October: World Architecture Day
This month in UT History recognizes World Architecture Day on October 3. Over its 159 year history, the University of Texas has contracted many architects to design the campus and its buildings. More recently, the University, through the Contextualization and Commemoration Initiative (CCI), has contracted two world-renowned architectural firms to plan two of President Hartzell’s commemorative projects. In 2021, Architectural firm SmithGroup was contracted to design the Heman Sweatt Entrance and Gallery in Painter Hall. In August of this year, MASS Design Group, the 2022 AIA Architecture Firm Award Winner, was contracted to plan the Precursors—We Are Texas East Mall Commemorative Landscape. Both projects will sustain the University’s longtime commitment to architecture and design.
When the University opened in 1883 classes were held in the temporary capital building on Congress Avenue. The west wing of the Old Main Building opened for classes and administrative offices on the Forty Acres in January 1884. A middle section of the building was completed in 1889 and the west wing in 1899. Austin Architect Frederick E. Ruffini designed the Old Main with inspiration from the “medieval-revival” architectural style and set the design precedent on campus until the early 20th century.
From 1883–1910, the University individually contracted architects and/or architectural firms to design each new building. In 1910, UT hired its first University Architect, Cass Gilbert, who was tasked with planning and designing the entire campus. Gilbert, a nationally known architect who had completed projects such as The United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC before joining UT, was the university architect from 1910–1922. During this time, he designed and built a number of buildings here, two of which remain in use today – Dr. William Battle Hall (1911) and William Seneca Sutton Hall (1918).
Gilbert also created a master plan that combined the buildings that already existed with his own design vision for the Forty Acres. This design plan included four distinctive elements: replacing the ‘Old Main’ with a central monumental building, the implementation of four open mall spaces radiating in the cardinal directions from the new Main Building, and the creation of an architectural theme—“the classicism of the Spanish Renaissance”—to create a cohesive campus environment.
In 1922 the Regents replaced Gilbert with Dallas-based architect Herbert M. Greene. Greene combined Gilbert’s master plan with his own, which took the “Renaissance palazzo format of Gilbert’s Sutton Hall” and applied it to 12 other buildings and landscapes. The building boom during Greene’s tenure was facilitated by income from the discovery of oil on UT’s endowed land in West Texas. When Greene resigned in 1930 the Regents replaced him with Paul Philippe Cret, a well-known architect who had worked with Greene and his firm on some University buildings.
Cret favored the Beaux-Arts architectural style associated with his French origins. He held the position of University Architect from 1931 until his death in 1945. During his time at UT, the Regents commissioned Cret to create another “Master Development Plan.” In his design, Cret employed a number of architectural elements new to the University landscape to create his vision of a large, architecturally cohesive, yet independent, and creative campus. These viewpoints included: varying from the previously dominant Renaissance palazzo format, using new building materials such as brick, and modifying the campus style with elements of “New Classicism.” Cret’s 1933 “Master Development Plan” is still consulted by UT architects.
Cret created 19 buildings during his time as university architect, including the new Main Building, which was completed in 1937. One of Cret’s singular additions to the UT landscape was the expansion and redesign of the South Mall. This space has since become one of the most recognizable on the University of Texas campus.
Following Cret’s death in 1945, the University continued to hire University Architects until 1968, when the Regents created UT Project Management and Construction Services (PMCS). Since the creation of PMCS, the University has moved away from contracting an outside University Architect to handle all aspects of its planning and design. Instead, the University has gone back to the practice of hiring individual outside architects and architectural firms to design individual buildings and spaces and to elaborate its design plans for the future.
This year, the International Union of Architects (IUA) dedicates World Architecture Day to “architecture for well-being.” The Sweatt v. Painter Gallery and Precursors – We are Texas East Mall commemorative initiatives aim, in the words of President Hartzell, to create buildings and landscapes “dedicated to community members who helped advance the university’s commitment to serve our entire state of Texas and people of every background, race and life experience.” The design processes now underway for these spaces at the University of Texas certainly fill the IUA’s mandate for this year.
 Lawrence W. Speck, Richard Louis Cleary, and Casey Dunn. The University of Texas at Austin: An Architectural Tour. Page 2. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10509340.
 “Cass Gilbert-Designed Works.” Cass Gilbert Society.” Accessed September 28, 2022. https://www.cassgilbertsociety.org/works/.
 Lawrence W. Speck, Richard Louis Cleary, and Casey Dunn. The University of Texas at Austin: An Architectural Tour, Page 20. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10509340.
 Lawrence W. Speck Richard Louis Cleary, and Casey Dunn. The University of Texas at Austin: An Architectural Tour, Page 24. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10509340.
 Lawrence W. Speck, Richard Louis Cleary, and Casey Dunn. The University of Texas at Austin: An Architectural Tour, Page 26. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10509340.
 Lawrence W. Speck, Richard Louis Cleary, and Casey Dunn. The University of Texas at Austin: An Architectural Tour, Page 27. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10509340.
 “University of Texas Buildings Collection – TARO.” Accessed September 28, 2022. https://txarchives.org/utaaa/finding_aids/00029.xml.
 International Union of Architects. “World Architecture Day.” Accessed September 30, 2022. https://www.uia-architectes.org/en/architecture-events/world-architecture-days/.
 Office of the President. “Reimagining East Mall to Honor Precursors,” August 15, 2022. https://president.utexas.edu/messages-speeches-2022/reimagining-east-mall-to-honor-precursors.