Dean Robert G. Shibley elevated to SUNY Distinguished Professor

Published December 23, 2021

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Robert G. Shibley, professor and dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, has been elevated to the highest faculty rank in the SUNY system, SUNY Distinguished Professor. The honor recognizes faculty with national and/or international prominence and distinguished reputations within their chosen fields.

Robert Shibley.

Dean Robert Shibley

A senior scholar in the fields of architecture and urban planning, Shibley is widely recognized for his work on the theory and practice of placemaking — the way we transform the places we are into places we love. For nearly 50 years he has advanced the principles of quality design in service to the public through teaching, research and critical practice. His work shaping Western New York through citizen-driven planning is a model for other city-regions throughout the world.

According to SUNY, the Distinguished Faculty rank is “attained through extraordinary contributions to, and impact on, the candidate’s field of study, often evidenced by significant research and/or creative activity. The work must be of such character that it has the potential to elevate the standards of scholarship or creative activity of colleagues, both within and beyond their academic fields.”

Shibley joined UB as a professor and chair of architecture in 1982 and was admitted to the Department of Urban Planning in 1990. In the same year he founded The Urban Design Project, a university center for the study and critical practice of urban design that developed an award-winning ensemble of plans for the City of Buffalo’s downtown, waterfront, Olmsted park system, and a city-wide comprehensive plan. In 2011, he aligned the center with the UB Regional Institute, where he has continued to guide regional planning initiatives, first as director and currently as senior fellow and principal investigator. 

Over the course of four decades, Shibley has worked with faculty, staff, students and collaborating publics on over 80 Buffalo-based projects totaling more than $25 million in sponsored work. The projects received global attention for their impact on the people and places of Buffalo and the region. The work helped lay the foundation for resurgence. It is also viewed as a model for university-community partnerships in city-making and place-based teaching, research and critical practice.

Robert G. Shibley.

Robert G. Shibley leads a conversation with the community as part of the One Region Forward sustainable development plan for the region. Photo courtesy of the UB Regional Institute

A prolific scholar, Shibley is the author of 120 publications, including 17 books and 15 book chapters. His leadership in architecture and planning research is celebrated in both the academy and professions for its integration with practice and community.

His publications Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Community, co-authored with professor emerita Lynda Schneekloth, Urban Excellence, co-authored with Philip Langdon and Polly Welchand Time Savers, Standards for Urban Design, co-edited with Don Watson and Alan Platus, are seminal works in the field of placemaking and the democratization of architecture and urban and regional planning.

Shibley’s advancements in design research date back to the 1970s, when such work was still in the margins of the field. As an architect with the U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Engineers he published evidence-based design guidelines enhancing building performance. While with the U.S. Department of Energy he developed research and tools advancing passive and hybrid solar commercial building design.

He was in the first cohort of members of the Environmental Design Research Association and has served two terms as president of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium, an international association of architectural research centers, academies and organizations.

In 1987, he and Polly Welsh designed the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, a national award that recognizes transformative urban places and their contributions to the economic, environmental, and social vitality of American cities. Over 34 years, Shibley has co-authored or co-authored 13 of the Rudy Bruner Foundation’s 17 books on best practices in placemaking.

Highlighted achievements

Publications on placemaking

Soldiers Circle.

Shibley's contributions to the field of placemaking are rooted in his critical practice in Buffalo, which includes a master plan for the city's world-class park and parkway system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. ("City of Trees," still from See It Through Buffalo documentary film directed by Gregory Delaney and produced by Robert Skerker, the School of Architecture and Planning and First+Main Films).  

Shibley has also made substantial contributions in placemaking to the University at Buffalo. He led the development of UB 2020: The Comprehensive Physical Plan (2010) as a senior advisor to the president. Shibley continues to advise on implementation of the plan across UB’s three-campus footprint. His leadership of international design competitions for university capital projects, including UB's downtown medical school and a solar panel land-art installation on UB's North Campus, have helped raise design standards for public universities.

As chairman of UB’s Environmental Stewardship Committee, Shibley guided the development of UB's first adopted Climate Action Plan announcing a carbon neutral goal for the campus by 2030. Today, UB's first campus sustainability officer Ryan McPherson reports UB ranks No. 1 in the 2021 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for its work to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal in climate action.

Peer evaluators from across the academy and profession testify to the importance of Shibley's scholarship

Fourteen leading scholars, educators and practitioners participated in an external peer evaluation process as part of Shibley's nomination for SUNY Distinguished Professor. Speaking to Shibley's far-reaching impact on his field of study and society at large are a university president, deans  and senior-rank faculty from architecture and urban planning schools across the U.S., and collaborating thought leaders and scholars in fields as diverse as environmental studies, public health, the social sciences and the humanities.  

The peer review commentary highlights Shibley's pioneering work on the methods and aims of architectural research; building public trust in the design and city-making process; publications that helped establish the field of placemaking (and are required reading at many schools of architecture and planning); transformative community impacts across the scale of building, campus, city and region; and the activation of urban planning and architecture on climate change, sustainability and social justice.

As dean, Shibley has extended a culture of research across the School. Faculty and staff have tripled the portfolio of funded research and added new centers, labs and institutes that also link architecture and planning to disciplines as diverse as public health, engineering, food systems, and inclusive design and environmental analysis. The School is among the top of architecture and planning programs in the nation in research productivity.

He has also guided the School in its efforts to increase access to and diversity in architectural education, resulting in parity in gender enrollment and a fourfold increase in enrollment of students from underrepresented minority groups over the past 10 years.  

He is the recipient of top national awards in his disciplines, including an American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture and induction into the College of Fellows in the AIA, and the American Institute of Certified Planners. In 2016, DesignIntelligence, the only entity ranking architecture and design schools, recognized Shibley as among the nation’s 25 most admired design educators. He is the recipient of the UB President’s Medal, the New York State AIA Educator of the Year Award, and 45 other international, national and regional honors for outstanding design and planning projects, as well as additional lifetime achievement awards.

In addition to Shibley, four other UB professors were elevated to the SUNY Distinguished Professor rank this year by the SUNY Board of Trustees. UB represented nearly half of 11 new Distinguished Professors appointed SUNY-wide.

Within UB's School of Architecture and Planning, Edward Steinfeld also holds a SUNY Distinguished Professorship, which was awarded in 2012. He is a faculty member in the Department of Architecture and director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access.

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