Architecture celebrates centennial

This year, the College of Architecture (CoA) celebrates 100 Years of Architectural Education at Tech. To commemorate the first century of the CoA’s presence at Tech, faculty and staff are holding historical exhibits and lectures from alumni.

“This celebration and the archive are very important not only to the [CoA] and to the architecture, design and planning and construction community, but to Atlanta, the state and indeed the entire southeastern region,” said Alan Balfour, dean of the CoA, at a recent meeting with alumni.

In 1908, 20 students enrolled in Tech’s first architecture course. Tech awarded its first Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1911, making it one of the first public universities to offer a degree in the subject. Over the past 100 years, Tech alumni have transformed the Atlanta skyline.

Associate Professor of Architecture Ellen Dunham-Jones and several of her colleagues have dedicated a portion of their time to understanding the history of the CoA in order to commemorate the occasion.

During her research, Dunham-Jones discovered that at one point, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools would not accredit Tech because the scope of its programs was too narrow. It was only after the architecture department and the marching band were formed that Tech received its accreditation.

In addition, Dunham-Jones uncovered many artifacts and sketches that were created during the program’s early years. She observed that there was a distinct progression in the kind of work that students were doing from one decade to the next.

“In 1908 [the program] was doing very classical buildings. As the years progressed, we saw a dramatic shift in focus in the types of buildings and projects that our students were creating,” Jones said.

Currently, the CoA is holding an exhibit showcasing the work of students from years past. The exhibit will be divided into three parts, with each exhibit showcasing 33 years of student work.

The collection includes sketches and drawings from famous alumni. The CoA has also doubled its efforts to preserve important buildings in Atlanta.

The school entered a modernist era in the 1920s and 30s. Work shifted from classical and traditional design elements to more modern city-centered architecture. In the 1940s and 1950s, the school placed more emphasis on design. Alumnus John Portman became known for pioneering atrium-style buildings. In the 1950s and 1960s, architects focused on developing the city of Atlanta and building high-rise buildings. In the 1990s, the school shifted its focus to urban design.

Looking towards the future, the school plans to shift its focus towards more sustainable architecture.

“The transformation of the post-Civil War South from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and then to a powerhouse on the global stage of the service and distribution industries, is due in no small part to the Georgia Institute of Technology, and this is no small reason to celebrate,” Balfour said.