September 14: school’s in session

2012/09/14 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1868 systematic classes of architecture were first offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MIT’s were the first courses on architecture offered in at a college in the United States.  Prior to 1868, the only educational options open to those who aspired to design buildings was (1) to learn a trade like masonry and carpentry and then go get jobs designing and building stuff, (2) to find a practicing architect who would take you in (maybe for a fee) and learn what he did, sort of apprentice-style (by watching and then mimicking his activities), and then go do it on your own or (3) to be born wealthy or marry wealth, collect books and travel, promote yourself as a man of taste and have a friend in government get you a job designing a state capital or get your mother-in-law to commission  a summer-house that would be published all over the place.  #1 worked just fine for millennia; #3 can still work pretty well today if you’re born under the right star.

But for the rest of us, a university education at one of 122 (and counting) accredited schools in the US is de rigueur.  The one founded at MIT was instituted by Boston architect William R. Ware, who modeled it on the course of study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where Ware’s teacher, Richard Morris Hunt, had attended.  Ware himself spent a year studying programs in Europe after being hired by MIT and before starting their classes.  Not long after MIT opened its doors, a land-grant university in central Illinois launched the country’s second architecture program but drew from the technical model of architectural education in Germany that was less individualistic and competitive than the French model.  The first graduate of this program at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Nathan Clifford Ricker, was awarded the very first diploma in architecture in the US in 1871.  Both MIT (and Cornell, who had joined the party by now) (both of which were safety schools for Ricker) squeezed graduates out later that year.

Image: drafting room at the University of Illinois, ca. 1917 (from this source)

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