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School of Architecture History

School of Architecture History

The School of Architecture (S|ARC) has evolved from a creative idea into a thriving, energetic program currently housed in modernist facilities that have received state and regional design awards.

The School of Architecture, established in 1973 by the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), offers the only professional degree in architecture in the state of Mississippi. After an advisory council consisting of state architects urged the three senior universities to submit proposals, the IHL Board designated Mississippi State University (a land grant institution) as the location for the new program. At the suggestion of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) under the leadership of Robert Harrison, FAIA, a team of architects was appointed by the National AIA to visit MSU. This important action helped the University better understand the unique requirements of a professional degree program in architecture. It was largely due to this committee's report that MSU created the School of Architecture as an autonomous academic unit.

When the first group of architecture students entered the University in 1973, advising was provided by the College of Engineering. William G. McMinn, FAIA was named first Dean of the School of Architecture (S|ARC) and was charged with assembling a faculty. Initially, it consisted of borrowed classrooms and a few adventurous students and faculty members. In 1977, studio space was relocated from a renovated dormitory to a building originally designed as a livestock-judging pavilion (the BARN) and later used as a motor pool. Legislative approval in 1981 of $4.9 million for construction and furnishings resulted in an award-winning addition to the previously mentioned BARN building conversion. Dedication of the new facility took place during May 1983 with the national presidents of AIA, ACSA, NCARB, and NAAB participating. This event culminated the School's first ten years of growth from initial idea to full development and national recognition.

Having been participants on the original advisory council, Mississippi architects continue to be extremely supportive of, and intimately involved with the School's programs. Their participation in juries, reviews, and thesis preparation continues to benefit the consistently high caliber of both faculty and students. The visiting lecturer series and field trips, in addition to co-op and exchange programs are considered fundamental to the School's mission and absolutely necessary given the School's somewhat isolated location. Following development of the undergraduate program and an initial five-year accreditation, the School expanded its activities through the establishment of the Center for Small Town Research (one of the first community design studios in the country - later renamed the Carl Small Town Center). This outreach component of the School of Architecture continues to focus local, regional, and national attention on problems and opportunities for small-town design. In 1996, the School established the Jackson Community Design Center, located at 509 E. Capitol Street, home of the Stuart C. Irby, Jr. Studios and the Fifth-Year Program. This facility is a three-story award-winning complex in the historic part of downtown Jackson adjacent to the Old Capitol Building and Governor's Mansion. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio was established and is currently housed in Biloxi, MS.

Following Dean McMinn's departure in 1984, James F. Barker, FAIA became dean. Following Dean Barker's departure in 1986 (he is currently Clemson University's president), John M. McRae, FAIA (vacating his department chair at the University of Florida), became dean and was responsible for guiding S|ARC's development through its second decade. Upon his retirement in 2001, James L. West, AIA, became the School's fourth dean. In the mid 1990's, the School was recognized nationally (in the Carnegie Boyer Report) for its pioneering pedagogical leadership in integrating computers directly into the design studio; its commitment to the innovative use of digital/analog technology continues to mature. In 1995, the School established a Master of Science degree in Architecture (under the leadership of Professor Charles Calvo) and established an advanced research and teaching laboratory for high-performance computing. As a result, the Design Research and Informatics Lab (DRIL) not only serves the undergraduate and graduate programs but also supports college, communities, and university related research activities using digital media and the web.

In 2004, a new College of Architecture, Art, and Design (CAAD) was formed by the Provost with the idea of bringing all the design and fine art disciplines on campus under one umbrella and one dean; this college currently houses the School of Architecture, the Department of Art, the Department of Interior Design, and the newly created Department of Building Construction Science. These collateral units offer many new and exciting possibilities for the enrichment of S|ARC and its programs. With this new organizational structure, the School of Architecture (with full faculty support) had its first interim director appointed, senior faculty member David Lewis, PhD. After a lengthy national search in 2006, Caleb Crawford, AIA, (from Pratt Institute) was hired. In 2009, senior faculty member and F.L. Crane Professor Michael Berk, AIA, was appointed the director.

Over the years, S|ARC's focus has been applauded in numerous publications: Architecture (the journal of the American Institute of Architects in the 90s), Newsweek on Campus, Architectural Record, Architect, and The Boyer Report, to name a few. Its graduates have thrived in graduate programs at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Rice, Washington University, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Cambridge University in England, as well as in leading international design firms such as: HKS, TVS, SOM, Gensler, RTKL, Herzog & De Meuron, Foreign Office Architects, and Perkins & Will, to also name a few. Statistics derived from records of the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) show that S|ARC alumni continuously score higher on their board exams than the national average for candidates seeking registration as professional architects.

A few additional noteworthy accomplishments include the following: in 2003, the School of Architecture received its largest ever gift -- a $2.5 million endowment to the Small Town Center by Fred Carl of the Viking Range Corporation; in 2005, the School received its first endowed professorship -- the F.L. 'Johnny' Crane Professorship in Architecture; in 2007, the school received its first facility endowment (from the Bob and Kathy Luke) to rename the Giles Hall Library; in 2009, the School received the Robert and Freda Harrison Endowed Visiting Lecture Series; in 2010, the school also received an Endowment (from the Harrisons) to name the S|ARC Giles Auditorium; and in 2011, Professor David Perkes, Director of the Gulf Coast Design Studio, was awarded the most prestigious 'AIA Latrobe Prize' ($100k) from the AIA College of Fellows and he also named a 'Champion of Change' by the White House.

S|ARC continues to make its mark. Recently, the School was prominently featured in two of the leading architectural professional journals of North America. The December 2009 Education issue of ARCHITECT magazine identified our School as one of three programs leading the nation in the area of Community Design; we were also identified as one of six schools leading the nation in the area of Social Justice in the built environment. The October 2008 issue of ARCHITECTURAL RECORD featured the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (our research center in Biloxi MS) on the cover along with an in-depth multi-page article and images of their work.

In 2019, Director and  F.L. Crane Professor Michael Berk, AIA, retired. Jassen Callender, Fifth-Year Program director who also served as the school's associate director for the past year, was appointed interim director of the school.

The MSU School of Architecture offers the only NAAB accredited professional architecture degree in Mississippi. We have approximately 225 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of about 15:1. All of our students receive a dedicated 24/7 studio workstation space in the architecture building (Giles Hall). These studios are the center of all teaching, activity, culture, and life in our School. The School hosts a Visiting Lecture Series bringing in national and internationally recognized architects, artists, and philosophers. The student organizations regularly host Friday Forum weekly lectures, Movie Night Film Series, and other major events (like the Annual Beaux Arts Ball). These events help shape the school and our place in the region and world. The School has also been the host to national and international conferences; most recently, the 34th Annual International Merleau-Ponty Circle Conference and FORMCities, an international urban design conference at the Jackson Community Design Center. In 2010, S|ARC received a full 6-year accreditation from NAAB; it has been continuously accredited since its inception in 1973.

Check out the 40th anniversary gallery