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Fr. Green with studentIn 1957, Lawrence J. Green, S.J., became chair of the Department of Architecture and added more comprehensive architectural design studios.

History of the School of Architecture

The architecture program at the University of Detroit began in 1922 with the establishment of the Department of Architectural Engineering within the College of Engineering. The program sought to affirm the values of the Jesuit tradition by providing students with “... a thorough grounding in the sciences as well as the essentials of a liberal education.” This belief continues to the present. The original program, as stated in the University catalog, emphasized, “... in addition to the basic study of civil engineering, students were given adequate training in pen and ink rendering, water colors, heating and ventilating, sanitation of populous sections and architectural construction.” This attitude clearly indicates that the program was primarily conceived as an engineering discipline; it is evident from the initial curriculum that architecture as an art was neither appreciated nor understood.

The evolution of the Architectural Engineering program into an independent school began in 1957 with the efforts of Lawrence J. Green, S.J.  When Fr. Green joined the Jesuit order, he had already been a practicing architect. Both his maturity and professional background led to the conclusion that the Architectural Engineering program was seriously outdated and served neither the profession of engineering nor architecture particularly well. Under his direction, the program was lengthened from five to six years and was re-titled as “Department of Architecture” in the University Bulletin. The re-classification facilitated the incorporation of additional architecture classes since a complete revision of the curriculum was precluded by the department’s position within the College of Engineering.

In June 1961, Bruno Leon was hired as chair and began the transformation of the existing hybrid program into an autonomous School of Architecture. A completely new six-year curriculum was developed and implemented and, with the addition of several new full-time faculty positions, the program was entirely re-structured. The first Bachelor of Architecture degrees were conferred in 1963. In 1964, the department became an independent School of Architecture, accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, with Bruno Leon as its dean.

In 1961, the Department of Architecture had an enrollment of approximately 80 students and five full-time faculty. It was housed on the third floor of the Engineering Building, facilities woefully inadequate to its needs. In 1973, the curriculum was changed to a four-year Bachelor of Environmental Studies degree and a two-year M. Arch degree.  

In 1975 the old Science Building was renamed the Architecture Building and was renovated to accommodate the School. Due to the capacity of the building, it was decided

to limit the size of the School to 260 students; this was the maximum number that would allow students to have individual studio space, yet be of a scale to permit personalized interaction with the faculty.

In the 1980s, two semester-long international studies programs were created.  The first was a full exchange program with the Warsaw University of Technology in Poland, followed a few years later by a summer semester in Tuscany—part in Florence and part in Volterra. The 1980s also began the change from a six-year M.Arch to a five-year B. Arch.

In 1992 Bruno Leon retired as dean after 30 years of service. During the 1992–1993 academic year, Nicholas Chatas, a tenured professor, served as acting dean while a national search was conducted. In May of 1993, Stephen Vogel, FAIA, began duties as the new dean of the School of Architecture. Dean Vogel brought to the School a reconfirmed commitment to a broad-based liberal education and an understanding of the role of the School in serving the urban community of Detroit in which the School resides. The establishment of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center in 1994 formalized this commitment, with Professor Terry Curry, S.J., AIA, as director. The Design Center is an integral, design and applied research institute of the School of Architecture and enjoys a national and international reputation for its outstanding design for civic and community organizations.

By 1995 the School had grown to near capacity with 238 students and 10 full-time and numerous adjunct faculty. In 1998, the Board of Trustees of the University of Detroit Mercy approved the re-titling of the five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree to a Master of Architecture degree. The final B.Arch degree was to be conferred in December 2007.  

Dan Pitera, FAIA, succeeded Fr. Curry as director of the Design Center in 2000.  The Design Center and the School of Architecture received in 2002 the first NCARB Grand Prize for the Integration of Practice in the Academy and received an additional NCARB prize in 2009. In 2006, the interdisciplinary Master of Community Development degree was founded as a direct response to the University and School commitment to engagement in the community and participation in the redevelopment of Detroit. The undergraduate and interdisciplinary Digital Media Studies program was moved from the English Department to the School of Architecture in 2008. This move was intended in part to take advantage of the knowledge base in Architecture and to reinvigorate the program.

In 2010, Dean Vogel announced his intention to step down as dean and return to teaching full time. An internal candidate was put forth for initial consideration, and after extensive interviews with UDM administration, SOA faculty and students, comparable to an open search process, Professor Will Wittig, AIA, was named the third dean of the School of Architecture. Wittig began serving as dean in May 2011.