Georgia Tech College of Architecture History

First Architecture Class at Georgia TechThe Georgia School of Technology, as it was known from its founding in 1885 until 1948, formally began teaching architecture in 1908 when the school appointed Preston A. Hopkins of Boston to teach an entering class of 20 students and to organize a curriculum for the study of architecture. This new Department of Architecture, although small, was equal in rank to the several other academic departments of engineering at Tech. In 1909, Francis P. Smith (B.S. University of Pennsylvania, 1907) became the first department head. Georgia Tech granted its first architecture degree, the Bachelor of Science in Architecture, in 1911. This event placed Georgia Tech among the earliest public universities in the United States to offer an architecture degree. By 1912, the Department of Architecture had grown to 42 full-time students and three faculty members.

In 1922, John L. Skinner (M.ARCH. Harvard, 1921) led the department until Harold Bush-Brown (M.ARCH. Harvard, 1915) became director in 1925. By 1930, the department had 132 full-time students, awarded 20 degrees, and had six full-time and six part-time faculty. The curriculum in the early years of the department was closely allied with engineering, and the subject of construction was strongly emphasized. By the 1930s, the influence of the Beaux Arts, a dominant force in architectural education nationally, had begun to decline as the sway of the Bauhaus or modernist movement took over. The department did not have a post-professional graduate program or a separate option for architectural engineering, both of which were contained in more than half of the architecture schools at the time. Architectural education was largely a product of local concerns in Atlanta, the State of Georgia, and the South, corresponding to the mission of the Georgia School of Technology. This would soon change.

In 1934, the Department adopted the five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree to conform with the requirements of the increasingly influential Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Under the continuing directorship of Bush-Brown, the number of students declined to 66 during the national depression of the 1930s, reached a low of 22 during the World War II, and then exploded to 462 following the end of the war. The new School of Architecture formed in 1948, which made it parallel to other professional schools in the newly renamed Georgia Institute of Technology.


East Architecture BuildingThe 1952 construction of a School of Architecture building, designed by Bush-Brown, Gailey and Heffernan, signaled a separate identity for the school, a highly professional curriculum, and a continually expanding range of disciplines including programs in industrial design (1940), city planning (1954), and building construction (1958). With the retirement of Bush-Brown, Paul M. Heffernan (M.ARCH. Harvard, 1935) became the director of the School in 1956. The expanded scope and professional orientation of architecture was a mirror of the expanding mission for the Georgia Institute of Technology and its objective for a national, as well as international, reputation in professional design education.

With respect to its international thrust, P.M. Heffernan established the College's Paris Program in 1975. Located initially at the Unité Pedagogique d’Architecture de Paris-Tolbiac and presently at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-La Villette, the Program provides for a full-year course of study for architecture students in their senior year of their undergraduate study.  The College’s emphasis on an international education is also demonstrated in its Modern Architecture and the Modern City, Art and Architecture in Greece and Italy, and the Building Construction Summer in Paris programs.

West Architecture BuildingThe Bachelor of Architecture degree remained until 1973, when the program adopted a "four plus two" curriculum with the Master of Architecture as the first professional degree. Another enrollment increase, to almost one thousand students, and the continued strengthening of the allied disciplines resulted in the formation of the College of Architecture in 1975. William Fash (Oklahoma State University, M.ARCH, 1960) became the first dean of the College in 1976. Designed by an alumnus, Jerry Cooper (B.ARCH, 1955), the new or west architecture building opened in 1980.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the College of Architecture initiated a process to develop a program of study leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree. The intent of this program was to provide the opportunity for advanced study and original research in the fields of architecture and planning. One of the foundations of this program was an interest in creating a community of knowledge across the various fields of study represented in the College and to promote opportunities within these fields for interdisciplinary research and scholarship. In 1982, the Institute and Board of Regents approved the doctoral degree program.  Under the directorship of Dr. John Templer, the first class of three students entered the program in the fall of that year.

From these programmatic developments, a major research program emerged in the college, at first with research projects developed by individual faculty and then with the creation of major research centers in the college: the Center for Rehabilitation Technology (1980, now the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access), the Construction Resource Center (1987), and the Center for Geographic Information Systems (1995). Today, the research scope of the college includes construction, rehabilitation technology for disabled persons, geographic information systems, energy conservation, building information modeling, smart growth, music technology, architectural visualization, architectural psychology / programming / evaluation, and architectural history, theory and criticism. The other research centers include the IMAGINE Lab (1990s), Advanced Wood Products Laboratory (2001), and the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (2003).

In 1991, the music department became a sixth academic unit of the College.  Whereas music has been in existence at Georgia Tech for over one-hundred years in a service capacity, it was not until 2006 that the Georgia Board of Regents approved the first named degree—a Master of Science in Music Technology.    Over 1200 students each semester participate in music through the Glee Club, bands, ensembles, and music classes.  Currently the College is working with the Colleges of Engineering and Computing on establishing an interdisciplinary center focusing on music technology that will be housed within the College.

The late Dean Thomas D. Galloway (Ph.D., University of Washington, 1972), appointed in 1992, focused his efforts to redefine the mission of the College, strengthen its academic programs, integrate research programs with academic instruction, and to fully engage the College with the expanded academic, research, and service missions of the Institute. What emerged under his leadership was a new vision of the College of Architecture, replete with major opportunities in the development of new paradigms of design pedagogy and practice; in the emphasis upon the nature of world cities and their challenges; and in the relationship between technology and the arts. 

In March of 2007, the unexpected death of Dean Galloway brought on a period of transition.  Professor and Associate Dean Douglas C. Allen (MA Landscape Architecture, Harvard University, 1976), who has been a faculty member in the College for over thirty years, agreed to serve as Interim Dean during an international search for a new leader.  Under Dean Allen, the College continued to move forward—hiring a full-time communications officer for the College, creating task forces to revisit and reinforce its strategic plan, and re-thinking its College-wide brand, publications, and outreach opportunities.

In the fall of 2007, the Georgia Tech Office of the Provost led the international search for a permanent dean, which resulted in the appointment of Alan Balfour to dean of the college and professor of architecture beginning July 2008. He was most recently dean of the School of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. Among his administrative roles, Balfour has served as chairman of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and dean of the School of Architecture at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Prior to that, He was the director of the Architecture Program at Georgia Tech from 1977 to 1987.

Balfour received his education at the Edinburgh College of Art and Princeton University, and is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 2000 he received the American Institute of Architects/Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (AIA/ACSA) Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, the highest recognition given to a North American architecture educator. His World Cities series of books seeks to explore architecture and urbanism of cities around the world, including “Shanghai” (2002), “New York” (2001) and “Berlin” (1995), and in his “Creating a Scottish Parliament” (2005), Balfour links the building’s creation with the political structure for which it was constructed. For both “Berlin” and “Berlin: The Politics of Order: 1737–1989” (1990) he received AIA International Book Awards.

One Hundred Years of Architecture at Georgia Tech book coverBeginning in the fall of 2008 under the leadership of Dean Balfour, the College began a year-long celebration of 100 Years of Architecture at Georgia Tech.  The centennial activities included lectures by its prominent alumni and faculty; exhibits on its history, students, faculty, and alumni; the publication of a book edited by Elizabeth Meredith Dowling (see below); a charette envisioning the next 100 years; all culminating in a party that included an installation by one of our young faculty members—Tristan Al Haddad. The documentation of the Centennial events can be found at the Centennial Archives.

One Hundred Years of Architectural Education, 1908 - 2008, Georgia Tech

January 2011 marked another milestone in the College's history as the newly renovated Hnman Research Building opened. Hinman provides the College with state-of-the-art studio, research, and office space set within a historic, mid-century modern Georgia Tech landmark. Today the college has almost 1200 students and over 100 full- and part-time faculty. It, along with Georgia Tech, is embarking on another period of development with a joint focus on sustainability and innovation in a technologically driven world.  If you are interested in researching the history of the College, its alumni, or faculty, visit the Georgia Tech Design Archives, where the College’s archives—the Heffernan Design Archives—are now being maintained.

College of Architecture graduates make a difference -- photo of Atlanta skyline.