Christoph Lindner | Collaboration and Creativity

New A&AA dean thinks globally, shares locally

Early weekend mornings after moving to Amsterdam, Christoph Lindner would grab his laptop, hop on his bike and head for coffee. “I would roam the streets looking for someplace open so I could sit down and work.”

But there was a hitch. No place was open.

“In Amsterdam, there’s a strong boundary between life and work,” he says. “On weekends, you can’t get into university buildings, and cafes often don’t open until 8 or 9 a.m.” — and Lindner gets up at 5 a.m. “So when Monday morning came around, it was such a relief that I could finally get back into my office. My wife laughs at me that Monday is my favorite day of the week, and it’s true because everything opens up again.”

Luckily for Lindner, the new dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, his UO keycard will get him into Lawrence Hall anytime. “Of course I unwind,” he says. “I spend time with the family, I travel, I go to the movies, like to eat out, do all those kinds of things — but there’s not an on switch and an off switch, or at work, off work. It’s all one package.”

Lindner brings his expansive energies to the school after serving as professor of media and culture at the University of Amsterdam and as director of that university’s Cities Project. He is founding director of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis and a member of the Amsterdam Center for Globalization Studies. From 2010-14, he was director of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, a research institute and doctoral school. 

In recent years, Lindner’s work has become increasingly focused on issues of precariousness and sustainability, “but always in relation to visual culture and the built environment,” he says. “I’ve been writing and giving talks on topics like the politics of urban pollution, ruin aesthetics in Detroit and Mumbai, gentrification and street art in Amsterdam, and the rise of elevated parks in cities such as New York and São Paulo. What connects these diverse topics is an interest in the impact of globalization on the space and communities of contemporary cities.”

Scott Pratt, dean of the UO Graduate School and chair of the search committee, notes that Lindner’s wide-ranging intellect and research interests fit well with UO’s historic achievements as well as its future goals.

“Christoph’s work — grounded in literature and critically engaged in professional applications — represents the ideal of a great research university rooted in the liberal arts and sciences,” Pratt says. “As the new leader of A&AA, Christoph will join a team of academic leaders who are committed to finding ways to bring theory to practice in ways that can advance the greater good of our students and the wider world.” 

The growing global reach of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts helped spur Lindner’s decision to apply for the job.

“The transnational impulse that I embrace is also here at A&AA and at the University of Oregon,” he says. “In visiting campus I saw how international A&AA is. In one morning, talking to just a handful of people, I heard about projects in Hong Kong, Africa, Switzerland. All over the world people from A&AA are interacting and collaborating. I want to continue stimulating that activity because the future of the research university lies in transnational exchange.”

Architect and search committee member Don Prohaska notes that Lindner “uses his prodigious intellect to engage with the world and influence the way we think about it. The fact that he leads a sizeable group of very smart people tells us something about his leadership abilities. In a school as diverse as ours, with as many competing interests, this resonated with us. His background in humanities also did not hurt — he’s clearly a big-picture guy.” 

Lindner gained that big picture starting with an unconventional childhood. He grew up in global capitals — Paris, London, Geneva — with occasional rural forays.

“When we first moved to Switzerland, when I was 9, we lived in a small village of 500 people in the mountains and were the only foreigners,” he says. “My sister and I would ride the train down to the valley to school every day while sitting on big milk cans.”

After leaving home, he continued to immerse himself in a mix of settings: small towns in Colorado and Wales, cities like Edinburgh and Chicago. But wherever he landed, he always found beauty, joy and sometimes frustrations.

 “It’s made me eager to explore the world, eager to understand the different places where I’ve lived,” he says. “Even though my original training was in literature and cultural theory, I’ve always been interested in the world that produces those things. For me, art and cultural objects were always a way to understanding the world that produced them and the world in which those objects circulate.”

Moving to Eugene is part of that longer narrative, Lindner says. It may sound cliché, but he says his family — wife Rebecca and children Hannah, 9, and Joseph, 11 — are the most influential people in his life (although he also names philosophers Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Edward Said and Paul Virilio).

“I like my children to be involved in the things I’m doing, to understand the kinds of projects I’m working on, to see learning, education and research as experiences that are already relevant to them at their young age,” he says. “It’s surprising how often I get a new perspective or idea from them that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.”

He acknowledges that, for him, “Work flows into family and family life flows into work. I love the work that I do. I eat and breathe and sleep and dream it.

“For me, university life — research, education, teaching — connects to everything, it’s everywhere. You can’t go to the grocery store, ride your bike, go to the cinema or pick up a newspaper without that somehow connecting to what you’re doing academically, intellectually. This is part of the reason why I have never bought into the image of the university as a bubble disconnected from reality.”

By Marti Gerdes, School of Architecture and Allied Arts