Brian D. Lee MArch ’78 and Wendy Szeto Lee made a significant philanthropic investment in the School this year aimed toward student financial aid. After nearly four decades of successful professional practice, Brian and Wendy are big believers in the continued relevance of a GSD education and the capacity of cutting-edge research and forward-thinking curriculum to create a real and meaningful impact on the built environment. Despite a prolonged period of limited engagement, Brian has recently reconnected with the GSD, first as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council (2009–2012), and now as a member of the Grounded Visionaries Campaign Committee. “In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear Dean Mostafavi’s vision, and to see first-hand the transformative power of design education for students. GSD students leave the School as design leaders. I am proud to be part of it, to see the GSD fulfilling its mission, attracting and educating the highest quality designers and thinkers. It makes it easy to think of the School as a smart investment in our future.”
As a young professional fresh out of design school, Brian joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), where he continues to practice and is now a partner. Starting out in San Francisco, not far from his native Sacramento, Brian describes himself as “a central valley kid who understood the hardships and discrimination that I saw in the immigrant community in Chinatown.” Later, Brian became involved with various community service organizations in San Francisco and Chicago, to help the immigrant community to find housing, jobs, health care, and services. Community service came naturally—Brian remembers his father, also an architect, doing significant pro-bono design work for local community organizations and bringing him as a child to volunteer in soup kitchens.
“With so much strife in the world today, architects must try to have a positive impact on society, to address the challenges of access to opportunities, healthcare, and wealth equality. Education is at the heart of it. The GSD experience had a significant impact on my life. I was surrounded by students and professors who had unparalleled energy, talent, and vision. These people taught me not to settle for mediocrity. I see what my peers have done and I know we can make a difference. I hope to give the next generation of designers the same opportunity.”
Based in Chicago since 2007, Brian with SOM and Wendy with her own graphic design firm, the Lees share Dean Mostafavi’s vision of design as a catalyst for social change. In contemplating a recently completed design for a branch library in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, Brian reflects, “City libraries like this are a great resource for all generations from all communities. At a time when Chicago is so riddled with crime and discord, it is rewarding to know that our work is enriching so many lives, providing access to vital information and a safe haven from the streets.”
While Brian and Wendy are humbled by their ability to make a significant gift to the School, Brian is quick to counsel recent alumni and lapsed donors that even a small gift ($100 per year) over a period of 30 years can have considerable impact. GSD alumni who are passionate about design will find that being connected to the 12,500-strong GSD alumni community has its own rewards—visiting campus, meeting top students, and connecting with peers at GSD events has been reinvigorating for the Lees. Brian acknowledges, “Let’s face it, people don’t go into this profession to make money, but even a small gift of time or money has its benefits. It symbolizes a commitment to this vital community, and creates opportunity for the next generation.”