Monica Ponce de Leon has been appointed as the next dean of Princeton University School of Architecture, effective January 1, 2016. Since 2008, Ponce de Leon has served as dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor where she is heavily involved in The Digital Fabrication Lab, aka FABLab. In her educational approach, Ponce de Leon is a leading figure in applying robotic technology in building fabrication and is a proponent in strengthening studio as the central and all-pervasive educational device.
Before Taubman, she served as a professor for 12 years at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design as well as Director of the Digital Lab. She co-founded the firm Office dA in 1991 and then began her own design practice, MPdL Studio, in 2011.
Throughout her career, Ponce de Leon has received several awards including the prestigious National Design Award in Architecture from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum; the Academic Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Architectural League of New York's Young Architects and Emerging Voices award; and numerous AIA awards and citations.
For more about Ponce de Leon, read Archinect Dean's List feature on Monica Ponce de Leon.
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Mónica Ponce de León is a Venezuelan Americanarchitect, educator, and Dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture. A National Design Award winner, Ponce de León is widely recognized as a pioneer in the application of robotic technology to building fabrication and architecture education. Her interdisciplinary practice, MPdL Studio, has offices in Ann Arbor, MI, New York and Boston, MA. Ponce de León previously served as Dean of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan (2008–2015) and as Professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University (1996–2008). Prior to establishing her own practice MPdL Studio, she was the founding partner with Nader Tehrani in the award-winning firm Office dA.
Early life and education
Ponce de León was raised in Caracas, Venezuela, and immigrated to Miami, Florida, with her family after graduating high school. She took English classes and worked in a millwork shop before enrolling at the University of Miami, earning her Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1989. In 1991, she received a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. After graduating from Harvard, she held teaching appointments at Harvard University, SCI-Arc, Rhode Island School of Design, and Northeastern University while establishing Office dA.
Harvard and early works
Prior to her appointment at Michigan, from 1996 until 2008 Ponce de León was Professor of Architecture, director of the digital lab, and acting architecture program director at Harvard. At Harvard she developed the first robotic fabrication lab in an architecture school in the United States. During her tenure at Harvard, she also held visiting positions at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and has given over 60 lectures and symposia on her work, which has been published in over 200 publications worldwide 
Ponce de León served as Dean the A. Alfred Taubman College Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan from 2008 until 2015. At Michigan she developed new educational models that emphasized experimentation. She opened the Liberty Annex, a think tank for faculty creative practices; paired with two competitive grant programs,"Research Through Making" and "Research on the City." At Michigan she also developed the largest robotic fabrication facility in any school of architecture in the United States. Available to both students and faculty for learning, teaching and research, this model has become the standard for other schools of architecture in the country. At Michigan, Ponce de Leon with Associate Dean Milton Curry, also inaugurated a ground breaking architecture preparatory program for high school students in Detroit. In collaboration with several high schools in Detroit, the program offers design studio instruction high school credit in math and the visual arts. By December 2016 close to 200 students had graduated from the program.
MPdL Studio and dean at Princeton
After the disbanding of Office dA in 2010, Monica Ponce de León established her own practice, MPdL Studio with offices in New York, Boston and Ann Arbor.
In 2015, Ponce de León announced her departure from Michigan to become the new Dean of Princeton University's School of Architecture.
In 2016, Ponce de León served as co-curator, alongside Log editor Cynthia Davidson, of the exhibition at the United States Pavilion for the 15th International Biennale of Architecture in Venice, Italy. The exhibition, entitled "The Architectural Imagination" and to be organized and hosted by Taubman College, will engage specific sites in the city of Detroit, Michigan and feature projects from 12 teams of architects from across the United States.
Among others, her projects include: Fabricating Coincidences]in New York, Helios House in Los Angeles, Macallen Building and the Interfaith Chapel in Boston, Dining Services at 200 West as well as Conrad Hilton in Lower Manhattan. In 2006 she designed the RISD Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Fabricating Coincidences was a 1998 installation in the Museum of Modern Art that serves as an early example of the potential of digital fabrication in architecture. In his review of the exhibition for the New York Times, Herbert Mushamp writes: "'Congratulations. Grade: A. Humpty Dumpty has a very graceful fall. Propped against the brick wall that encloses the garden along its northern edge, the piece is made of perforated steel plate that has been folded, origami style, into a canopy of cascading metal. The project looks like a staircase, but climbing is not recommended. About halfway up, the horizontal folds start sloping precariously upwards. The piece does nifty visual tricks. Depending on the light, the metal plate can switch from opaque to a semi-transparent scrim. Viewed from straight ahead, the folds collapse into a single plane; as you move around, the forms expand into space, like an escalator for the eye. This may not be masterpiece material, but it's an inventive appetizer. These are architects to watch." Of her Dining Services project, Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker writes in 2010, "spectacular cafeteria, with a swooping white plaster ceiling and columns, a modernist take on Gaudi that plays off deftly against Cobb’s geometric shell.”
Honors and awards
Alongside Nader Tehrani , Ms. Ponce de León received both the Young Architects Award in 1997 and the Emerging Voices Award in 2003 from the Architectural League of New York. In 2002, she received an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2008 she was named a United States Artist fellow.
In 2007 Ponce de León received the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture, the first Hispanic architect to receive this honor.
Her work has received numerous awards, including 13 Progressive Architecture awards, the Harleston Parker Medal (2002), as well as citations from the American Institute of Architects, I.D. Magazine, and the Boston Society of Architects. In 2008, the Macallen Building was named one of the Top Ten Green Projects by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment.
In 2016 Ponce de Leon was elected to the National Academy of Design.
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- Surface Architecture, by David Leatherbarrow and Mohsen Mostafavi (MIT Press, 2005)
- Zago Architecture and Office dA: Two Installation, by Eric Owen Moss, et al. (Actar, 2006)
- Young Architects 7: Situating, by the Architectural League of New York (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006)
- Fellowships in Architecture, by Janice Harvey (ed.) and Mónica Ponce de León (foreword) (Oro editions, 2009)
- Monsterpieces: Once Upon a Time . . . of the 2000s!, by Aude-Line Dulliere and Clara Wong, (Oro editions, March 2010)
- Robotic Fabrication in Architecture, Art and Design 2014, by Wes McGee (ed.) and Monica Ponce de Leon (ed.), (Springer, March 2014)