August 28, 2020

AAP Mourns Former Dean and Cornell in Rome Founder Bill McMinn

A man speaking at a table and microphone to seated audience.
Dean McMinn speaking at the dedication of the Cornell Center in Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, Rome, Italy, March 14, 1987. photo / provided
Two men in dark clothing seated at a social gathering.
McMinn at the Rome Academy with then AAP Dean Mohsen Mostafavi in March 2007. William Staffeld / AAP
Dean McMinn speaking at the dedication of the Cornell Center in Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, Rome, Italy, March 14, 1987. photo / provided McMinn at the Rome Academy with then AAP Dean Mohsen Mostafavi in March 2007. William Staffeld / AAP

William G. (Bill) McMinn, Dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning from 1984 to 1996, died on August 21 in Asheville, North Carolina at the age of 89.

As Dean of Cornell AAP, he was instrumental in establishing the undergraduate program in the Department of City and Regional Planning, strengthening all graduate programs, and increasing graduate support funding, including the completion of a five-year fundraising campaign for facilities, endowments, and upgrading educational technology.

In addition to his 12-year tenure as Dean, McMinn was founder of the Cornell in Rome Program.

"Bill McMinn's contributions to the stature of the college cannot be overstated," said Meejin Yoon, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP. "As a founder of the Cornell in Rome program, he enriched the lives of so many as the program has grown into a vital component of many architecture, art, and planning students' education. He was a practitioner as well as an educator, and his influence will continue to be felt beyond scholarship to the underpinnings of the culture at AAP and well beyond."

A Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome in 1982 began McMinn's decades of professional and personal ties with the Italian city. He established an international college board of advisors to realize the Cornell in Rome program in 1986. According to Jeffrey Blanchard, academic director for Cornell in Rome, the program launched with an exhibition of architecture professor Colin Rowe's urban design studio at Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, the first home for the program. Rowe's time on the faculty coincided with Dean McMinn's, who also worked with faculty members John Shaw in the Department of Architecture; Jack Squier (M.F.A. '52) in the Department of Art; and Roberto Einaudi (B.Arch. '61), Cornell in Rome's first director.

"Bill was firmly convinced that Rome, this most ancient and complicated of cities, is the ideal laboratory for the disciplines of architecture, art, and planning," Blanchard said.

According to Blanchard, McMinn's careful oversight and leadership left the program with a solid foundation for the future.

"Although Bill had left Cornell in 1996, Rome was the special destination that he and his wife Joan returned to annually after retirement," Blanchard said, adding that McMinn periodically convened AAP Advisory Council meetings in Rome and shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with alumni and other sustainers of AAP by leading Cornell Adult University travel study tours.

"While Bill's distinguished career as an educator unfolded in a number of institutions and was marked by many achievements and awards, I believe he always considered the creation of Cornell's Rome program to be one of his most important and enduring accomplishments," Blanchard said.

Born in Abilene, Texas, McMinn earned a B.A. (1952) and a B.Arch. (1953) from Rice University, and an M.Arch. (1954) from the University of Texas–Austin. He began teaching in 1956 at Texas Tech University, moving on to professor and department leadership roles at Clemson University, Auburn University, and Louisiana State University.

Highlights of McMinn's career in academia include becoming the founding dean of architectural schools at Florida International University (1997) and Mississippi State University (1974). In 2006, he was the recipient of the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture's (ACSA) Topaz Medallion — the highest award for outstanding contribution to architectural education. He was also the recipient of the ACSA's Distinguished Professor Award in 1991 and was selected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.

Beyond his teaching career, Dean McMinn practiced architecture professionally from 1968–71 as director of design at Six Associates in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1980, he was appointed to the National Architecture Accreditation Board (NAAB) and was elected NAAB President in 1983. Following his retirement to North Carolina in 2004, McMinn continued to advise on architectural design competitions and projects.

Although a lifelong educator, McMinn's family say he often remarked, “It has been said that we do not really teach architecture. At best, we provide a place for students to discover it.”

Dean McMinn is survived by Joan, his wife of 64 years, son Kevin, and daughter Tracey.

By Patti Witten
AAP is grateful to the McMinn Family for their help in preparing this piece.

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