January 2023 Letter from the Dean

January 03, 2023

Detroit Mercy SACD logoBuilding on our 58-year heritage and our unique relationship with Detroit, we have completed a major transition. Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, we are now known as the: School of Architecture + Community Development (SACD). This is more than a name change. It marks a deliberate focus on our Mission and Core Values, which center on amplifying our social, economic and environmental justice-driven and student-centered approach. It also highlights 17 years of our unique and accomplished community development department. The new name points us toward our future vision to be a community school because Detroit is our home. It is not our laboratory or our classroom. It is our campus and our home.

For the past two years, we have been back in person and it has been wonderful to have the energy and excitement of our students, faculty and staff resonating through SACD’s Loranger Building. As I reflect on the past few years, I am struck by the thought that our faculty and staff worked as if it was not a limitation to be online. SACD faculty and administrators committed to embrace the unplanned and urgent shift that was occurring at the time, because we saw it as an opportunity to make very visible to our students the value architects can bring to designing not just objects, but thoughtful systems, meaningful experiences, and effective processes, as well. Today, though SACD is back to 100% in-person instruction, we have not returned to the-way-things-were before March 2020. At the same time, digital technology has not replaced SACD’s physical facilities and educational methods. Instead, the faculty and administrators have retained and intertwined the positive aspects that online platforms provided. Therefore, though we have an in-person curriculum, SACD thoughtfully and critically uses online practices to expand our educational techniques rather than limiting them or shifting them away from in-person processes.

The University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture + Community Development (SACD) is the only architecture school in the city limits of Detroit. For over 50 years, it has garnered a respected and honored reputation for its knowledge and work in Detroit. This specific and unique perspective and research has been acknowledged to be applicable at the national and international scales. Therefore, SACD is not merely an expert on Detroit-based urban architecture. It is a distinctive expert on urban architecture based on its engaged work in Detroit. It is clear, Detroit has been of interest—both positive and negative—to the world for decades. As eyes continue to focus on Detroit from every angle, SACD has been one of the key institutions at this nexus.

Dan PiteraSACD is an intentional community of approximately 225 students, served by 50 accomplished full-time and part-time faculty. Each of our students become an integral part of a diverse student body working alongside faculty, administrators and staff to imagine and create change. We are close-knit community. We cherish our relatively small size. One of our sources of pride is that our students are rarely lost in the back row of theater style classes. They are far from being anonymous students walking through crowded halls where no one will recognize them. Our classes are hardly ever more than 25-30 students. Many of our courses are intentionally even smaller, there really is no back row.

A few of our other points of pride are:

  • First, the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), which is a fully operational teaching office within SACD that focuses on architecture, urban design and landscape architecture. It is a place that intentionally puts into practice what each students have learned. 

  • Second, it is one thing to work for an architect while you are in school. It is quite another to be a part of the second oldest coop program in the country. Other students who attend a school without the structured coop program leave their experience up to chance. Detroit Mercy architecture students are confident that our coop structure, which has evolved over the past 55-plus years, will guide their employers to give them a well-rounded and productive experience.

  • Third, we are nurturing engaged world citizens who can think globally and act locally. Imagine sketching the magnificent view from the top of the tallest tower in Siena, Italy. Picture yourself in Warsaw, Poland studying architecture in English alongside students from all over the European Union and beyond. Envision learning about community development and architecture over spring break in Cuba. Studying abroad in unfamiliar locations is an important aspect of any educational college experience. We think strongly that it is even more important for students studying architecture or community development.

We have set this collaborative relationship because we are committed to educating students who will adapt to and lead in the changing disciplines of architecture, urban design and community development. It is one thing to change the world. It is quite another thing to change it in a meaningful way!

We look forward to shaping change together…

Dan Pitera, FAIA
Dean + Professor: Detroit Mercy School of Architecture & Community Development
2017 AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for the Detroit Collaborative Design Center
2004-2005 Harvard University Loeb Fellow

Architecture building from the outside with trees in front of windows.