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Architect speaks about role of symbolism in design of the American university

Balancing between function and beauty can often be difficult when designing higher education facilities, according to an architect who spoke at Brandeis on Tuesday evening as a part of the Richard Saivetz ’69 Annual Memorial Architectural Lecture Series. Architect Kevin Hom said that an architect’s clients are not just the students of today but also the students of the future.

“The culture of the facility and what symbolism is there is more important than personal expression because this is what the school is all about. How you incorporate new technology and new design is all a part of the responsibility,” said Hom, world-renowned architect and friend of the late Richard Saivetz ’69, after whom the event was named.

Hom said that from architecture such as the chapels, he gets the sense that Brandeis is an institution that is interested in exploring and challenging itself in terms of what the next building is going to represent.

Hom said that many architects care more about the beauty that comes from function, while others are more concerned with the effect that the beauty creates.

“Very few places call for symbolism more than universities. They exemplify all the things that we hold dear and that are important to us, especially in democracy. The pursuit of knowledge, equal access, the ability to succeed and excel, the embracement of traditions, fairplay are all the things that the American university represents to the world,” said Hom. “There’s always the hope that someone, in some way, will do something that we will remember.”

Hom spoke about many different universities around the world that serve as examples of different architectural styles and modes of symbolism. He said that Cambridge University exemplifies the quintessential suburban campus.

“Learning from your predecessors, learning what cultures value and the symbols that remain important for that culture is part of the responsibility of an architect,” said Hom.

Hom serves as the Dean of Technology and Design at the City University of New York. He and Saivetz met while studying at Columbia University. They remained friends for years after, and Hom is still friends with Saivetz’s wife, Brandeis Trustee Dr. Carol Richman Saivetz ’69, who created the Richard Saivetz ’69 Annual Memorial Architectural Lecture Series following his death in April 2000. Richard Saivetz served as a university trustee and president of the Alumni Association in the 1990s.

“Richard’s phrase was ‘draw, don’t think,’” said Hom. “If he was here, he would be teasing the hell out of me for speaking at an event in his name.”

Richman Saivetz was in attendance of the event. She said it was the first time that she heard Hom give a lecture and that she thought he did a great job.

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