Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Writing our own program”: The USC experiment in modern architectural pedagogy, 1930 to 1960
by Howell-Ardila, Deborah, M.H.P., University of Southern California, 2010, 277; 1484253
Abstract (Summary)

Although USC offered the region's first and only professional degree in architecture from 1925 until the 1960s, very little research has been conducted on the school's history. Much of the secondary literature has generally accepted - and perpetuated - the assumption that, in the post-World War II period, through the work of a few determined actors, the USC School of Architecture shed virtually overnight its Beaux-Arts-influenced curriculum and adopted a modern, pragmatic approach.

This thesis demonstrates that USC launched a modern "experiment" in architectural education far earlier than is generally acknowledged—beginning in the early 1930s and primarily shaped by the exigencies of the Great Depression, rather than 1945 with the end of World War II. The individual who was most decisive in launching this experiment is also the person least cited in the literature: Arthur Clason Weatherhead, head of the program and dean from 1914 to 1944.

In 1930, through Weatherhead's design and initiative, the USC College of Architecture became the fifth out of 45 American collegiate schools of architecture to shift away from the Beaux-Arts system and craft a modern, hands-on alternative. In the case of USC, this alternative was grounded in pragmatism, social-responsiveness and "present-day conditions," a close association with the allied arts, and contemporary design grounded in regional identity and site-specificity.

Weatherhead's thirty-year career at USC coincided with an era of widespread re-evaluation and subsequent overhaul of American collegiate schools of architecture. This thesis sheds light on this era through an examination of departmental bulletins and course lists, newspaper and trade magazine articles of the day, faculty and student publications, 0as well as interviews with alumnae. Once the USC "experiment" was established and in place in the late 1930s, the curriculum and design philosophy remained largely intact through the early 1960s.

This study does not intend to diminish the achievements of the postwar dean, Arthur Gallion. From 1945 to 1960, Gallion built on the foundations in place and expanded the school according to the pressing issues of the day: housing, planning, industrial design, and landscape architecture. In national terms, the example of the USC School of Architecture illustrates how educators and architects on the "far western" periphery of Southern California responded to the issues challenging – and changing – the architectural profession and academy across the United States.

Seen in the context of the 1930s, Weatherhead's program at USC was shaped by the need to reject prescriptive ideas about style emphasized under the Beaux-Arts system. At USC, the social aspects of modernism became the focus. In this way, the affinity between the USC design philosophy and the iconic work of the region's modernist avant-garde is not meant to suggest that the USC School of Architecture fits within the larger story of the region's genius-architects. Rather, this thesis suggests that the work of the region's early "starchitects" fits within the broader social context that also nurtured and produced the modern USC School of Architecture. This study hopes to highlight not the "individual stars" (to paraphrase Gwendolyn Wright) but the larger "constellation" of modern architectural thought and design in Southern California. 1

1Gwendolyn Wright's original quote read: “From Craft to Profession shifts the focus of architectural history from individual stars to constellations.” Woods (1999), back cover.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Breisch, Kenneth
Commitee: Bills, Emily, James-Chakraborty, Kathleen, Lamprecht, Barbara, Littmann, William
School: University of Southern California
Department: Architecture/American Architecture and Urbanism
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 49/03M, Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Art education, Architecture, Urban planning
Keywords: 1914 to 1944, 1945 to 1960, Gallion, Arthur B, Impact of Great Depression on architectural education in the United States, Reform in American architectural education, Southern California schools of architecture, Southern californian modernism, Twentieth century, USC dean, USC faculty and dean, University of Southern California, Weatherhead, Arthur Clason
Publication Number: 1484253
ISBN: 9781124414690
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