Back to top

03.26.20 – A message from dean Richard Sommer about the Daniels Faculty's COVID-19 response

Dear Daniels Students, Faculty, and Staff:

We are only a few weeks into what remains unknown territory. Before any more time passes, I want to convey my appreciation to our students, faculty, and staff for their patience, dedication, and fortitude during this difficult time.

We are a community that is dedicated to creative inquiry through the study and making of things. Our pedagogies and ways of working put a premium on physical proximity to materials, specific geographies and spaces, collaboration, and the sharing and exchange of ideas. After a significant and necessary turn towards the digital within our fields in recent years, I have been heartened to see a new hybridization of digital and other modes of ideation, and a resurgence in physical modeling, curatorial sensibilities, and IRL (“in-real-life”) sociability at our school.

Now, the necessity to “self-isolate” and limit our teaching to online formats presents serious challenges for everyone¬ – not least our particular culture. We need to be careful and thoughtful about the changes this current crisis could bring, and acknowledge that studying, teaching, and doing research “online” is neither easier, nor more “efficient” than doing these things in person. Nevertheless, there is always something that can be learned and revealed by transforming the ways in which we interact. Let us try to glean some benefit, or insights, from the forced shift in our way of working that is underway, including things that might be captured when we are able to return to our shared classrooms, labs, studios, and workshops on campus.

Alongside the experiments in format and delivery we are all undertaking now, let us also consider how we can bring our skills, ideas, and approaches as designers, scholars, artists, and researchers to bear on the current challenge in ways that could benefit our communities and broader society. For example, how could our cities, environments, and buildings be better designed for these situations in the future? How can art, design, and environmental practices address social isolation, and the political fallout of crises like these? More immediately, some of our faculty have studied and worked on the design and deployment of emergency medical and other shelters. Now may be the time to bring this thinking forward. There are longer term issues related to buildings, air exchange/quality, light, and virus transmission. Others study relationships between architecture, urbanism, storage, and logistics. These are just a few of the areas of knowledge and expertise our community could bring to bear on addressing the “architecture” of pandemics.

I have been fielding inquiries from alumni and friends of the school about whether, for example, we can use our fabrication equipment to produce needed medical supplies. We are coordinating our response to the crisis with the experts and resources dedicated to these kinds of efforts at U of T. Where we can constructively contribute, we will. If you have ideas, or are fielding your own external inquiries, please be in touch with our Manager, External Relations and Outreach, Nene Brode, who will be coordinating our efforts on this front.

For Our Students:

The Office of the Registrar and Student Services has created FAQs that will be continually updated. We are committed to getting you through to the end of the semester and beyond. The Registrar and Assistant Dean, Andrea McGee, has been working with her staff around the clock to answer your emails. They are here to support you, so please reach out if you need to, and keep monitoring your emails.

I want you to know, in our many hours of deliberation over the past weeks, I, along with the entire administration at the University of Toronto, have, more than anything else, tried to make decisions that put the welfare and experience of our students first. We understand what a stressful time this is for all our students. At the same time, whatever decisions or judgements we make, such as U of T’s early commitment to keep the central libraries and other facilities open through the end of term, are subject to changes based upon decisions and directives from the national, provincial, and municipal governments.

We are unfortunately facing a scenario where our live final juries and our university convocation will not take place this June (degrees will be conferred). I will be working with the Daniels community to imagine ways to celebrate the accomplishments of all our students — especially our graduating students. For example, we will be featuring the incredible work of all our students over the coming weeks on our website and social channels, including the thesis work of our graduate and undergraduate students.

Faculty, students, and staff, please share your stories and work with us. You can contact Steve Kupferman and/or Nene Brode to help.

Faculty and Staff:

Thank you for your continued efforts to rapidly transition coursework and reviews to online platforms. We know that you have been receiving and answering countless emails and making an unprecedented effort to retool your work and teaching.

Associate Dean, Academic Robert Levit; the program directors ¬(Professors Jeannie Kim, Shane Williamson, Liat Margolis, Mark Sterling, Michael Piper, Mason White, Jesse LeCavalier, Sandy Smith, Charles Stankievech); Registrar and Assistant Dean, Students Andrea McGee; Assistant Dean, Academic Jen Hill; Maxim Batourine and the IT team; Manager, External Relations and Outreach Nene Brode; and Digital Content Coordinator Steve Kuperman, among many others, have been working steadily and addressing as many issues as they can. Behind the scenes, they are fielding calls, emails, updating communications, and coordinating with the central administration. They, and their extended teams, are incredible resources for our community.

Chief Administrative Officer Didier Pomerleau and the business office are working to ensure we continue operations. Naveed Khan, Sara Whitehouse, and our facilities staff are ensuring the building is safe and secure. Jacqueline Raaflaub and our advancement team are continuing to keep our donors and alumni engaged. All our staff are working online to further the important work of the Daniels Faculty. I want to personally thank all of them for their sustained efforts and dedication.

The situation we are facing is evolving. For now, the circumstances in Toronto and Canada are good compared to other regions in North America and the world. I am confident that we will complete the winter semester successfully. Beyond this, and in relation to the summer and fall programs, we will do our best to provide definitive answers and direction, where and when we can. We will also try to be clear about what remains unknown.

We are all facing various personal and professional challenges involving our families, friends, and colleagues. Our Daniels/U of T ties are not the only connections that are being tested. Beyond the logistics of delivering course material and the completion of coursework for the winter term, I am working with colleagues to imagine ways to maintain our sense of social cohesion and common purpose. In this light, please do not hesitate to be in touch and share ideas, concerns, and how you are coping.

Stay safe, and take care.


Richard M. Sommer
Professor of Architecture and Urbanism
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design
University of Toronto