The excellence of the KU Architecture Program and its students and alumni derives, in large measure, from the excellence of its faculty. Since Goldwin Goldsmith started building a program and a faculty ninety years ago, this faculty has been characterized by a living connection to the most important and respected intellectual trends and movements in architectural education, by a cosmopolitanism that includes professional experiences in architecturally important centers of activity, by personal contacts and experiences with some of the leading and legendary members of the field, by a diversity of training and experience that is international in scope and attitude, by an affinity for rational and scientific approaches to architectural design and an openness to experimentation, and finally, by an aesthetic sensibility that is at once historically cultivated and socially humane. In this next decade that will lead to our Centennial in 2013, we share a unique and remarkable heritage—the historical momentum of excellence in architectural education.
Excellence from the Start: One Hundred Years of Architectural Education in Kansas
By Stephen Grabow
In the Fall of 1912 the first students enrolled in the new Architecture Program at the University of Kansas and in December of that year, Goldwin Goldsmith became the first Professor and Head of Architecture. The decision by the University to create a program in architecture originated in 1910 when Montrose McArdle, a prominent St. Louis architect, was hired by Chancellor Frank Strong to assist John Stanton, the State Architect, to design a new administration and College building in accordance with George Kessler's master plan of 1904. (A much reduced and modified version of his design eventually became Strong Hall, the present administration building.) McArdle's influence on the chancellor must have been significant because in 1912 – at Strong's request – the Kansas Board of Regents authorized the University to create an architecture program within the School of Engineering. Although McArdle – who had been appointed Professor and was expected to give a few public lectures on architecture while he worked on the design of the proposed new building – was offered the position to head up the new program by Dean Frank Marvin of the Engineering School, he returned to his practice in St. Louis. Upon Marvin's retirement, his successor, Dean Perley Walker, was authorized by Chancellor Strong to conduct a national search. The University's decision to fill this position was obviously a serious one because in 1912 Walker traveled east to New York City, visiting schools in St. Louis, Champaign-Urbana, Ithaca and Boston before deciding upon Goldwin Goldsmith.
Goldsmith had been an apprentice of the legendary Stanford White in the New York office of McKim, Mead and White – one of the most prominent architectural firms in the country – and a graduate of Columbia University. After a year of postgraduate study at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, Goldsmith started an architectural practice with Joseph Van Vleck in New York City in 1897. Although appointed by KU in the Fall of 1912, Goldsmith delayed his arrival on campus until the end of the year in order to finish ongoing projects in the firm but also, and more significantly, to attend an organizational meeting in Washington, D.C. of the heads of eight of the then twenty-six schools of architecture in the United States. (The oldest was M.I.T., started in 1865; the second was Columbia, Goldsmith's alma mater, started in 1881. KU's beginning in 1912 makes it one of the oldest architecture programs in the country; the first graduate was Marcus Whitten in 1916.) This group eventually became the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture the ACSA – of which KU became a member in 1920 and was considered "accredited" as one of only fourteen other schools (out of, by then, forty schools). Goldsmith remained active in ACSA and became its President in 1927. Since then, five other KU faculty members have served on its Board of Directors.
Because of his training and orientation, Goldsmith adopted the American version of the educational methods of the École des Beaux Arts in Paris in which all student design projects were juried in New York City with those of the students from M.I.T., Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Carnegie-Mellon, and Virginia. At that time, the reputation of a school became known by how well their students performed in these design competitions. In its first year of participation in the juries, 1917-1918, KU received twenty honors; in 1918-1919, forty honors; in 1919-1920, sixty-three honors; and by 1922, Kansas was listed among the top schools by the Beaux Arts Institute of Design. (Also in 1922, Elizabeth Rivard became the first woman to graduate from KU with a degree in architecture and today, forty percent of the student body in the School are women).
After becoming President of ACSA, Goldsmith went to the University of Texas to head up the architecture program in 1928. (Today, the Architecture School in Austin is housed in Goldsmith Hall.) After Goldsmith left Kansas, Joseph Kellogg, educated at Cornell and with professional experience in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, became Chair of Architecture. By then, and throughout the 1930's, KU, along with Cornell, Princeton, Yale and Southern California, began to move away from the Beaux Arts method of teaching design with its emphasis on juried competitions in New York and historical styles promulgated by Paris. Kellogg leaned more towards the practices of the so-called Chicago School of thought under the influence of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright without abandoning the fine arts thread in its curriculum. Sullivan's "Kindergarten Chats" was actually first published by the Scarab Fraternity Press in Lawrence in 1934. In fact, owing to his contact with Architecture Faculty members Vernor Smith and George Beal (who was a Taliesin Apprentice in 1934), Wright came to KU to lecture in January 1935 at an all-university convocation, and later visited the department’s drafting studios. The Wright connection persisted at KU for over half a century through Curtis Besinger – a 1930's graduate who went to Taliesin as an apprentice in 1939 and worked for Wright until the completion of the drawings for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1955. Besinger taught at KU from 1955 until his retirement in 1984. Prior to his death in 2000, Cambridge University Press published his memoirs "Working with Mr. Wright" (for which Professor Padget did many of the illustrations).
In the decade after World War II, the architecture program under George Beal struggled to adapt to considerable growth and expansion within the School of Engineering. To cope, many new faculty came from the ranks of recent alumni of the Program; but in 1962, Eugene George from the University of Texas – where he had once been taught by Goldwin Goldsmith (and later at Harvard by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School) – became Chair of Architecture. Under George, KU continued its orientation away from the Beaux Arts Tradition and reinforced its intellectual connection to east coast schools like Harvard and Cornell – to which Texas faculty were tied through the theoretical writings of Colin Rowe at Cornell. (To this day, the Ithaca-Austin axis persists.) By the mid-sixties, most of the new faculty members in architecture at KU were coming from Austin while several visiting Fulbright scholars started a British connection that was encouraged by Jack Morley, a faculty member who had done his graduate work in Edinburgh.
In 1967, following a five-year accreditation visit, the National Board (NAAB) recommended that the conditions were right for the Architecture Program at KU to become an autonomous school of the University – with its own quarters, own library, and an administration directly responsible to the University Administration and not through the School of Engineering. In 1968, Charles Kahn, a Professor of Architecture at North Carolina State University in Raleigh and an M.I.T. graduate became the first Dean of the new School of Architecture & Urban Design.
During Kahn's tenure at Kansas the new school grew significantly in numbers of both students and faculty. Under his leadership, the modernist, Bauhaus-based and cosmopolitan orientation of the program expanded – with the additional emphasis on social concerns and international relations. Kahn brought to KU the rationalism and scientific attitudes of M.I.T. coupled with the strong Bauhaus-based design orientation of North Carolina State that was derived from that school's connection to the presence of ex-Bauhaus faculty members such as Josef Albers at nearby Black Mountain College. In addition, Kahn's own social activism of the late sixties influenced his attitude towards the curriculum. To Kahn, architectural design was a problem-solving activity that relied upon a deep understanding of human nature and social institutions – a movement that was gaining currency in a number of British Schools of Architecture. (At the same time, the School started a graduate program in urban planning with an emphasis on social policy.) In his recruiting of new faculty, Kahn sought young architects who represented these concerns.
By the mid-seventies, the faculty consisted of about two dozen individuals, many of whom were graduates of architecture schools (and professional firms) across the country that were actively involved in the problem-solving and social approach to design. In 1975, the School hosted the Sixth Environmental Design Research Association Conference organized by Basil Honikman and Stephen Grabow with an international all-star roster of contributors and participants, including Hans Blumenfeld, Kevin Lynch, John Eberhard, Constance Perin, Gerald McCue, Geoffrey Broadbent, William Mitchell, Amos Rapoport, David Canter, Henry Sanoff, Mike Brill, Robert Geddes and a keynote address by Christopher Alexander. At the same time, the School had started – under the aegis of a bequest from the estate of an alumnus, Donald P. Ewart – exchange programs for study abroad in both London and Edinburgh. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of British-educated and trained faculty members in architecture (including several faculty who, as KU undergrads, themselves participated in the Ewart Scholarship Study Abroad Program, two of whom received post-graduate degrees in London – Kent Spreckelmeyer and Steven Padget).
In the 1980's, under Deans Kahn and Max Lucas, the School received two additional bequests that created endowed professorships. The J.L. Constant Chair was filled by Victor Papanek – an internationally known Viennese designer (who studied briefly with Frank Lloyd Wright) and author of numerous books on rational and humane design until his death in 1999. The Don & Mary Bole Hatch Chair is currently filled by Wojciech Lesnikowski – an internationally known Polish architect (who worked for Le Corbusier in Paris) and author of numerous books and articles on contemporary European design. This expansion of internationalism beyond just the British connection, together with other faculty members from Europe, including the prominent German architect Johanne Nalbach as Visiting Rose Morgan Professor and then Adjunct Professor in Berlin, and the J.L. Constant Visiting Professorships (which recently brought in Juhani Pallasmaa from Finland, 2002 Pritzker Laureate Glenn Murcott from Australia, and Peter Pran from Norway, who worked for Mies van der Rohe) has resulted in more numerous study-abroad opportunities for students and faculty. Today, we have architectural study-abroad programs in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark and Australia.
Also in the 1980's, the School hosted two International Conferences on Built Form & Culture Research organized by David Saile and Bill Carswell. At that time, the KU Architecture Program was ranked in the top ten in the United States (out of 104 schools). Throughout the eighties, that reputation helped to secure a very talented faculty and student body. In 1990, the School hosted the Graham Foundation Symposium on the Liberal Education of Architects organized by Dennis Domer and Kent Spreckelmeyer with a keynote address by Cornell Dean Bill McMinn and the participation of many other prominent educators, architects and administrators from around the country including John Hartray, Ralph Johnson, Robert Vickery, Malcolm Quantrill, Diane Ghirardo, Marvin Malecha, Richard McCommons, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Bob Bliss and Joseph Bilello.
Today, under the leadership of Dean John Gaunt, the former CEO of the architectural firm of Ellerbe Becket and a former student of Louis Kahn (and in the same class as Professor Sander and alumnus Tim McGinty), the student body in architecture is among the most highly selective undergraduates at the University. At the same time, the faculty represents an incredible range of educational and professional experience – many of whom are considered some of the leading proponents of their area of specialization in the country through either their publications, their designs or their awards. These areas range from experimental techniques of design-build construction, to recording historical buildings, to advising health-care organizations on the design of medical facilities, to new techniques of computer-generated design methods, to the design of large-scale building projects such as the new Warsaw International Airport, to low-energy building product development, to award-winning residential designs, to graphic design, to historical and biographical research and to design theory and criticism. In the last ten years, both new and old faculty have expanded these interests in building technology, health care and wellness, sustainable design and the graduate studio 804, under the direction of Dan Rockhill – the new J.L. Constant Professor – has won numerous regional, national and international awards for their innovative approach to design-build projects. In 2010, the Department of Design from the School of Fine Arts was added to the School – now called the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning – bringing programs in interior design, industrial design, and reaffirming its connection to the fine arts.
In summary, the excellence of the KU Architecture Program and its students and alumni derives, in large measure, from the excellence of its faculty. Since Goldwin Goldsmith one hundred years ago, this faculty has been characterized by a living connection to the most important and respected intellectual trends and movements in architectural education, by a cosmopolitanism that includes professional experiences in architecturally important centers of activity, by personal contacts and experiences with some of the leading and legendary members of the field, by a diversity of training and experience that is international in scope and attitude, by an affinity for rational and scientific approaches to architectural design and an openness to experimentation, and finally, by an aesthetic sensibility that is at once historically cultivated and socially humane. As we celebrate our Centennial in 2012, we share a unique and remarkable heritage: the historical momentum of excellence in architectural education.
Mar 26 2012
Professor Grabow has been a member of the faculty for forty years and was Chair of Architecture from 1979 to 1986.