UK College of Design Dean Michael Speaks leaving for Syracuse University

lblackford@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2013 

Michael Speaks, dean of the University of Kentucky's College of Design. Photo by David Perry | staff


Michael Speaks, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design, is leaving to become dean of the Syracuse University School of Architecture.

Speaks has been a major player in discussions about the future of downtown Lexington during his five years at UK.

He helped lure several internationally-acclaimed architects to consult on projects in Lexington, including everything from design alternatives for the failed CentrePointe development to new designs for the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District and Town Branch Commons.

Mayor Jim Gray said, "Michael Speaks has been a great partner for Lexington. His outstanding reputation has helped us attract some of the world's best architects and planners. He's leaving Lexington and we will miss him. But he has enthusiastically offered to remain involved and continue to support our efforts to elevate our city."

Speaks said he was contacted by Syracuse, which is consistently ranked among the top 10 undergraduate architecture schools in the country.

"When a really good school expresses an interest ... one thing led to another," he said Tuesday afternoon, after Syracuse made the news public. "I'm very happy to be joining the school, but sad to leave."

Speaks said he was most proud of hiring new faculty during tough budget times at UK, and helping the College of Design get involved in projects across the state. One of those was the River Cities project, which took UK professors and students to Henderson and Paducah to re-imagine new designs that could be tied to economic development along abandoned waterfronts.

Speaks also led the Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences project, in which students and faculty created new ways for the struggling houseboat industry in Southern Kentucky to reinvent itself.

"As significant as anything has been our refocus on creating studios and curriculum for students in difficult times that put them in touch with real industries and real practices working on real problems," Speaks said.

In doing so, Speaks said, he wanted to make a very strong argument about the importance of design as a "cultural value-adder."

"Design is not just about making cool, pretty, exciting, beautiful things, but just as important it's about economic value, and adding civic value," he said.

UK President Eli Capilouto said he was disappointed Speaks was leaving.

"In his five years at UK, he has been an incredible asset and leader not only for the university, but for the community and Commonwealth as well," Capilouto said in a statement. "He has brought a compelling global vision and set of international contacts to bear on local issues of importance. From the houseboat industry in Southeastern Kentucky to re-imagining Lexington's downtown, Michael's presence and leadership have been deeply felt from the moment he joined UK."

Speaks came to UK from his job as director of the graduate program at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles. He also has taught at Yale, Harvard, Columbia and in the Netherlands.

He starts at Syracuse on July 1.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359Twitter:@lbblackford

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