has a proud history of pioneering faculty, students and alumni,” said Andrew T. Guzman, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Dean Steele brings with him a rich background as the former dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture, former director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture and as a practitioner. He has a track record for expanding the horizons of everything he touches, and I am confident he is the best next leader to balance transformative change at the School of Architecture while honoring its strong tradition of excellence.”
The USC School of Architecture is Southern California’s oldest architecture school and the only architecture school attached to a private research-1 university on the West Coast. Founded in 1914 as a department, the school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the fields of architecture, heritage conservation, building science and landscape architecture. Dean Willow Bay of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism will continue to serve as interim dean of the school through the end of January.
A critical moment for architecture in L.A.
Much of Steele’s writing explores how the field of architecture has transformed globally in the past 150 years. His new role will involve shepherding USC through its uniquely evolving relationship with the city around it.
“I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have spent my adult life in New York, London and Los Angeles, cities full of amazing artists and designers and architects, but also full of amazing audiences for that work,” Steele said. “One of my great hopes at USC is for us to build upon this amazing legacy of architecture that’s identified with this great school, but also continue to find ways in which USC plays a vital role in the building of those audiences surrounding architecture and landscape and conservation, and the making of the kind of cities which are genuinely possible here in ways in which it just isn’t in so many different schools and cities around the world.”
Steele is especially excited to be immersed in architecture, sustainability and infrastructure in L.A. as the city prepares to host its third Olympic Games in 2028. “This is a remarkable moment of optimism for all of us to engage and embrace,” he said.
Steele is married to Natasha Sandmeier, an architect who serves as the executive director of the Architecture and Design (A+D) Museum in L.A. and as an adjunct professor with UCLA Architecture and Urban Design. The couple live in L.A. with their children, Stella and Leo.