Visitors can see the history of KU's architecture programs on display at Marvin Hall in conjunction with this weekend's events.
• A wall-sized graphical timeline of events in the program over the past century, plus events from around the world, is on display in the main hallway of Marvin Hall.
• A gallery of student projects as far back as the 1920s is viewable in room 216 at Marvin Hall.
The building will be open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
The lights are always on at Marvin Hall, or so it is often said among people who’ve passed through the Kansas University architecture program over the years, John Guenther says.
That’s because Marvin’s architectural studios are open 24-7 to students working feverishly to meet a deadline the next morning or sketching plans after getting some late-night inspiration. That’s certainly how Guenther, a 1977 KU architecture graduate, remembers it. And that’s the way it still is, said John Gaunt, dean of KU’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning.
“Creativity doesn’t sleep,” Gaunt said, and neither, at times, do KU architecture students.
The school is celebrating the 100th year of architecture education at KU with a reunion event this weekend, and Gaunt said he expects about 200 to 300 alumni, who attended as far back as the 1940s, to come. Marvin Hall has been the home quarters for the architecture program ever since it was founded in 1912, and because of that oft-repeated maxim about its studios, the theme for the celebration is “The lights are still on for you.”
Guenther, who has his own architectural firm now in St. Louis, is one of the alumni making the trip back for the events that start Friday. The long hours he remembers spending alongside his classmates in the Marvin studios with the pressure of encroaching deadlines are something he looks back on fondly now, he said, because it prepared him for what he does now and helped him build friendships that still continue.
And that, he said, is what he guesses students from throughout those 100 years have in common.
“I think that’s probably something that transcends all generations,” Guenther said.
The KU architecture program began in fall of 1912 as part of the School of Engineering, at the behest of an architect who was hired by Chancellor Frank Strong to help design a building that would become Strong Hall, KU’s administrative center. According to professor of architecture Stephen Grabow, who has studied the school’s history during his 40 years on the faculty, Strong sent the engineering dean eastward to find a leader for the new program, and he didn’t return until he’d hired Goldwin Goldsmith, who had served as an apprentice for Stanford White, a legendary turn-of-the-century architect in New York.
The program’s faculty have continued to come often from the East Coast, Grabow said, including many in the mid-20th century who’d been apprentices for Frank Lloyd Wright.
“I think for a school right out here in the middle of the plains, it’s a little surprising,” Grabow said.
In 1967, the architecture program grew large enough to form a school of its own. It remained part of the School of Architecture and Urban Design until 2010, when the school added KU’s design department and took its current name. Architectural styles have changed from the classicism of the turn of the 20th century to the modern movement pushed by Wright to a present-day emphasis on sustainability and energy. Studios once filled with tidy desks arranged in orderly rows now contain expansive desks stationed in clusters, covered with clutter and dotted with laptops.
But the level of work has remained consistent, Gaunt said.
“The architecture program is intense, and it always has been,” Gaunt said.
Guenther recalled an example of that. His sophomore year, he was part of a group assigned to design a temporary structure where he and a few other students would have to spend a weekend at Perry Lake, northwest of Lawrence. Their site was supposed to be a peninsula, but it happened to be a rainy year, and the lake took on so much extra water it became an island. But their instructor, Guenther said, said the assignment still stood.
“He said, ‘They should have thought about all of this,’” Guenther said.
So the students used boats to take their materials out to the newly formed island, where their structure did indeed support them for a weekend, learning a thing or two about problem-solving along the way.
That’s the sort of thing that makes you build some bonds, he said. And that’s the sort of thing that might lead hundreds of alumni to come back for a centennial celebration.