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PhD of Architecture

Stathis G. Yeros

My time at Berkeley was not a premeditated journey. I first walked through Bauer Wurster’s doors in Fall 2007 with a classmate from Art History I had fallen in love with. I no longer know where he lives or what he does, but I savor the serendipity of that introduction. I encountered studio life and Ramona’s, which became Rice and Bones, which nourished me when the building, sentient in early morning silent soliloquies, exuded such promise.

Eventually, I fell in love with many carefully argued theses, their authors, with the Bay that became my home for almost fifteen years, and with architecture.

Much has changed since then. Starting with the building’s name, which now explicitly commemorates the legacy of Catherine Bauer Wurster, public housing advocate and educator of a generation of socially-minded city planners. Names matter, their symbolism makes sedimented histories visible.1 Discussions about name changes matter even more.

Another change is decidedly more sober. Last year’s orange skies brough the climate catastrophe home. Since 2007, 116,089 fires have burned 8,181,147 acres of land in California alone.2 The urgency for networks of care far surpass our capacity to design our way out of this. We cannot rely on urban resilience plans and techno-scientific solutions with shallow references to design precedents.

We need new tools, and I believe that Berkeley’s strength is our willingness and ability to question received knowledge outside disciplinary constraints.

Besides changes in the physical environment, I have also personally changed since I arrived as an undergraduate exchange student, a naive outsider.

I have learned a lot and un-learned even more. I learned that I am building my life on unceded and ancestral Ohlone land. I un-learned odious habits of generalizing, of normalizing the suffering that settler colonialism and modernization cause in the name of progress, of measuring success through the lens of a hegemonic pantheon of architectural “heroes.” I owe this to great mentors and generous peers.

And even before my doctoral work, insightful design teachers helped me understand that each line on a drawing, each representation of an inhabitant matters.

Before he retired after almost fifty years of teaching, Raymond Lifchez remarked, off the cuff, that he felt great hope and pride when he walked in Berkeley and encountered sidewalk ramps. Early in his career, Ray collaborated with the Center for Independent Living, which sought to empower people with disabilities. Sidewalk ramps were a key demand and design challenge for the Berkeley activists.

Ramps, of course, are now ubiquitous not only in this small college town, but around the world. They are concrete examples of the physical change that architects, planners, and community activists working together can achieve. As Ray likes to say, architecture is a social art.

Ray’s remarks have stayed with me as I begin a career in research and teaching. I hope that the class of 2021 can maintain the drive and achieve the satisfaction of pointing to a positive physical change, fifty years from now, to which our work has contributed.

1 Though the building was initially dedicated to both William Wurster and Catherine Bauer Wurster, the new name made this explicit.
2 Source: National Interagency Fire Center