John L. Loeb foresaw a powerful network of colleagues passionately committed to nothing less than revitalizing stagnant American communities.
When the GSD kicked off its capital campaign in 1968, the theme was “Crisis: The chaos in our cities, the loss of control over our environment, the urgent need for leadership for the future.” John L. Loeb (Harvard College ’24 and member of the Visiting Committee of the GSD), the chairman of that campaign, saw the American city in disarray and believed Harvard could help. He imagined bringing highly promising innovators of the built and natural environment to the GSD and Harvard for a year and challenging them to do more and do better, convinced they would return to their work with new ideas and energy.
John and his wife Frances endowed the Loeb Fellowship as part of their gift to the “Crisis” campaign. They worked closely with William A. Doebele, the Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design (now Emeritus). Together they designed a Fellowship that would bring emerging leaders in the field to the GSD for independent study, reflection and engagement. Professor Doebele, the founding curator, guided the program through its first 27 years and shaped an experience that has had a powerful impact on generations of urban, rural, and environmental practitioners.
When Bill Doebele retired in 1998, he was succeeded by James Stockard, a 1978 Loeb Fellow and affordable housing expert. Jim’s retirement in 2014 occasioned a yearlong national search for a successor, and in 2015 John Peterson, founder of Public Architecture and a Loeb Fellow in 2006, was appointed to head the Fellowship.
Today’s environmental risks, tensions of race and equity, and global conflicts have an unnerving resonance with the racial tensions, urban riots, decline of cities, and Cold War that alarmed John Loeb in the late 1960s. At the same time, the current spirit of innovation and opportunity is reminiscent of the hope and aspirations of the Great Society and space programs. Now in its fifth decade, the extraordinary, transformative learning experience that is the Loeb Fellowship continues to have a critical role to play in preparing leaders to address these urgent concerns and instigate important future advances through their work in the built and natural environment.