Richard Blythe named dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies
Richard Blythe, an award-winning architect and educator with more than 25 years in higher education and architectural practice, has been named dean of the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS).
Blythe, professor and dean of RMIT University School of Architecture and Design in Melbourne, Australia, will join Virginia Tech on Oct. 10, when the college’s sixth dean, Jack Davis, will step down to teach after 11 years of leadership.
“I am thrilled to have Richard Blythe joining us to lead the College of Architecture and Urban Studies,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “He’s truly a beyond-boundaries leader, internationally known as a highly accomplished practitioner and academic who leverages this experience to embed transdisciplinary learning and technology across the curriculum. Above all, he’s someone who embraces continuous innovation, both in practice and in education. His collaborative and transformative leadership will be a great benefit to the college and the university, and I am very excited to see what the future holds for us together.”
“It’s a privilege to join a college with an outstanding legacy of global service and innovation in art, architecture, construction, design, public policy, and international affairs,” Blythe said. “I’m excited to support Virginia Tech’s visionary leadership and the world-class people and partners of CAUS to write the next bold chapter in our history. Through our collective efforts, we’ll advance the college as a model of 21st-century scholarship, research, and outreach, and work with our partners in the pursuit of the wonderful and in the service of our communities.”
Blythe’s career reflects a passion for creative practice and research, with a history of robust fundraising and global interdisciplinary collaboration. Under his leadership since 2012, the RMIT School of Architecture and Design achieved $6.8 million in funding for multi-university research alliances, including a grant from the Australian government to lead a 15-university Design and Architecture Practice project. He also established the RMIT practice-based research Ph.D. program in Europe and Asia and was primary author and lead researcher for the 2013 Marie Curie Initial Training Network grant ADAPT-r, a collaboration between RMIT and six European universities.
Prior to his role as dean, Blythe served for five years as head of the RMIT School of Architecture and Design. He lectured at the University of Tasmania for 14 years, where he served as deputy head of the School of Architecture and was the vice chancellor’s representative on the Tasmanian government’s Building and Construction Industries Council.
A founding director of the architecture firm TERROIR in 1999, Blythe continues to contribute to the practice. He is a visiting research professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland.
Blythe has served in numerous professional leadership roles and garnered many awards. He is an Advisory Board member for Ashgate Publishing’s “Design Research in Architecture” series and a review editor for Routledge and the Journal for Architecture Research. He has served as a member of the Australian Deans of the Built Environment Executive Committee; president of the Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand; and chair of the Australian Institute of Architects National Education Committee. In 2011, he received a prestigious Velux Professorial Fellowship at Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark.
Blythe earned a Ph.D. in design/practice-based research from RMIT University; a master of architecture from the University of Melbourne; and bachelor’s degrees in architecture and environment design from the Tasmanian State Institute of Technology.
Virginia Tech’s nationally ranked College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ mission is to understand, through acts of creation, design, construction, and analysis, the forces that give meaning and value to the built environments that shape our lives. With an enrollment of 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 30 countries, the college houses four schools: the School of Architecture + Design; the School of Public and International Affairs; the Myers-Lawson School of Construction; and the School of the Visual Arts. CAUS students invent creative, sustainable solutions to global problems, working directly with faculty, community, and industry partners.
20 questions with incoming Dean Richard Blythe
How do you feel about being named dean of CAUS?
I’m honored to be granted that privilege and excited at the responsibility of leading the college through a turbulent period in the global higher education arena.
What attracted you to Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies?
It might surprise a few but it wasn’t Hokie football. American football looks amazing, but it is a complete mystery to me. I’m looking forward to seeing my first game live and becoming a genuine Hokie. I was primarily attracted by the Beyond Boundaries vision, the quality of the university, and by the fantastic people I met there during the selection process.
What do you see as the college’s greatest strengths?
The college’s greatest strengths come in a combination of three things. First and foremost, strength comes from the people that make up the college and in the productive partnerships that can be nurtured between staff, students, alumni, and other partners. Secondly, there is great strength in our physical footprint and the ways in which we take advantage of each unique place, and the way those places can elevate our productive partnerships. People, places and partnerships need purpose, so the college’s third strength will come from a deep understanding of what CAUS’s unique value proposition is, and by that I mean, what is it that CAUS does that our partners cannot do without us, and what is it that CAUS does that no other college in the world does? If we know those things we can proceed with purpose.
What do you see as the college’s greatest opportunities?
Working together collaboratively, actively engaging partners external to the university in everything we do, and being clear about our purpose.
What are your proudest accomplishments over the past five years as dean of RMIT’s School of Architecture and Design?
Establishing a global practice-based Ph.D. network. Working with colleagues to establish a new Master of Architecture program in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Creating an atmosphere within which many of my colleagues and students have been able to achieve outstanding things.
What are the proudest achievement(s) of your professional career?
Building the architecture practice TERROIR with my two partners Gerard Reinmuth and Scott Balmforth from scratch. Being exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in Australia. Winning the European Union-funded ADAPTr grant, which supported the development of a practice-based Ph.D. training network in Europe. Having a 16-metre drawing exhibited at the ADAPTr culminating exhibition in London. Each time that I have seen the sparkle in the eye of a student who just discovered something.
What similarities do you see between RMIT and Virginia Tech?
Both have a good history in technology, innovation, and design. At Virginia Tech, the nature of the dean role will be familiar, while the U.S. university system and some of CAUS’s disciplinary areas will be new to me. I look forward to that.
How do you feel you can contribute to Virginia Tech’s drive to be a global leader in interdisciplinary research and education?
I have a very strong background in professional education, practice-based learning, research-experience-based learning, and integrated scholarship. I have also helped build strong partnerships between universities and external entities for the benefit of student learning and research. I think these will be good experiences to bring to the table to help fulfill the Beyond Boundaries vision.
Share how you hope to approach the first few months as CAUS dean.
I need to do some serious listening and meeting people within CAUS, across the university, and within the wider community so that I can begin to calibrate my leadership to the specifics of CAUS and Virginia Tech. At the same time, I will be searching to identify potential and to bring people together around common ambitions and projects.
What led you into architecture?
My grandfather and my father were architects. My grandfather created the first school of architecture in Tasmania, although part of his training and early professional career was in London. That was the key reason I vowed never to be an architect. After a reasonably fruitless year following college, however, I realized that my interest in poetics, people, and the arrangement of the physical world pointed directly to the career path I was avoiding. One of the few bets my father lost was that I then went on to become an architect!
What drew you to academia?
A fundamental fascination with concepts, ideas and learning.
What do you enjoy about the job of dean?
Creating the arenas in which people are enabled to succeed, and being part of a critical shift that is going on globally in very nature and role of a university in society.
How do you continue to integrate architectural practice into your daily work and life?
I love experiencing it – when it’s good. As dean, my direct participation with architecture has shifted to working with amazing practitioners from around the world as they undertake their Ph.D. through the execution of their own practices. This has been inspiring.
As dean, how do you balance representing the diverse disciplines in a college like CAUS?
Have a good set of ears and channel the wisdom of Solomon.
Tell us about your family and home in Australia.
We live between Hobart in Tasmania and Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. My wife, Nadine, is an early childhood teacher. We have two daughters: Artemisia is 15 and a champion rower; Isidora is 12 and loves people and telling a story.
How do you and your family feel about making Blacksburg your new home?
We are excited about a new adventure in a welcoming place. In Australia, we live in the pristine foothills of a mountain that’s famous for mountain biking and walking, so some things about Southwest Virginia will be familiar and we know we will value them. Many things will be very new and strange to us – like American cars – and it will be a great opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in a new culture. We’re looking forward to traveling and seeing many parts of the U.S.
Where do you think you’ll face your biggest challenges in adapting?
I’ve worked all over the world and feel like Virginia Tech will be a great place, so I look forward to the role and its challenges. As a family, we will likely face challenges in adapting culturally. Many things about the U.S. and Australia are similar, but it will take some time to navigate the differences and find our rhythm. We lived in Denmark for a while, so we know what it feels like to live in a different country. As with our experience in Denmark, I’m confident that our life in the U.S. will enrich us in new ways as a family and as people.
What are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to helping build what I see in Virginia Tech’s vision as an innovative new kind of land grant university. In particular, I look forward to building the professional education and industry engagement initiative in the National Capital Region and the Creativity and Innovation District in Blacksburg.
Is there anything unusual about your background, upbringing, or educational/career path?
What else would you like to share about yourself? Hobbies, special talents, etc.?
I like a diverse range of things. I’ve been a keen (not necessarily talented) participant in multi-sport endurance racing, which involves mountain running, mountain bike riding, time-trial bike riding, and kayaking. The longest race I’ve completed took me 12.5 hours. In my current condition, I’m probably good for about 20 minutes but I still have plans!