Deborah Berke is from Queens, New York, but her design sensibilities fit in with Columbus perfectly. Her body of work carries a distinct and lasting character of modern elegance with an orientation towards daily life and work. Berke is participating in the Architecture for Everyday Life session of “Foundations and Futures,” where she will revisit her contributions to Columbus’ everyday architecture in conversation with stakeholders Beth Booth Poor and Jason Hatton of Hope Library.
Berke’s passion for both the teaching and practice of architecture has shaped the trajectory of her career. She founded her New York architectural firm, Deborah Berke Partners, in 1982, and has led it ever since. Berke completed her education in art, architecture, and urban design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the Architectural Association in London, England, and the City University of New York. RISD recognized her extraordinary achievements with an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 2005. In 2012, Berke was awarded the Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Prize from the University of California, Berkeley, which applauded “the excellence of her craft, her creative approach to sustainability, and her willingness to mentor women in the field.” She has taught at the Yale School of Architecture since 1987; in July 2016, Berke became the school’s dean.
Buildings by Deborah Berke can be found around her home turf of New York and across the globe. She has taken particular interest in the Midwest as a place of good design without pretension. In Indiana alone, Berke has designed the library branch in Hope, the Creekview Plaza branch of Irwin Union Bank in Columbus, and the hotly anticipated Cummins Distribution Headquarters in Indianapolis, currently nearing completion. Her structures take cues from both their contexts and their functions. For the 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City, Berke preserved elements of the original building’s industrial heritage while adapting it for its new life as a hotel by cutting through concrete floors to invite natural light. Berke’s Irwin Union Bank branch in Columbus is a streamlined building without elaborate flourish, save for the illuminated drive-through overhang that serves as a beacon to cars passing by, responding to the car-centered Midwestern context.
Berke articulated her focus on the vernacular in a book titled The Architecture of the Everyday (1997), highlighting the beautiful aspects of ordinary buildings. Her most recent book, House Rules, offers loose theoretical guidelines for design, construction, and decoration of the contemporary home, drawing on her deep experience in residential architecture. Berke’s buildings and her writings reveal an architect and individual with a human-scaled method. “I am interested in the ordinary,” Berke said. “I love the everyday.” Her work feels modern, perhaps even austere, but still profoundly hospitable. The spaces Berke creates are made for working, learning, and living. This approach dovetails brilliantly with the character of Columbus, where great modern design is part of daily life. She’ll share her sensibility in the Architecture for Everyday Life session of “Foundations and Futures.” “I hope that this symposium helps highlight the prominence of the everyday within the language of Columbus’ design,” Berke said.
Images by Catherine Tighe, Glint Studios, and Winnie Au