History of the Department of Architecture

In 1871, three years into his tenure as the first president of Cornell University, Andrew Dickson White proposed to give his architectural library, the largest collection in the country at that time, to the university in return for the creation of a Department of Architecture. The trustees approved, and appointed Charles Babcock as the first professor of architecture in the United States. White retained his passion for architecture throughout his life, and played a crucial role in the growth of the architecture program and in the development of the Cornell campus. The new architecture program was immediately popular, registering 32 students by 1876, and enrolled its first international student, Noriyuki Kozima of Japan, in 1879. Margaret Hicks (A.B. 1878, B.Arch. 1880) was the first woman to graduate from an architecture program in an American university.

The College of Architecture was formed in 1896. For many years it was strongly influenced by Beaux-Arts principles, in which design was seen as an art form. As the program grew so did its library, which acquired the working drawings of leading architects of the day. A fine arts program was also part of the college at this time. The college's quarters in Lincoln Hall became too small, and in 1906 it moved to slightly larger spaces in White and Franklin halls. By 1920 enrollment had reached 130. The course was divided into four parts: construction and practice; expression; architectural composition; and history of architecture, with many hours of drawing, water color, and clay modeling.

Under Francke Huntington Bosworth Jr., who came to Cornell in 1919 as professor of design and dean of the College of Architecture, Cornell became the first architecture school to expend its curriculum to five years. A substantial thesis was required. Bosworth, too, had a Beaux-Arts background, but he placed new emphasis on enclosure of space and an interest in human needs. Cornell dropped out of the program of the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects in New York and developed its own program, with a more practical curriculum in the traditional Polytechnique philosophy.

A separate Department of Art was established within the college in 1921, and in 1922 landscape architecture was transferred in from the College of Agriculture. By the 1920s, the college offered three five-year programs, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture, landscape architecture, and fine arts. Collaboration among students in the three departments was extensive and highly valued. The college retained its facilities in White and Franklin halls but by the 1930s had added studio space and an art gallery in Morse Hall. Its lantern slide collection, used in courses in history, theory, and construction, numbered 30,000.

In 1952, a new department, city and regional planning, was formed within the college and chaired by John Reps. The first course in historic preservation was offered in 1963.

Thomas Mackasey, who came to Cornell as an instructor of city planning in 1938 and became dean of the college in 1950, helped to initiate the visiting critic program in architecture. Among the prominent figures visiting as lecturers or critics in this era were Walter Gropius in 1947, Philip Johnson in 1950, Frank Lloyd Wright in 1953, and Buckminster Fuller in 1954. Fuller and his students built a geodesic dome on the roof of Rand Hall, where the architecture department had moved.

In 1956, degrees were revised to include a five-year bachelor of architecture, a four-year bachelor of fine arts, and master's degrees in architecture, fine arts, regional planning, and landscape architecture. In 1959, the college moved into the remodeled space in Sibley Hall and Franklin (now Tjaden) Hall. The 1960s saw the addition of M.A. and Ph.D. programs in architectural history and a graduate program in urban design jointly administered by architecture and city and regional planning. At this time, the college was renamed to the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

In 1962, Colin Rowe began nearly three decades of teaching architecture at Cornell; he was awarded the 1995 Royal Gold Medal for architecture as the most significant architecture teacher of the second half of the 20th century. From 1969 to 1974, the department was headed by Oswald Mathias Ungers. The intellectual friction between Rowe and Ungers generated distinctive pedagogy and work focused on urban morphology, influencing several generations of practitioners and teachers.

The Computer Graphics Research Center, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, opened in Rand Hall in 1974 under the directorship of Donald Greenberg. A Washington D.C. program began in 1979, giving students intensive exposure to characteristics of urban development within the framework of a design studio, and lasted until 1992. The Cornell in Rome Program began in 1987 and continues to offer undergraduate architecture students an exceptional opportunity to study on-site some of the world's greatest works of art and architecture, with extensive studio work, lectures, and field trips. Third-year bachelor of architecture students are required to spend one semester in Rome. A New York City program, AAP NYC, was initiated in 2006, and offers architecture students a term focused on contemporary urban architecture and the chance to learn directly from New York City's leading practitioners and scholars. A semester in the New York City studio is required for the fourth semester of the professional Master of Architecture program.

The professional Master of Architecture program was added in 2004. The first entering class for this three and one-half year program was admitted in the fall, following an initial candidacy review by NAAB in the spring of that year. The professional Master of Architecture program was formally granted accreditation effective January 1, 2009.

The post-professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch. II) program was reinvented as an intensive advanced design research (ADR) program in 2007. Open to students holding professional B.Arch. and M.Arch. degrees (or the international equivalent), the three-semester program offers critical framework for investigating pertinent design concerns, practices, and technologies in 21st-century architecture and urbanism.

In response to a growing student body and the need for competitive and contemporary facilities, Milstein Hall, designed by Rem Koolhaas and OMA, was built and it opened in August 2011. The new building provides a versatile pedagogical space for the department's architecture programs. The 47,000-square-foot building includes 25,000 square feet of flexible studio space that connects to both Rand and Sibley halls. A 250-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium functions as a central large event facility within the the college. Milstein Hall provides an expansion of special resources and offers opportunities for development and experimentation for students and faculty alike.

Today, the Department of Architecture enrolls about 275 students in its Bachelor of Architecture program and approximately 125 students in its graduate programs, roughly 90 of whom are in the professional master's degree program. Cornell's Bachelor of Architecture program has consistently been top-ranked in independent surveys of architecture schools conducted by the Greenway Group. While still relatively new, the professional master's degree program also ranks very highly among its peers in these surveys.