THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA announced the appointment of Milton S. Curry as dean of its school of architecture. The institution has a storied history. The first accredited architecture school in Southern California, the program marked a century of architecture in 2014, graduating its 100th class of students. Among its earliest alumni, Paul R. Williams, FAIA (1894-1980) attended USC Architecture from 1916-19 and became the first licensed African American architect west of the Mississippi (1921).

Curry is joining USC following his tenure as associate dean for academic affairs and strategic initiatives at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He is also director of the university’s Michigan Architecture Preparatory Program, an immersive enrichment program that introduces Detroit public high school students to the practice of architecture.

He assumes the USC post July 1. He will hold the Della and Harry MacDonald Dean’s Chair in Architecture.

“We are honored and excited to welcome Professor Curry to the USC School of Architecture,” said Provost Michael Quick. “Architecture has a profound impact on our culture. It is a profession and an art, local and global, and extremely creative. We know that Professor Curry will lead our students, faculty, research and practice to new heights.”

“Architecture has a profound impact on our culture. It is a profession and an art, local and global, and extremely creative. We know that Professor Curry will lead our students, faculty, research and practice to new heights.” — Provost Michael Quick

CURRY’s scholarship is at the forefront of the discussion of race, architecture and urbanism that engages cultural theory and humanities research. He began his teaching career at Arizona State University, and has taught at Cornell University and Harvard University. In 2010, he became an associate professor with tenure at the University of Michigan.

He established two academic journals—CriticalProductive Journal publishes scholarship on architecture, urbanism and cultural theory; Appendix Journal is a forum for debate about race and architecture he co-founded in the early 1990s. Curry also contributed to the catalog for “Harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor,” an exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The 2004 show featured the work of 18 architects responding to the changing identity of the uptown neighborhood in the wake of gentrification.

An architectural designer, Curry earned a bachelor of architecture degree from Cornell University and a master in architecture post-professional degree with distinction from Harvard Graduate School of Design with a concentration in architecture theory.

IN FEBRUARY, CURRY WROTE about the importance and effectiveness of the University of Michigan’s high school architecture prep program in the Architect’s Newspaper. The essay, titled “Architecture and Public Education: Cultivating Creative Potential,” discussed the challenges of getting a quality public education, emphasized the dearth of diversity—generation after generation—in the architecture field, and offered solutions.

“The field of architecture is expected to grow by 17 percent between now and 2022 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Yet as of 2008, only 1.5 percent of American architects were African-American, despite comprising 12 to 13 percent of the total U.S. population. This fact alone—virtually unchanged since I was a junior in high school, accounting for population growth and demographic growth among minority populations since the 1960s—should precipitate crisis-level response from our educational and professional institutions and accrediting bodies. But it hasn’t,” Curry said.

“As of 2008, only 1.5 percent of American architects were African-American, despite comprising 12 to 13 percent of the total U.S. population. This fact alone—virtually unchanged since I was a junior in high school, accounting for population growth and demographic growth among minority populations since the 1960s—should precipitate crisis-level response from our educational and professional institutions and accrediting bodies.” — Milton Curry

WILLIAMS WAS A PIONEER in the field. Based in Los Angeles, he built a portfolio of nearly 3,000 buildings over a five-decade career of firsts. This week, at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) annual convention in Orlando, Fla., Williams is being honored posthumously with the 2017 AIA Gold Medal. He is the AIA’s 73rd gold medalist, the first African American architect to receive the distinction.

His story demonstrates what is possible with determination, but is also a reminder, as Curry noted, that few have followed in his footsteps.

In the article, Curry cited the challenges of attracting and retaining diverse students to the discipline of architecture and reviewed the shortcomings of contemporary public education methodologies. Then, Curry concluded:

“…Universities must become more engaged in leveraging their resources and intellectual capital to create expanded opportunities for the nation’s most vulnerable children—those in high-poverty and monolithically minority-populated urban metro areas and those in rural areas. Based on our experience at the University of Michigan, this is the best way to extend our values and assist in what has to be a massive crisis-level response to the failure of our public educational system to live up to our aspirations as well as the historical success that was achieved in other periods of our history—when public schools were very good and when public university systems were recognized and funded as a public good.” CT

 

IMAGE: Milton S. Curry. | Photo by Tafari K. Stevenson-Howard, courtesy USC Architecture

 

BOOKSHELF
Milton Curry contributed to “Harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor,” the catalog for the 2004 architecture exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Two volumes explore the life and work of architect Paul R. Williams. Both “Paul R Williams, Architect” and “Paul R. Williams: Classic Hollywood Style” were authored by Karen E. Hudson, Williams’s granddaughter.