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FROMTHE ARCHIVES

Celebrating 75 Years of Architecture

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Seventy-five years ago, construction began on the building that would become home to the School of Architecture at Rensselaer. Built along the south line of campus adjacent to the athletic field, the building was made of Harvard brick with limestone trimmings, 165 feet in plan, five stories in height.

It was named the Greene Building in honor of past Rensselaer President Benjamin Franklin Greene, a visionary who saw the value in a School of Architecture long before one existed anywhere in the country. He wrote, in 1849, that it was “anomalous that no school of architecture exists in this country at this time.” Lack of funding prevented the establishment of such a program during his tenure at Rensselaer.

The Greene Building was completed in 1931, at a cost of $400,000. The three upper stories of the building were devoted to the architectural department, including an architecture library. The first two stories were filled with general classrooms, and the Navy ROTC occupied the basement.

The names of 15 of the most renowned, deceased American architects were cut in stone above the second-story windows: Bulfinch, Burnham, Goodhue, Hooker, Hunt, Jefferson, Latrobe, McComb, McIntyre, McKim, Mills, Renwick, Richardson, Sullivan, and Upjohn.

To help establish what courses would be taught in the new School of Architecture, Rensselaer administrators wrote to institutions such as MIT, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard to request copies of their course catalogs. A four-year undergraduate program was decided upon, with each year referred to as a “division.”

To pursue an undergraduate degree in architecture, students were made to take “general cultural subjects” in addition to their technical courses, so that they would have “as well-rounded an education as the demands of their technical courses permitted.” In addition to architecture classes, students studied English, economics, business administration, history of civilization, and French.

Ralph Gulley came to Rensselaer as a professor of architecture in 1930. In 1931 he moved into the newly completed Greene Building, and at age 27, became the first dean of the school. He and three other professors — Ralph Winslow, Alwin Rigg, and James VanDerpool — made up the faculty.

During Gulley’s tenure (he left Rensselaer in 1941 to practice architecture in Manhattan) enrollment in the school grew to 46 students, and faculty grew to seven, including Turpin Bannister, a founder of the American Society of Architectural Historians.

The School of Architecture is celebrating 75 years with a special conference in the spring. Visit the Web site for details: www.arch.rpi.edu.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

 
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