Richard M. Sommer became dean of the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design in 2009, succeeding Professor Emeritus George Baird. Before joining U of T, Sommer was the Director of Urban Design Programs and a member of the Design Faculty at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design for a decade. He has also held many other distinguished appointments, including serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the California College of the Arts from 1995-98; and as a Visiting Professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1993-95, at Barnard College-Columbia University in 1993; and at Iowa State University of Science and Technology from 1989-92, where he was given a legislative award for teaching excellence in 1991. His professional and academic activity in urban design is diverse, and includes serving from 2005 to 2010, as the O’Hare Chair of Design and Development and as a Visiting American Scholar at the University of Ulster, Belfast. In this capacity he worked with government agencies, academics, and other groups to develop proposals for the design of Northern Ireland’s cities and towns as they emerge from “The Troubles.”
Upon being appointed, Sommer stated: "because Daniels is already one of the leading schools of its kind in North America, I have the luxury of setting very high goals for its future. The four disciplines joined at Daniels — architecture, art, landscape architecture and urban design — each have a unique role to play in creating more beautiful, ecologically sound and socially enriched environments. Yet, the most important design challenges we face today — from the creation of more integrated transit infrastructures to rethinking relationships between home, industry and nature — escape the exclusive purview of any one discipline or professional expertise. Many of the current approaches to designing and developing our cities, towns and rural areas are unable to adequately address these challenges. Set within a city that is cosmopolitan in every sense of the word, the Daniels Faculty is in an ideal position to model new modes of practice by drawing on the remarkable community of minds at the University of Toronto, and thereby make research and speculation on better ways to design and inhabit the built environment a focus across the university, the city and beyond."
Sommer's design practice (B.L.U.) research and scholarship have developed along two interrelated lines. The first pertains to reconceiving architecture and urban design's disciplinary basis to better address the competing forces of liberalization in property markets and the increasing expectations for democratic access in city-making processes. The second line of research frames the monument as the historical exemplar of architecture, tracing its transformation through its encounter with modern forms of democracy and the American landscape. Subsequent to organizing a traveling exhibition on this subject, Sommer has co-authored a series of articles with Glenn Forley on the topic of the democratic monument that are being collected in a forthcoming volume.
Sommer’s other writings and projects have appeared in publications such as Perspecta: The Yale Architecture Journal, the Journal of Architectural Education, Harvard Design Magazine, Any and Arcade and in a number of books, including Shaping the City: Studies in History, Theory and Urban Design, Regenerating Older Suburbs and Urban Design and Fast Forward Urbanism, and The Democratic Monument in America: A Twentieth Century Topography, among others. Support for Sommer's research has included awards and grants from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the LEF Foundation, the Tozier Fund, The Wheelwright Fellowship and Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
A native of Philadelphia, Sommer earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design and his Master of Architecture from Harvard University. Sommer and his wife, Laura J. Miller, his architectural partner who was also a long-standing member of Harvard's architecture faculty, live in Toronto with their family. Laura J. Miller joined the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design in 2010.