Arizona architecture dean designing future challenge

Posted By Mike Padgett

July 30, 2008

Wellington Reiter was up at sunrise today, swimming in his new pool for the first time. It was filled just 24 hours ago.

And because his pool is new, Reiter plans to swim 1,000 laps before he leaves his renovated home in Phoenix to become president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He starts Aug. 25.

Reiter is relocating to Chicago from his post as dean of the College of Design at Arizona State University in Tempe. ASU officials recruited Reiter in 2003 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In Chicago, Reiter’s goals include strengthening the school’s relationship with the city, and joining the city’s organizing committee that will put together a bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

“The trustees of the school believe that the school has a much wider mission that it hasn’t yet realized, and part of my work here (at ASU) has been about finding a mutually beneficial link between an academic institution and the city in which it resides,” Reiter says.

When Reiter moved into his ASU office five years ago, one of the first things he hung on his wall was a large aerial photo of downtown Phoenix. It showed large vacant parcels as well as other tired properties with much potential.

Today, many of those properties have been redesigned. Other parcels are proposed for future projects. Reiter gives credit for downtown’s new look to a large team of Phoenix and university officials, city planners, architects, developers and business owners.

“It’s truly been a team effort, and I worry that too much attention is being directed at me when really a lot of people have been involved in all the things we’ve done,” Reiter says.

He interrupts the interview to watch workmen renovate his home near 36nd Street and Camelback Road.

“You’ll like this. I swam in our pool – we have a lap pool now – for the first time this morning. It was filled yesterday, and I swam in it today. Without question, in the next couple of weeks I’m going to get 1,000 laps in. I’m going to swim in that pool three times a day, if I can.”

The renovations started last fall, long before he became a candidate for the Chicago post, “and it’s finishing up next week,” Reiter says.

Reiter – his friends call him Duke – arrived in Arizona just as planning or construction had started on several key developments in downtown Phoenix. One keystone project, where construction had just begun, is the Translational Genomics Research Institute, called TGen. It was completed in late 2004.

Other major downtown projects started or completed since 2004 include:

  • The 20-mile light rail system stretching from northwest Phoenix, through downtown to Tempe and Mesa. It is to begin operations in December.
  • The expanded ASU Downtown campus, where the journalism school opened earlier this month and two dormitory buildings are under construction.
  • The $600 million expansion and renovation of the Phoenix Convention Center. Part of the work is complete.
  • The Phoenix Biomedical Collaborative, a venture by Arizona’s three universities and the Maricopa Community College District. The collaborative was opened in the historic Phoenix Union High School buildings next to TGen.

Reiter’s favorite achievement during his time at ASU is his contributions to the downtown campus.

“My involvement, along with others, in that project certainly is one of the things that gives me a lot of satisfaction,” he says. “We’ll be able to come back and see that continuing to blossom every time we’re here.”

Reiter has several fans in Arizona. One is Mark Patterson, the Healthcare Studio leader at SmithGroup’s Phoenix office and president-elect of the Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“Duke’s legacy at ASU is significant,” Patterson says. “He has created a unique synergy among the disciplines within the College of Design that is gaining wide recognition for its integration of theory and practical applications.”

Patterson, as a former Chicago resident, relishes the thought of working in that city’s architectural community.

“I know that it is a city that is constantly reinventing itself, and Duke’s leadership at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago will be an opportunity for him to play a significant role in the decades ahead,” Patterson says.

In Phoenix, Reiter helped raise the profile of the College of Design – at the order of ASU President Michael Crow – by opening an urban design institute in downtown Phoenix. Reiter and his staff opened the Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory in the top two floors of the historic Security Building at Central Avenue and Van Buren Street. The building dates to 1928.

“I’ve had the incredible good fortune – and that’s why I came here – to work for the most dynamic university president in the United States,” Reiter says. “He and I had a great chat yesterday in his office.”

Reiter adds that he would welcome opportunities to work as an advisor on future ASU or Phoenix projects. He says he’ll probably keep his Phoenix home, at least for a while, because of the glut of homes on the market.

“I’ve had a wonderful time here, and I’ve made some lifelong friends,” Reiter says. “I don’t plan to disappear (from Arizona) completely.”

Jul 30th, 2008

One Comment to 'Arizona architecture dean designing future challenge'

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  1. Shawn said,

    Mike, this just keeps getting better!

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