Loading...

Faculty of the Columbia University School of Mines in 1881, later to become GSAPP

History of the School

The fourth oldest architecture school in America, Columbia was established in 1881 by William R. Ware. A former student of Richard Morris Hunt (the first American to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris), Ware approached architectural education from a humanistic rather than a technical point of view. His appointment capped a distinguished career as a practicing architect, scholar, and teacher; it established the precedent, followed almost exclusively since then at Columbia, of entrusting the School's direction to architects with sustained professional experience.

In its early years, Columbia's was the leading preparatory program for would-be architects intent on studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But by 1902 it had matured into a full-scale School of Architecture. Ware retired in 1903, to be succeeded by A. D. F. Hamlin. Hamlin stepped down from the position in 1912, when, with an enrollment of 140, the School moved into its new quarters, Avery Hall, designed by McKim, Mead, and White. Hamlin was succeeded by Austin Willard Lord (1912–1915) and William Harry Carpenter (1915–1919).

In 1931, William A. Boring, who had been the School's director since 1919, became the first dean of what was then called the Faculty of Architecture. Under Boring and especially under his successor Joseph Hudnut, who took over in 1933, the curriculum was broadened dramatically. While the pre–World War I era had been dominated by the academic classicism of Ware, Hamlin, and such leading professionals as Charles Follen McKim, Thomas Hastings, and Henry Hornbostel, all of whom taught at the school, Boring and especially Hudnut encouraged the then nascent modernism and incorporated studies in town planning. Important studio critics, including the urbanistically inclined skyscraper architects Harvey Wiley Corbett and Wallace K. Harrison, joined the English town planner Raymond Unwin and the architectural historian Talbot Hamlin to create an environment in tune with the dramatic social and economic changes of the interwar years.

With Hudnut's departure for Harvard in 1935, the School, under the new dean Leopold Arnaud, entered into a gradual decline that only began to reverse itself in the late 1950s when provocative studio critics Percival Goodman and Alexander Kouzmanoff, as well as the historian James Marston Fitch, gave the program new energy. Fitch's courses in architectural history blossomed into a program in historic preservation, established in 1966 as the first at an American university. Despite the vagaries of the postwar curriculum and an ambiguous commitment to graduate-level architectural education, the School continually benefited from New York City's prominence as a world capital and attracted many foreign students, some of whom would grow to professional prominence, including Romaldo Giurgola and Michael McKinnell.

After the short and vital but stormy tenure of Charles Colbert (1960–1963), Kenneth A. Smith, an engineer, was appointed dean, and in 1965 the School was organized along divisional lines, with planning and architecture each having its own chairperson. Charles Abrams was the first planning chair and Romaldo Giurgola the first for architecture. Abrams, with his wide experience in New York real estate and social planning, and his deep humanity, forged a program that balanced statistical analysis with compassion and earthy pragmatism. Giurgola built upon the design strengths of Kouzmanoff and Goodman, bringing into the studios as first-time teachers such bright young architects as Gio Pasanella, Jacquelin Robertson, Robert Kliment, and Ada Karmi Melamede.

 The School's students played a central role in the protests that engulfed the University in the spring of 1968. While the tumultuous campuswide demonstrations of that watershed year were triggered by a concern for America's role in international affairs, the architecture students played a particularly strong role in focusing the debate on the University's relationship to its neighbors in the Morningside Heights and Harlem communities. In addition, the students challenged the University's lackluster building program, protesting the construction of Uris Hall and the proposed gymnasium for Morningside Park.

In 1972, James Stewart Polshek became dean. With strong professional connections with designer-architects, preservationists, and planners, Polshek tapped the School's inherent strengths and refined the graduate program while healing the wounds left over from the previous decade. He reshaped the design faculty and enriched the School's offerings in architectural history and theory, which were under the leadership of Kenneth Frampton, who also came to Columbia in 1972. As important, Polshek extended the School's reach both within and beyond the University, establishing a strong program of public lectures featuring leading architects, planners, and politicians; creating special programs for undergraduates in Columbia and Barnard Colleges; and helping establish the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture in 1983. Under Polshek and his faculty, including especially Frampton, Giurgola, and Robert A. M. Stern, Columbia became an important focal point in the postmodernist debate.

In 1988 Bernard Tschumi became dean, and the School's architecture programs, reflecting changing concerns in design, became more theoretical as they began to take on a more international flavor, capitalizing as never before on New York's status as a world city. To stimulate a sense of invention at the School and to use it as a laboratory for ideas, Tschumi gave junior faculty the freedom to be creative, expanding their research in the context of their studios. Sensing the role that computers would play in architectural design today, he fostered one of architecture's most significant forays into the digital age. During his time as dean, Tschumi tenured faculty in architectural theory as well as practice, including Stan Allen, Steven Holl, Laurie Hawkinson, and Mark Wigley, with Frank Gehry as Distinguished Professor. Under Tschumi, the School has also developed a highly successful post-professional program, the degree in Advanced Architectural Design, as well as a Ph.D. in architecture.