Robert Greenstreet, Intl. Assoc. AIA, accomplished architect, prolific author, and celebrated educator, is the recipient of the 2013 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. In his more than 35-year career, Greenstreet has taught at five schools of architecture in the United Kingdom and the United States. He has spent the last 20 years as dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), making him one of the longest-serving architecture deans in North America. The Topaz Medallion honors an individual who has been deeply involved in architecture education for at least a decade.
In March, Greenstreet will be awarded the medallion at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) annual meeting in San Francisco. The AIA will also recognize him at the 2013 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in Denver in June.
Greenstreet has devoted his career to fostering connections between academia and professional practice. In addition to instructing thousands of students, Greenstreet has held numerous positions at UWM, including assistant vice chancellor and deputy chancellor for campus and urban design; he also served as 1995–96 president of the ACSA. In 1998, he received the ACSA’s Distinguished Professor Award and was named one of the “Most Admired Educators” of 2010 by DesignIntelligence. Greenstreet has authored or co-authored seven books devoted to various areas of professional practice, with a particular focus on architecture and the law.
‘Mentor and friend’
After growing up in London, Greenstreet began his architectural education at Oxford Polytechnic University (now Oxford Brookes) in 1970, earning his undergraduate degree there and continuing into its Ph.D. program in the late 1970s. He worked in private practice while pursuing his doctorate, focusing on a range of residential, commercial, and institutional projects, and finishing his degree in 1983.
By the 1980s, Greenstreet had moved to the United States, where he served as an adjunct and visiting professor at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Ball State University, before joining the UWM faculty. At UWM he developed and taught several new courses, including those focused on advanced presentation techniques, building technology, and law and practice for architects. He has also led numerous design studios and study-abroad programs. Greenstreet has spearheaded interdisciplinary and professional program development between architecture students and those studying such diverse subjects as film, art history, engineering, business, and law. Reaching out beyond academia, Greenstreet played a fundamental role in the development of a new public high school in Milwaukee, the School for Urban Planning + Architecture, which enrolled its first class in 2007.
Research and writing have also been major aspects of Greenstreet’s career. In addition to seven books, he has published more than 150 papers and articles internationally, appearing in such journals as Progressive Architecture, Licensed Architect, Architecture, and Architectural Research Quarterly. He has also served as editor of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, Student Edition, and is co-author of The New Administrator’s Handbook and The Junior Faculty Handbook on Tenure and Promotion.
“I have witnessed him act as mentor and friend to the most influential deans, and offer reassuring assistance to the most junior professor,” wrote Marvin Malecha, FAIA, dean of the North Carolina State University College of Design and former AIA president, in a recommendation letter. “I never met an individual more generous with his time and energy to our beloved architectural community.”
‘Town and gown’
Greenstreet’s work has taken him to the streets of his adopted city as well. In Milwaukee, he served as chair of the City Plan Commission from 1993 to 2004, during which time he was involved in upgrading the city’s 80-year-old zoning code, adjudicating decisions about future development, and assisting in the selection of architects for major building projects such as Pier Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Public Market, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
In addition to his deanship, Greenstreet is currently Milwaukee’s chair of city development, which he calls a “groundbreaking experiment to connect ‘town and gown.'” He works regularly with the mayor’s office on matters of planning, design, and development, leading design reviews in the city and coordinating the activities of the architecture school with city projects and programs.
The May 2009 architecture issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education featured Greenstreet on its cover, posing in front of the Milwaukee Art Museum and its birdlike 2001 addition designed by AIA Gold Medalist Santiago Calatrava—a building that some say catapulted Milwaukee onto the architectural A-list. The accompanying article describes Greenstreet as a tough negotiator with high expectations for architecture in the city. “As architects, we liked having one of us as the city planner,” local architect Greg Uhen, AIA, told the Chronicle. “I think his biggest influence is [that] he raised the bar for design in the city.”
Among other projects, Greenstreet also conceived and executed a program called Community Design Solutions, which helps UWM students work with AIA members so that they can provide pro bono services to inner-city neighborhoods and community groups. Greenstreet also served as an advisor to internationally renowned architect Antoine Predock, FAIA, on his award-winning design for the Indian Community School of Milwaukee. “His energy, enthusiasm and scope,” Predock wrote in a recommendation letter, “are boundless.”
“Great cities don’t just happen,” Greenstreet wrote in a 2008 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial. “They require planning, forethought, and an insistence on good design.”