But Fisk, the persuasive dean of the new College of Fine Arts, patched together a makeshift architecture faculty with professors from the painting department and the College of Liberal Arts. Then he approached such local architects as Horatio Nelson White, who designed the Hall of Languages, and asked them to teach architectural design-without pay.|
Despite its fragile foundationand a first-year enrollment of one student-the architecture department steadily gained stature. Some questioned the need to offer architecture-or any fine art-in that economic climate. As W. Freeman Galpin notes in Syracuse University: The Pioneer Days: "One may be pardoned for wondering why the College of Fine Arts was not nipped in the bud. As is well known, the trustees of the University were at their wits' end to keep the College of Liberal Arts intact and loathed to divert so much as a penny toward the new venture."
Well into the 1900s, the architecture department relied on local architects for free instruction. This was not only a matter of thrift. It was standard practice at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, the world's premiere architecture school. European students traditionally took their work to architects' offices for critiques. "These architects considered it their obligation to continue the profession by passing their experience on to a coming generation," explains Professor Emeritus Paul Malo '50. "The practice was modified here, with the architect coming to the studio. But the basic notion continued that architectural education should engage practicing designers as critics."
SU's providential alignment of the architecture department within the College of Fine Arts established a design focus that endures to this day. Where institutions like MIT and RPI followed Germany's lead and stressed the structural underpinnings of architecture, Syracuse University, in the Beaux Arts tradition, underscored the artistrythough never to the exclusion of structural expertise. Dwight Baum, a New York City architect who worked on the SU campus and wrote for Architecture magazine in the 1930s, notes: "Syracuse realizes that the architect must be the most fully trained man of the learned professions because of the wide knowledge he must possess. Its courses stress not only artistic ability, but also the need for good construction and the conduct of professional practice in a businesslike manner."
The first graduating classes in architecture were small, with 74 students earning degrees between 1900 and 1922. (By comparison, the same period produced 260 music and 72 painting graduates.) It was ironic, a department that addressed issues of space had a perpetual problem finding it. In 1883, the entire College of Fine Arts moved from its cramped quarters in the Hall of Languages to Crouse College, then into Steele Hall in 1908. The congestion persisted until 1917, when the college moved into skylit Slocum Hall, designed by Frederick Revels. Revels graduated from the College of Fine Arts in 1895, and chaired the architecture department from 1902 until 1934. By all reports he was a stimulating teacher, but he is best remembered for designing, with Professor Earl Hallenback of the Class of 1897, a number of SU landmarks: Carnegie Library, Archbold Stadium, and Bowne and Lyman halls. Chancellor James Roscoe Day, one of SU's "big builders," repeatedly credited these architects-and the architecture department-for savings afforded by their drawings and plans. |
SETTING A PRAGMATIC TONE
While building came to a virtual halt during the Depression, architectural education evolved. European modernism, which blossomed with the reconstruction of European cities after World War I, began to seep into American architecture schools. Syracuse University acknowledged the trend, but continued to emphasize the teaching of more traditional styles. Other schools, like Harvard and Columbia, embraced modernism, stylistically and politically, with near-religious fervor."
"SU is not trying to propagate any isms," writes Dwight Baum in a 1940 issue of Pencil Points. "Realizing that its students are drawn mostly from upper New York State and will likely practice there eventually, it cultivates a strong respect for tradition without closing its eyes to the ever-increasing interest in contemporary design."
During this period, the University realized that a four-year curriculum could not adequately equip an architect for practice. In 1935, under College of Fine Arts Dean Lemuel Cross Dillenback, a fifth year of study was added, increasing the requirements for a bachelor's degree in architecture to 182 credits. The additional "thesis" year served as a bridge from studies to practice, with students tackling a project from its conception through working drawings, schedules, and cost estimates.
This attention to marketable skills has been a hallmark of SU's architecture programeven under leaders like Dillenback, a "painterly" dean who valued fine presentation drawings. According to Baum: "Syracuse University has kept its feet firmly on the ground, turning out its quota of young men equipped for immediate useful service. There is nothing spectacular about the school at Syracuse, nor anything exotic about its teachers...there are no acknowledged giants among them eager to undertake the intellectual rearing of a race of disciples to go forth and reform society. But they are practical men, sane thinkers, and experienced guides along the road to capability in the everyday world of architecture."