Samantha Salden Teach
School of Architecture
Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and Assistant Professor of the Practice
Samantha Salden Teach did not come from a family of academics. Nor was she related to any architects. But her propensity for adding stops at obscure museums (because they were housed in lovely little towns and beautiful buildings) to family road trips offered an early hint of future career interests.
“A lot of kids may not have direct contact with an architect and so may not really understand the discipline or think of it as a career option. For me, though, it emerged as an ideal path. As someone who loves history and art and who also loves math and science and understanding how things go together, I found that this was one field where I didn’t have to give up any of it,” she says.
Salden Teach, assistant dean for graduate studies in Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, found her way through early challenges as an undergraduate student at Notre Dame. She now helps her own students through them, teaching beginning design courses to both undergraduate and graduate students, graduate thesis, and courses on the history of urban form and sustainable design. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with virtually every student that has passed through the school in the last several years as an adviser, instructor or both. As I see these genuinely good people going out into the world and doing meaningful work, I take great pride in having played a role in their successes and their development.”
It was genuinely good people like these who drew Salden Teach to Notre Dame. She was initially undecided after being accepted to the University, but committed after attending an alumni event in Minneapolis. “The people I met were smart and ambitious, but sincere and kind. I wanted to be around people like that,” she remembers.
After graduation Salden Teach made her way to Atlanta to begin her professional life at Historical Concepts, a traditional architecture and planning firm. While there, she was exposed to a wide variety of projects — urban infill, residential work, sacred architecture, etc. And in that firm, she was able to take on increasing amounts of leadership. “I found myself at 23 leading a team on a huge project, working with other designers, clients and contractors who were often closer to my parents’ age than my own.”
After four years in Atlanta, Salden Teach considered several graduate programs and eventually settled on returning to Notre Dame. “I was able to have a truly new experience, but was gratified in finding a unique meaningful continuity in what was being taught here. At Notre Dame, we can openly engage the best examples of past design solutions in critical conversation while also judiciously employing new materials, technologies and strategies for both representation and building,” she later wrote.
After completing her graduate studies, Salden Teach joined the School of Architecture faculty, moving from direct practice to transforming the profession through education. She began as an adviser for student organizations, then moved to committee chair and informal mentor. For the last several years, Salden Teach has found herself in administrative roles in the school, first as director of graduate studies and then as assistant dean.
“Some might think of administrative work as paperwork and bureaucracy, but I find that it’s primarily about helping faculty and students — working to make it easier for them to focus on and excel in their teaching, research and studies — and ensuring that as a school, we’re practicing what we preach, getting out an effective message, and staying engaged in the academic and professional conversation. It’s rarely mundane — there is always a new challenge and there are always improvements to be made and new opportunities to consider,” she says.
As an administrator, she has played a key role in the creation of the school’s first Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion. She has collaborated with people across Notre Dame as well as leaders in the profession to ensure that architecture students and faculty are connected with the resources necessary to create an inclusive environment at the school, while working to address systemic issues related to historically underrepresented groups in the architecture profession.
“It is important, even in a program that has had great success, to take time for self-reflection.”
These efforts have included clarifying and formalizing more of the elements necessary to form a healthy studio culture at the school. Studio life is one of the most unique aspects of architectural education — students spend long hours working individually and in small groups. A proactive approach to the development of a positive and inclusive environment is vital to ensure students are supported in all ways — intellectually, interpersonally and in terms of physical and mental health.
Salden Teach has also been a leader in recent curriculum reviews for the graduate program in architecture and urban design and in the development of new programs. “It is important, even in a program that has had great success, to take time for self-reflection. To consider whether we might have greater impact through collaboration with others or by expanding the conversation to allied disciplines and other audiences.”
Architects are in a singular position to have a profound affect on a physical space — the creation of a new building or urban plan impacts generations of people in a town or place. With her teaching and leadership, Salden Teach has increased her impact far beyond the projects she designed personally. Her legacy includes the research and creative work of the many practicing architects she has taught and mentored in through the Notre Dame program’s unique focus on classical architecture and traditional urbanism.
“Teaching design in a classical manner is not a singular thing,” Salden Teach says. “It’s about a mutual interdependence of the building and the city, varying levels of refinement and hierarchy, and caring for the existing as we consider building new. We get to explore design through the clarity of common human and structural principles, but their adaptation to a variety of cultures, climates, materials and programs around the world opens us to almost unlimited opportunity.”
Written by Mary Beth Zachariades, School of Architecture