The study of architecture at Princeton University began in 1832 with a course taught by Professor Joseph Henry, an amateur architect and scientist who later became the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The course, which covered the history of architecture including the classification of architecture, styles, and marbles, was the first humanities course taught at the College. Henry lectured on the subject until 1837, after which faculty members from various disciplines offered the course on a sporadic basis. The study of architecture continued informally throughout the latter part of the 1870s and into the 1880s.
The formal study of architecture returned in 1882 when the Department of Art and Archaeology was founded and Professor Allan Marquand offered a course in the history of Christian architecture. A course on the elements of architecture and historical drawing was offered beginning in 1902, and professional design courses were added to the curriculum in 1915. In the same year a committee was formed to investigate the formation of a School of Architecture. Arrangements had been made to open a School of Architecture in the fall of 1917, but World War I delayed the official opening of the School until 1919.
Although the School of Architecture was separate from the Department of Art and Archaeology, the two were closely allied and shared space and teaching staff. In fact, the School was the only architecture program in the country to be so closely integrated with an art history and archaeology program, and it was the only architecture program headed by an historian rather than a professional architect. Thus, the School of Architecture was founded on the belief that architects should have a well-rounded education in liberal studies; approach their profession primarily as an art; understand and appreciate the other arts in relation to architecture; and be taught the science of building construction as a part of their training in design rather than as an end in itself.
In its formative years the School of Architecture was guided by some of the best architectural educators of the times: Howard Crosby Butler, E. Raymond Bossange, Frederick D'Amato, Sherley Warner Morgan, and Jean Labatut. During these early years the graduate curriculum was reworked in response to the rapid advances in the technology of the time. Student life was enriched by repeated visits and teaching by many of the leading architects of the day, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Richard Neutra, and R. Buckminster Fuller.
As the School expanded, more space was required, and a new School of Architecture building was constructed on land adjacent to the Department of Art and Archaeology and the Art Museum. The building, dedicated in October 1963, housed drafting rooms, a freehand drawing room, a classroom, a seminar room, an exhibition gallery, faculty offices with preceptorial areas, a faculty conference room, the Dean’s office, and the Winton Reading Room. In addition, there was space for the offices of the Center of Urban Research and a large sculpture studio and outdoor exhibition court for the Creative Arts Program.
In 1965 Robert Geddes was appointed the first Dean of the School of Architecture, succeeding Robert McLaughlin, who had been its Director since 1952. A 1965 Princeton Herald article explained, “Robert L. Geddes, professor of architecture and civic design in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts and a practicing architect and city planner, will become dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University, a newly created position, President Robert F. Goheen has announced. He will succeed Professor Robert William McLaughlin, director of the School since he joined the faculty in 1952, who is retiring on July 1st. At that time the title will be changed to dean in recognition of ‘the increasingly important role which the 45-year old school has assumed within the University,’ Dr. Goheen said.”
Upon his retirement in 1982, Geddes was succeeded by Robert Maxwell, a scholar internationally known for critical writings that examined modern architecture in relationship to contemporary art, literature, and music. Maxwell served as Dean until 1989, when he was succeeded by Ralph Lerner, F.A.I.A., an architect whose practice includes projects in Europe, Asia, and North America. Lerner continued to enhance the excellence of the faculty and the curriculum and to maintain Princeton’s distinguished position. In addition, he reorganized the curriculum for the A.B. degree into a single path with more diverse options for individual students; added courses in Computing and Imaging; restructured the courses in the area of Building Science to reflect advances in that area; introduced Landscape Studies into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum; and began long overdue renovations of selected areas in the Architecture Building.
Lerner strengthened the faculty with the goal of meeting future directions in design while continuing to explore the discourse between architectural theory and design and building technology. His appointments included Professors M. Christine Boyer and Mario Gandelsonas, A.I.A., in the area of urbanism; and Professor Guy Nordenson in the area of building science. Additionally, several members of the tenure-track faculty (Beatriz Colomina, Elizabeth Diller, and Guy Nordenson) were promoted to tenured positions.
In 2002, Lerner was succeeded by Stanley T. Allen *88, a respected educator and practicing architect, who had previously been Director of the Advanced Architectural Design Program at Columbia University. As an architect, writer and educator, Allen built on the School’s strengths while moving forward in the areas of urbanism, technology, and design. Responding to the increasing complexity of architecture as a practice, new interdisciplinary alliances were constructed to incorporate advanced computing capacities into the curriculum, and to expand the previous focus on landscape, ecology and the environment.
In 2007, the School completed construction of its first significant addition since the building was constructed in 1962. Designed by the New York firm of ARO (Stephen Cassell '86 and Adam Yarinsky *87), this three story glass and steel pavilion houses a new elevator and public stair, entry lobby, and student lounge space. Through associated program upgrades, the School added new facilities to the building, including a model-making workshop and digital fabrication equipment. Precisely detailed and constructed, the new addition serves as an example of the School's commitment to design excellence.
In 2012, Allen was succeeded by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, an internationally renowned architect and scholar, who has been a visiting lecturer in architecture at Princeton since 2008. Zaera-Polo stepped down in 2014. Monica Ponce de Leon, previously dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, was appointed as the dean of the School of Architecture, effective January 1, 2016.
Although the School of Architecture has expanded its facility, faculty, and student body over the years, it retains a small size that encourages close contact between faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates. From the beginning, the School of Architecture’s curriculum has always responded to changes in the profession and in architectural education, providing students with courses that reflect contemporary and emerging issues in architecture. Within this flexible academic framework, the School of Architecture has remained committed to its original goals: providing undergraduates with a well-rounded liberal arts education and a strong basis for additional studies in architecture, and offering graduate students a comprehensive education in design, technology, and the history and theories of architecture.