McCormick Magazine

Building a new tradition

McCormick introduces a concentration in architecture


Planning teamChicago has long been at the forefront of architecture and building, overcoming swampy soil and raging fires to become the home of groundbreaking skyscrapers and great American architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at McCormick will build on that tradition by offering a new concentration in architectural engineering and design beginning in fall 2008.

The program will help prepare engineering students for building industry careers as architects, structural designers, builders, project managers, and developers. It will provide students with a broad understanding of building systems and design, give them the ability to communicate and collaborate with architects, and introduce them to issues in sustainability and green design.

Julio M. Ottino, dean of McCormick, who spearheaded the development of the program, saw an opportunity to combine Chicago's architectural strengths with the strong design initiatives at McCormick. "Given the city's prominence in architecture, I felt it was important that Northwestern be part of this world," he says.

Developed by Joseph Schofer, associate dean of McCormick and professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Brian Moran, professor and chair of the department, the program will be directed by the new Richard Halpern/RISE International Distinguished Architect in Residence, Laurence Booth.

Booth was born in Chicago and earned a bachelor of architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1966 he opened a firm with James Nagle in Chicago, and in 1981 he established Booth Hansen Associates, where he now serves as design principal. He has been a visiting lecturer at several universities and has received many professional honors. Booth will act as mentor and teacher in the new program.

"We're not going to teach a subject that's already defined," he says. "We have a real challenge in the building environment today, and it's not altogether clear what the vision of the future is. We're going to have to be creative to survive, so the focus of this will really be on creativity — giving students an opportunity to learn creativity, to exercise creativity, and to carry creativity on in their lives."

Richard HalpernThe architect-in-residence position was made possible by a generous donation from Richard and Madeline Halpern and RISE International. Richard Halpern is the cofounder and chairman of project management and construction consulting firm RISE International and has worked on projects ranging from the Sears Tower construction to the O'Hare International Airport expansion. His wife, Madeline, is a Northwestern alumna who received her BS in 1977 and her MSJ in 1986.

"I've worked with architects my whole life, and I feel that Chicago certainly is a mecca for fine architecture in America," Halpern says. "The city needs a program that is managed by and housed in one of the top universities in the country. I think this architecture program will enable students at Northwestern to add to the quality of engineering and architecture throughout the United States and the world."

The donation jump-starts an idea that has been considered for years. Faculty, students, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering advisory board, chaired by Halpern, have long discussed creating a concentration in architecture since it became clear the demand for such a program existed. "Very often we see good prospective students, who we'd like to have come here, but they'd like an architectural component. We think we may have lost some students because we didn't offer such a program," Moran says. "We also want to appeal to the creative side of the students in the department. We want a design and innovation framework that fits within the broader curriculum of McCormick."

McCormick was also encouraged to pursue this program by several senior professionals in the field, including William Baker, a partner at architecture and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and a member of the department advisory board, and Joseph Burns, managing principal at the structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti and now a member of the advisory committee for the concentration.

The new concentration seemed natural because civil and environmental engineers use design in their profession every day. "We think a number of our civil and environmental engineering undergraduates will be very interested," Moran says.

Even students who don't go into architecture can benefit from knowledge in such areas as building materials, information technology, safety, and energy efficiency. "We hope to teach structural analysis and design so that students can look at a tall building and see not only its design but also understand the way it works," says Schofer.

Besides architecture and design, students will learn about the business side of the construction industry. "This is really a creative investigation, and this program will involve more than architecture," Booth says. "It will involve engineering, of course, but it will also involve all the realities that go into a building system: clients, politics, authorities, financing, and contractors. I've been doing this long enough that I know all the issues that can come up."

To round out the program, students will take courses on the history and culture of architecture. Studio courses, taught by architects, will provide opportunities for design exercises that can serve as portfolio projects for students.

"I'm excited to use my experience and pass it on to others to make architecture as interesting for them as it has been for me," Booth says. "The world of the future is going to have to do more with less — the world can't sustain this country's consumption rate. To be involved in defining that future with the students is going to be exciting. There's no textbook here, and that's what makes it interesting."

Booth and McCormick professors are in the process of working out the details of the curriculum but plan to create new courses for the program on building systems and design that will complement existing civil engineering courses on analysis, design, and materials. The new courses will build on McCormick's long-standing commitment to design, represented in classes offered by the school's Segal Design Institute and in graduate programs such as the master of product development.

Students who complete the program will be prepared to join the construction industry after graduation or pursue graduate studies in architecture or construction management.

—Emily Ayshford

Read the press release.