Feature: Deborah Berke, FAIA, Makes A Place

Deborah Berke, FAIA, has been principal of Deborah Berke Partners since 1982. Ms. Berke is Professor (Adjunct) of Architectural Design at Yale University and is the first recipient of the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design (CED) Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize (2012).

Deborah Berke. Photo Credit: A. Friedberg


Beginnings – What attracted you to architecture and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience, or mentor, that helped steer you toward this field?

I grew up in a creative household – my mother was a fashion designer – so my beginnings are rooted in design and creative expression. There was also, even then, my interest in the quotidien; from early on my real inspiration was the visual complexity of everyday life. I used to spend summer nights walking through my Queens neighborhood with a friend who was slightly older than I and an architecture student at Cooper Union. Together we would re-envision the environment we experienced. This friend, this exercise of imagining, was my early connection to architecture.

48 Bond Street, New York City. DBP created a taut-façade broken by canted bay windows to join the conversation of shadows initiated by the undulating brick and cast-iron facades of the historic street. The result is a 15 unit residential building that is striking, modern, and contextual. Photo Credit: C. Tighe

What does “architecture culture” signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to, and/or changing, this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?

There are many interesting aspects of “architecture culture,” but I will speak on two of them here.

“Architecture culture” has been deeply affected by our hyper-accelerated, mass-mediated world such that architecture has become ever-more imitative and global. This can amplify the importance of fame and the interchangeability of an architect and their work and it can separate architecture from its local culture. This separation encourages me to ensure that my projects draw from their context – of time, place, and culture – and contribute to it as well. I advocate for an “architecture culture” in which buildings are so influenced by their surroundings that they would not be complete anywhere else.

Another aspect of “architecture culture” that interests me is the culture of equality. I believe that the ability and desire to produce good work should drive an architect and that anyone with these qualities and desires should have the opportunity to pursue architecture. This requires an architecture culture focused on the work being produced, which I hope would open the culture to designers from underrepresented groups.

Marianne Boesky Gallery, W. 24th Street, New York City. Updated brick, steel, and concrete bring a restrained refinement to the art gallery and engage it in its context of warehouses, garages, and an exposed railroad. Photo Credit: E. Heuber

Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?

Keep your eyes open all the time. Be your own best critic. Never stop being curious.

Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?

I love cities, all cities. I love New York in particular and specifically its grittiness rather than its icons. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is one of my favorite places in New York. The legacy of real work and history lends a profound beauty to the collection of buildings, dry docks, and equipment that is magical.


Check out our past ‘Making A Place’ interviews:
Roberta Washington, FAIA, Makes a Place
Suman Sorg, FAIA, Makes a Place
Susan Szneasy Makes a Place
Patricia Johanson Makes a Place
Beverly Willis, FAIA, Makes a Place

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