Teaching Architecture -- A Reminiscence
Last year, you may recall, I cobbled together an appreciation of Michelle Obama, inspired by her splendid memoir Becoming.
This modest and, I thought, innocuous homage produced one rather surprising response. An old friend, a dealer in antiques who had found us several nice things and, for about a decade, had been a most cheerful and generous colleague on a local architectural preservation board, wrote me with the cryptic instruction to “Kindly remove my name from your circulation list. You were so unkind to ‘our’ President. As for the Obamas…..?!” To be fair to her, she then wished me “improved health in the new year,” which, lacking any reference to peace, hope, or happiness, may not have been quite such a Christian expression of reconciliation and good will as it sounded.
No sooner had this troubling little thought come to mind than there was a second message, addressed to me but intended for some friend of hers unknown to me. Forwarding my offending Christmas Message, she urged the friend to “Just take a look at what that crazy dean of Engineering (sic) at UK (i.e.: the University of Kentucky) is saying. This is the stuff those people are teaching our children!”
Of course I saw red but on the assumption that I wasn’t supposed to know about it, I offered her no response, nor will I bore you all with the terms of a rebuttal.
It’s thirty years since I stepped down as dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Kentucky in 1987, and though I did a subsequent decade as dean at the University of Toronto, many of you know that those fifteen years of sustained commitment (often despite the odds) were the source of great personal fulfillment for me.
And we did pretty well. Here’s Professor Mary McLeod (Columbia University) who at one time was part of it and had this to say:
One of the most remarkable centers… was the University of Kentucky's College of Architecture, where Anthony Eardley was appointed dean in 1972. Eardley, who had taught at the Architectural Association, Princeton, and Cooper Union, brought to Lexington a group of young faculty, many straight out of architecture school, and he gave them free reign to shape their own courses.
Thanks to Eardley's supportive administrative style and the open-minded attitudes of the existing faculty, there was remarkably little generational strife, and the school rapidly gained a national prominence, all the more astonishing given its isolation, limited financial means, and the poor education that incoming students received from Kentucky's public schools. It was soon recognized by other schools as a fertile training ground for new teachers, a reputation that continued until Eardley's tenure ended in 1987.
From Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America
Joan Ockman, editor, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, pp 181-182
It gives me enormous satisfaction to know that many of you agree with Mary’s kind assessment. Like her , some of you were there, contributing to it. What few of you know is the unlikely set of circumstances that took me out of Cooper Square in lower Manhattan and set me down so unexpectedly, 700 miles south, suddenly knee-deep in bluegrass and bourbon.
As I was to belatedly discover, I had actually been invited to stand as a candidate for the deanship at Kentucky in late 1971 but I didn’t learn of it until a Saturday morning early March 1972, when it came as a shock.
I was sitting at my kitchen table in our Cape Cod cottage north of Princeton, New Jersey, with a second cup of coffee. The children were young so we were giving Broadacre City a try on one of God’s green acres with a mature orchard and a huge strawberry patch. I was going through a pile of publishing house catalogues and marking up suggestions for book acquisitions in preparation for my meeting with the Cooper Union Librarian.
I’d been the faculty’s designated “book hound” at Cooper since migrating there in 1969 as a refuge from Princeton (still all male, and all white in those days, the last outpost of the South in the North). I met with the Cooper Librarian regularly once a semester. It could have been a purposeful and exciting collaboration but it was a chore. He seemed less interested in building collections responsive to the needs of Engineering, Architecture and Fine Art as in hoarding his budget and preserving the secrecy surrounding its allocation. He resented expenditures on books and journals in foreign languages regardless of their graphic content, and doggedly resisted anything antiquarian. Those old tomes were not only exorbitantly expensive but brought musty smells from suspect places and his collections were already quite old and grubby enough!
So here I am, almost done but notin the best frame of mind, with this big manila envelope from the bottom of the pile, addressed to me personally but tossed into the Book Tray because, unquestionably coming from the University of Kentucky Library System, what else could it be about but books?
I riffle through a mixed package of colourful brochures on the Commonwealth of Kentucky,
That rhapsodize about its temperate climate, its enchanting landscapes, heroic pioneering history,
its mighty coal and extensive tobacco production,
and its unparalleled bourbon.
Home to the long rifle, Bluegrass banjo pluckers, the fastest horses and friendliest people and in all America.
“Well, yes, OK,” I say, “but where’s the book?”
The State Park System (with pictures of lakes and rock cliffs and waterfalls, and swoopy park lodges with generous parking lots and tee-total dining rooms with magical views;
the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, with a city map and a smiling group of near-identical men with slicked down hair, dark suits and starched shirts who could equally well have been in Lexington, Massachusetts: not a string tie or a banjo between them!; a University of Kentucky brochure, both its text made difficult to read by the painful intensity of the insistent blue ground, a little blurb about its significance as the state’s primary Land Grant institution, advice on student housing and services, a campus map,
a smiling Otis Sigletary, President, and the institution’s two icons: Memorial Hall and the Wildcat logo.
Finally, a 1/4” thick stack of typescript with a letter paperclipped to the front. I flip through it, patience nearly spent. Evidently stuff about their school of architecture.
“Still no bloody book! Let’s see the letter:
Dear Professor Eardley,
Your name has suggested as a suitable candidate... (Oh, not a book, then...) ...Sincerely,
Chairman, Search Committee for a Dean of the College of Architecture
Head, University of Kentucky Libraries
The idea was outlandish, jolt to composure, I was a teacher-practitioner, or that was the plan. I hadn’t the least taste or talent for administration. People surely knew that? Who would entertain such a crazy notion? Then it came to me.
Paul Amatuzzo, a former student, had been a member of an architecture faculty somewhere in those parts for a year or more. Kentucky surely?
Yes, I remembered, there had been a Saturday in the Spring of 1970 when I had been visiting the professional office of my faculty chairman (later Dean) John Hejduk. He was completing his work on a major renovation project for the grand old Cooper Foundation Building and I was one of a small group at Cooper invited to drop by his studio on a weekend and see how things were progressing.
On this occasion John had said there was nothing new to discuss concerning the Foundation Building but asked me to explore the program distribution possibilities for converting Cooper’s Hewitt Building -- just across the street from the building that he was about to renovate -- from a four-storey commercial structure into a six-storey student centre. The program contained several sets of diversely scaled and aggregated spaces but there would be adequate space, so it wasn’t so much an exercise in the close packing as a quest for a program enhancing clarity and thematic unity in a fixed envelope with a predetermined structural grid. John had yet to find a promising parti. He asked Paul Amatuzzo to “hardline” for me. Paul was one of the brightest stars in the stellar Cooper graduating class of 1969. He was working part-time for John and assisting Bob Slutzky in teaching his unique First Year foundation studios so crucial to an architectural education at Cooper Union.
Paul’s help was a Godsend to me: he’s an accomplished draughtsman, and incredibly fast. By mid-afternoon we were making good progress, Paul egging me along with lilting little murmurings to his moving pencil: “Oh, yeah, I this is gonna work, this is gonna work.” Which gladdened me rather more than just the apparent success of the moment: I was clearly rising in Paul’s estimation, gaining credibility, not just a Limey scholar, wandering the School talking about things he didn’t or couldn’t do, but a true member of the fraternity, able to do what he talked about . As Jerry Wells (former Chairman of Architecture at Cornell, a Texan from head to toe and a stellar graduate of the Austin program) used to say: “ He’s an OK guy. He can ride and shoot.”
The phone rang. John identified himself, listened silently for a minute or so, then held the phone away from his head and announced to the office:
“There’s a guy here, says his name’s Chuck Graves, Dean of Architecture at Kentucky. He needs someone to teach his introductory studios and he’s heard good things about the Cooper program. (Graves’ intelligence, I learned much later, had come from Herb Kramel from ETH Zurich, who had recently visited the Cooper studios.)
Do you guys know anyone who might be interested in going to teach down there?”
As if John had asked nothing more than who would volunteer to go for coffee, not even lifting his head from his drawing, Paul quietly said, “Yeah, I’ll go. Tell him I’ll do it.”
John looked wordlessly at Paul’s bent head for a long moment, then turned to the phone and said, “There’s someone here who can help you, his name is Paul Amatuzzo: Paul is a good man. I’ll let you talk to him.”
Paul took the phone, accepted an invitation to interview and returned to his desk and the task at hand. I didn’t think much more about it. It had been a very good day. I’d had a lucky intuition,we got the job done for a much relieved colleague, and by Monday afternoon, the news was all around the School.
Before long Paul was gone. No fuss. Just not there any more.
So this was the entirely random set of events that drew me to Kentucky. Chuck Graves had to decide to invade John’s professional office on a Saturday. John had to pick up the phone. Paul had to be there to respond to John’s question. And finally, for reasons that to this day I’m not sure he fully understands, when offered the chance to trek deep into hillbilly country, to follow the path blazed by Daniel Boone with nary a coonskin or musket in hand, to venture down to a strange land where the nearest proper slice of pizza was at least a 10-hour drive or 3-hour plane flight away, Paul had to say “Sure! Why not?”
Only with the intersection of all those elements, and my not tossing the aggravating “catalog” from the University of Kentucky into the trash, could I even discover that somebody might think of me as a dean.
My journey from this point to accepting the job is another tale entirely: one replete with a frantic flurry of phone calls and packed bags and cobbled-together lectures, late-night wanderings, enough booze to stun an elephant, and a broken finger.
But let’s save that story for next year’s letter!