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Guide to the Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons (1955-1985) oral history project, 2010

Collection Overview


Kellen Design Archives

Collection Identifier


Creator - Interviewee

Burleigh, Charles K.

Creator - Interviewee

Chapman, Wid

Creator - Interviewee

Danson, Casey Coates

Creator - Interviewer

Epstein, Danielle

Creator - Interviewee

Gardner, Jean, (Jean M.)

Creator - Interviewee

Levy, David C.

Creator - Interviewer

Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna


Parsons the New School for Design. Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Design Archives.

Creator - Interviewee

Rey, Luis A.

Creator - Interviewer

Scheir, Wendy

Creator - Interviewee

Spiegel, Marty, 1948-

Creator - Interviewee

Wheelwright, Peter M.


Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons (1955-1985) oral history project


5.2 gb: 22 digital audio files; 09:42:26 duration; 8 PDF transcripts


The oral histories comprising this collection were conducted in the fall and winter of 2010 in preparation for the exhibit, Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons, 1955-1985, with the goal of recording a range of perspectives on the interior and environmental design departments at Parsons School of Design in the 1960s and 1970s. During this period, Parsons' longstanding and famous interior design program completely transformed, adopting a more experimental and socially engaged program of study in the newly-created Environmental Design Department.

Preferred Citation note

Audio interview with [interviewee name] by [interviewer name], [date], Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons (1955-1985) oral history project, PC.07.01.04, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

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Biographical/Historical notes

From the early 1920s to the mid-1960s, the idea of interior design taught at Parsons School of Design was heavily dependent on the practice and writing of New York-based society designers like Elsie de Wolfe. In 1970, Parsons established a Department of Environmental Design under Chair Allen Tate. The Department was not a new entity, but a renamed and greatly altered version of the famed Department of Interior Design, which Tate and others had been in the process of remaking since 1964. Environmental Design was then a new discipline, purposefully open-ended and loosely interpreted by many universities and design schools across North America at the time. The Radical Shifts exhibition explored the transition from Interior Design to Environmental Design, tracking an often contentious transition in the remaking of a department utterly altered, with an ambitious intellectual agenda, a commitment to socially engaged design, and experimenting with new cross-disciplinary pedagogical methods.

Participant biographies

Burleigh, Chuck
Chuck Burleigh was born in 1955 and grew up in the Boston suburb of Winchester, Massachusetts. He came to Parsons School of Design directly from high school, earning a BFA in Environmental Design in 1977. Upon graduating, Burleigh went straight into the design world, working first for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, then designing for commercial and residential clients at a number of firms. A project of which Burleigh is particularly proud is the 1989 design of the national headquarters of the Natural Resources Defense Council. One of the first environmentally conscious office interiors, the project won several honors including Interiors magazine 1991 National Award for Socially Conscious Design, and the AIA 1991 Committee on the Environment's “Top Ten.” It is recognized as a seminal sustainable project and the cornerstone for many initiatives that characterize this still emerging field. In 1996, Burleigh opened his own office, specializing in high-end residential interiors. He currently serves as director of Interior Design for the interiors division of Allan Greenberg Architect. Burleigh has served on the board of Manitoga /The Russell Wright Design Center in Garrison, New York and, for the last five years, on the vestry of the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields in lower Manhattan. Burleigh and his husband, Lithgow Osborne, recently curated and designed an exhibition for the opening of 1stdibs, the company's first showroom, featuring sixty dealers at the New York Design Center. Burleigh and Osborne recently completed renovations on a new home in Garrison, a formerly fire-gutted 1960s ranch style house.
Chapman, Wid
From his website: "Wid Chapman, AIA, who received his architectural education at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a former chair of the interior design department of Parsons the New School for Design, where he currently serves on its senior faculty. Wid has guest lectured in the U.S. and globally in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, France, India, Malaysia, and Singapore. A lifestyle design authority, he is co-author of the topical books Home Design in an Aging World (Fairchild Books, 2008) and Unassisted Living (Random House, 2011)."
Danson, Casey Coates
Casey Coates Danson (born Cassandra Coates), grew up on the north shore of Long Island. She attended Great Neck High School and attended Lasell Jr. College in Boston. After college she lived in London for a year, then moved to New York City. Casey received her BFA in Environmental Design from Parsons, graduating with honors in 1975. Upon graduating, she worked for the firm of Ben Thompson in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1977, she married actor Ted Danson, and moved to Los Angeles. Casey's interest in solar energy and sustainable design coincided with Jimmy Carter's solar tax incentives at a time when architectural design was beginning to emphasize sustainability. In the 1980s, Casey and her husband co-founded the American Oceans Campaign (AOC), a non-profit response and advocacy group for the protection of our oceans. Casey Danson established Global Possibilities in 1996, a non-profit organization that advocates for solar and other renewable energies in the United States. Danson produced a one-hour documentary film, “Who’s Got The Power,” to promote solar energy use in the built environment and to encourage dialogue about environmental issues. She designed and lives in her own solar-powered home in Los Angeles.
Epstein, Danielle
As a student in Parsons' Interior Design MFA program, Danielle was co-curator on the Radical Shifts exhibition. Since graduating, Danielle has worked as a teacher, production manager, and design consultant.
Gardner, Jean McClintock
Jean Gardner is an activist, writer, teacher, and consultant on sustainable design issues. She began teaching in the Department of Interior Design at Parsons in 1968 and has taught at the school over almost all of the intervening years. She is currently an Associate Professor of Social-Ecological History and Design at the School of Constructed Environments. Gardner is author of Urban Wilderness: Nature In New York City (1988) and co-author, with Brian McGrath, of Cinemetrics: Architectural Drawing Today (2007). She received an AIA Committee on the Environment Award for her teaching and a special citation from the New York City Chapter of the AIA for her work as an Urban Ecologist, author, and educator in both the architectural field and in the public realm. Gardner was part of a team led by David Rockwell to commemorate 9/11 that exhibited at the 2002 Venice Biennale "The Hall of Risk," a participatory center for conflict resolution. Her current research focuses on design pedagogy and its relationship to the creation of present ecological problems, such as climate change. She has served on the jury of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, as well as organizing a conference on Water and Hydro-Fracking with the Baum Forum.
Levy, David C.
David Levy was director of admissions at Parsons before he became executive dean and chief executive officer, a position he held from 1970 until 1987. He was Chancellor of New School University until 1991. From 1991 until 2005, Levy was president and director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its College of Art and Design. During his tenure at Parsons, Levy built a small school of fewer than 500 students into an international institution with an enrollment of 12,000 and a worldwide network of campuses including Los Angeles, Paris, The Dominican Republic and Japan. Levy also developed scholarly programs in England, Italy, France, Israel, Greece and West Africa. A life-long professional jazz musician as well as an art historian, photographer and designer, David founded New York’s first degree granting school of jazz, which thrives today as a leading jazz conservatory, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. During his long period of leadership at Parsons and The New School, Levy initiated and oversaw the mergers of the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County into Parsons, and the Mannes College of Music into the New School.
Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna
Joanna Merwood-Salisbury is Director of Academic Affairs and Assistant Professor at the School of Constructed Environments, Parsons The New School for Design [CHECK IF CURRENT]. An architect by training, she received her Ph.D. in architectural history and theory from Princeton University in 2003. Prior to coming to Parsons, she taught at Bard College, the University of Illinois in Chicago, and at Barnard and Columbia Colleges. Her scholarly foci are nineteenth-century architecture and urbanism in the United States, along with transformations to interior design pedagogy and practice starting in the mid-twentieth-century. The University of Chicago Press published her book, Chicago 1890: The Skyscraper and the Modern City, in May 2009. She has published articles and reviews in many scholarly journals including AA Files, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Journal of Architectural Education, Technology and Culture, Design Issues, Grey Room, and Lotus International. She serves as faculty advisor to Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons, 1955–1985, which initiated with her research into the history of interior design teaching at Parsons. Along with Kent Kleinman and Lois Weinthal, she is a co-editor of After Taste, a forthcoming book aimed at expanding the definition of interior design as a practice and as an academic discipline." ADD NEW BOOK
Rey, Luis
A native of Lima, Peru, Luis A. Rey attended a Jesuit school. He moved to New York in 1961 and, discovering an aptitude for design, enrolled in Parsons School of Design during the period when the school was going through the massive sea change explored in the Radical Shifts exhibition. Rey's training encompassed aspects of both the old program and the new, and his student work reflects this overlap, ranging from precise studies of historical interiors to the redesign of a Lower East Side youth center and a women's prison. Rey graduated with honors in 1967, feeling lucky to have been exposed to the best of both programs. After graduation, Rey worked for SLS (Saphier, Lerner, Schindler) Environetics and Luss Kaplan Associates. In 1968, he formed a design firm with fellow Parsons graduates Barbara Green and Howard Kaplan; and, in 1972, he joined the staff of McMillen Inc. Founded by legendary designer and Parsons alumna Eleanor Brown in 1924, McMillen is not only the oldest interior design firm in the country, but one of the most prestigious. At one time, McMillen was known for hiring only graduates of Parsons. In 1976, Rey was named Vice President and Senior Designer of the firm; in 2002, he became the firm’s president. During his thirty-five years at McMillen, Rey has been responsible for many of the firm's most important projects, designing houses, apartments, corporate offices, boats, and country clubs, and his work has been profiled in many major publications. In Sixty Years of Interior Design: The World of McMillen, Erica Brown credits Rey with bringing to the firm an "expertise in modern design vernaculars.” Committed to carrying on the legacy left by Mrs. Brown, Rey says that his first priority for each of the firm's design projects is “making it work for the client." "Our main concern is attending to their personal needs and providing good solutions to problems," Rey continues. "Ultimately, they have to live with [the] results every day.”
Scheir, Wendy
Wendy Scheir came to The New School in 2008 to direct the Kellen Design Archives for Parsons The New School for Design (a unit of The New School Libraries and Archives). The Kellen documents the history of Parsons since its founding in 1896 and houses archival collections that reflect and support Parsons' curriculum. In 2012, while continuing to lead the Kellen, Scheir established the first ever university archives at The New School. Scheir came to The New School from the New York Public Library, where she was Project Archivist on a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to process the records of the New York World's Fair Corporation, 1939-1940. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Master of Fine Arts in Film, and a Master of Arts in History and Archives, all from New York University.
Spiegel, Marty
Born in Chicago in 1948, Marty Spiegel traveled throughout the U.S., South America, and Europe as a child. He studied Forestry, Education and Design at Marlboro College in 1966, and during the Vietnam War was granted Conscientious Objector status, performing alternate service from 1969-72 as a teacher for Project Learn's Parkway program in Philadelphia. In 1973, Spiegel moved to New York City to study Environmental Design at Parsons. He earned his BFA in 1976. At Parsons, Spiegel formed a web of friendships, connections and partnerships that would sustain his creative and professional life for more than a decade after he graduated. Parsons professor Jean McClintock connected him with projects around New York City, including Betsy Barlow's Central Park Conservancy and a traffic-flow project with Fred Kent, who later founded Project for Public Spaces. In 1980, after four years at Solar-En Corporation designing and installing solar energy systems, he joined his former Parsons instructor, Archie Kaplan, at Environment Planning, Inc. From 1984-1986, Spiegel ran a consulting business and worked on a wide variety of projects, including the design of a N.A.S.A. space station with Michael Kalil, who he'd first met through his Parsons network. From 1986-93, Spiegel and fellow-Parsons graduate Joey Horton were partners in a design firm. In 1993, Spiegel moved to Seattle and opened a hardware business that he has been running since then, while sustaining an engagement with community planning and maintaining an abiding interest in design education and practice.
Wheelwright, Peter
Peter Matthiessen Wheelwright is a writer, educator and architect. Currently an Associate Professor in Parsons' School of Constructed Environments, Wheelwright’s design work has been widely published in both the national and international press. The Kaleidoscope House, a modernist dollhouse designed in collaboration with artist Laurie Simmons is in the Collection of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. Educated at Trinity College where he studied painting and sculpture, Wheelwright studied architecture at Cornell University and received his Master in Architecture from Princeton University.


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Scope and Contents note

This project consists of nine interviews undertaken in preparation for the exhibition, Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons, 1955-1985. The exhibition ran from March 23 to April 8, 2011 in the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons The New School for Design, 66 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The interviews were conducted by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, professor of architectural history and an administrator in Parsons The New School for Design's School of Constructed Environments; by Wendy Scheir, director of the New School Archives at Parsons; and by Danielle Epstein, a student in the MFA Interior Design program who co-curated the exhibition.

The interviewers sought to record a range of perspectives from alumni, faculty, and administrators who were involved with Parsons' interior and environmental design programs in the 1960s and 1970s. To this end, over the summer of 2010, Scheir sent a letter of inquiry to alumni of the interior and environmental design programs at Parsons. Several respondents were invited to participate in oral history interviews. In addition to alumni, the interviewers contacted former faculty and administrators who had been at Parsons during the period under investigation. The intention of the interviews was to gather background information and document the evolution of the Parsons program through the voices of participants. Portions of the interviews were used in the exhibit, and the transcripts and audio recordings have been preserved in The New School Archives and Special Collections, and are open to researchers.

A total of 22 digital WAV files comprise the collection, totaling 5.2 gigabytes of digital audio. Most of the interviews are approximately an hour in duration. The New School Archives, now a part of The New School Archives and Special Collections, funded the transcription of all of the interviews.


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Organization and Arrangement

Interviews are arranged alphabetically by name of interviewee.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives - September 13, 2016

66 5th Ave./
lobby level
New York, NY, 10011

Preferred Citation note

Audio interview with [interviewee name] by [interviewer name], [date], Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons (1955-1985) oral history project, PC.07.01.04, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, or to post the recordings or transcripts in any public form, permission must be obtained in writing from The New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

All interviews for this project were commissioned by the New School Archives.

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Related Materials

The Kellen Design Archives holds multiple collections that address the subject of the exhibition and interviews. These include the Environmental Design Department records in the record group Parsons School of Design academic departments, programs and schools collection (pre-2009 accessions) (PC.02.01.01); Environmental Design Department: projects from classes taught by Jean McClintock Gardner (PC.02.05.01); the David C. Levy records (PC.01.04.01); and the student work of Kathleen Madden, Marty Spiegel, Chuck Burleigh, and Casey Danson, among others in Parsons School of Design academic departments, programs and schools collection (pre-2009 accessions) (PC.02.01.01). Other oral history interviews of interest may be found in the Parsons School of Design Centenary oral history project (PC.07.01.01), especially those with Stanley Barrows, Allen Tate, and David C. Levy. A digital video recording is also available of a panel discussion that took place in conjunction with the exhibition. Chuck Burleigh, Jean McClintock Gardner, Marty Spiegel, and David C. Levy were among those on the panel.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • Parsons School of Design. Environmental and Interior Design Department.
  • Parsons the New School for Design.


  • Interviews.
  • Oral histories (document genres).
  • Transcripts.


  • Interior designers.


  • Architecture -- Environmental aspects.
  • Interior decoration firms -- New York (State) -- New York -- 20th century.

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Other Finding Aids note

For item-level description and sound files from the Radical Shifts: Reshaping the Interior at Parsons (1955-1985) oral history project, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/PC070104.

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Collection Inventory

Audio interview with Charles Burleigh 2010 Sep 13    639.1 mb2 Broadcast Wave files; 00:55:27 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with Charles Burleigh  

Interviewed by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury at Parsons, Chuck Burleigh discusses coming to Parsons directly after high school in 1974, describing the thrill of coming to live and study in New York City as a young man. He describes the studios, the structure of the first year Environmental Design program (some of his classes, he comments, were a little "out there"), and recalls his courses and instructors, including Lou Goodman, Hector Leonardi, and James McGuire, as well as Allen Tate, who headed the department. Classmates mentioned include Joe d’Urso and Jamie Drake. Burleigh describes his Parsons education as learning to design "form making at any scale," and comments upon the modernist aesthetic that held sway. He remarks upon the atmosphere of casual acceptance of gay students and faculty, and a sense of support for choices that fell outside of an idea of mainstream American life in the 1970s. Burleigh goes on to describe his post-Parsons professional career and its relationship to his Parsons education.

Audio interview with Wid Chapman 2010 Nov 11   262.2 mb
Audio interview with Wid Chapman  

Interviewed by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, Wid Chapman discusses his role in the re-formation of a Bachelor of Fine Arts Interior Design degree in 1993, when the program was established as a field of study separate from the Environmental Design program. Chapman notes that the new program was propelled into being, at least in part, under the force of influence of alumni of the pre-Environmental Design program, who had never been happy that interior design had been absorbed into the broader environmental design curriculum. Chapman describes the program's strong connections with other interior design programs in New York City, comments upon the sea-change to the field with the introduction of computer-aided design, and describes the program as an "interesting combination of old and new" modes of teaching and thinking about interior design. He also discusses the establisment of a materials library and computer lab from a bequest by the estate of Parsons alum Angelo Donghia, and the school's affiliations with schools in Korea, Japan, the Dominican Republic, France, and, later, Malaysia and Singapore.

Audio interview with Casey Coates Danson 2010 Dec 9   694.6 mb3 Broadcast Wave files; 01:00:18 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with Casey Coates Danson  

Interviewed by Wendy Scheir at her home in Los Angeles, Danson discusses her decision to attend Parsons' Environmental Design program. She describes projects completed in this program, including those given by instructor Jean McClintock Gardner. Danson goes on to discuss her post-Parsons career in sustainable design, especially with regard to the integration of solar power into building design.

Audio interview with Jean McClintock Gardner 2010 Oct 4   1 gb 4 Broadcast Wave files; 01:37:47 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with Jean McClintock Gardner  

Interviewed at Parsons by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury and Wendy Scheir, Gardner discusses her education and the intellectual development that formed her abiding interest in ecological history and design. Gardner details her career at Parsons, where for many years her teaching has exposed students to issues surrounding the interrelationship of the built and natural environment. She pinpoints changes that resulted in the formation of the Environmental Design Department as having already begun in the early 1960s, if not before, identifying James Howell and William Katavolos as key figures in the dramatic remaking of the interior design curriculum. Gardner discusses involving her students in a number of projects around New York City, particularly those in Union Square and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and recalls faculty and students who were part of the program during the 1970s and 1980s, describing some of the interdepartmental and interpersonal dynamics that played a part in the evolution of the program.

Audio interview with David C. Levy 2010 Oct 13   391.9 mb2 Broadcast Wave files; 1:08:02 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with David C. Levy  

In a telephone interview with Wendy Scheir from his office in Maryland, David Levy describes the creation of Parsons' Environmental Design Department from his vantage point as director of admissions at Parsons in the 1960s, then vice president of operations, and, when the school merged with The New School, as executive dean of Parsons. Levy discusses the establishment of the environmental design curriculum under program director Allen Tate, and talks about the conflict between those committed to keeping the longstanding interior design curriculum intact and those eager to wholly replace the old program. Levy reminisces about the building Parsons occupied prior to its move to Greenwich Village in 1971, recounting an episode in 1970 when Parsons students elected to hold an exhibition in solidarity with the national student strike held in the aftermath of the killing of protesters at Kent State University, and reflecting upon changes in the student body as Parsons became a degree-granting institution.

Audio interview with Luis Rey 2010 Oct 6   827 mb2 Broadcast Wave files; 01:11:48 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with Luis Rey  

Interviewed by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury at his office at McMillen, Inc., Rey discusses his background, his move from Peru to New York City in 1962, discovering his talent in interior design, and finding his way to Parsons School of Design. Rey recalls the confusion that stemmed from his attending Parsons during the moment when its interior design program was transitioning from the traditional curriculum epitomized by the teaching of Stanley Barrows, to the more socially engaged, experimental course of study promoted by director Jim Howell. Looking at it in retrospect, Rey now feels he benefitted from being exposed to both programs and perspectives. Rey goes on to describe his post-Parsons career, commenting upon ways that the school did and did not prepare him for the realities of interior design work. He describes a shortlived professional partnership formed with fellow Parsons graduates, and the process by which he was eventually brought to McMillen, Inc. by Eleanor Brown, the firm's founder and a Parsons alumna who played an important role in the early interior design program at Parsons.

Audio interview with Marty Spiegel 2010 Sep 23   98.5 mb2 Broadcast Wave files; 00:56:05 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with Marty Spiegel  

Interviewed by Wendy Scheir over the telephone from his home in Washington state, Spiegel relates his experience as a Parsons student after completing service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Spiegel describes a wide variety of class projects, from a project with the Parks Department involving an underserved community, to the theoretical redesign of the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, to the design and production of furniture and a motorcycle helmet. He discusses the various definitions of environmental design that were hotly debated at Parsons during this period, remarking upon a common complaint that the curriculum was too general and wide-ranging, and an effort to inject the teaching of technical skills that would serve students in the job market after graduation. Teachers Spiegel mentions include Tom and Sue Gould, Harvey Bernstein, Charlotte and Angelo Abbate, Alan Feigenberg, Spiros Zakos, Jean McClintock, Hector Leonardi, and Archie Kaplan, with whom Spiegel later worked.

Audio interview with Peter Wheelwright 2010 Dec 1   1.3 gb5 Broadcast Wave files; 01:49:31 duration; includes PDF transcript.
Audio interview with Peter Wheelwright  

Interviewed by Danielle Epstein, an MFA Interior Design student, Peter Wheelwright discusses his education and practice as an architect before coming to teach at Parsons, then focuses on describing the environmental design curriculum in the 1980s, identifying James Wines as the force behind the program's change in direction. He reflects upon debates within the school, where theories about architectural formalism were conflicting with ideas about architectural design contextualized within a social program, and describes internal politics at the school in the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in a sharp, sometimes contentious relationship between the architecture and environmental design program, on the one hand, and the newly resurrected version of the interior design program, on the other.

Collection Guide Last Updated: 02/28/2017

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