Battle Hall

Architecture Dean Frederick Steiner. 

Photo Credit: Marsha Miller | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. This interview has been condensed.

The Daily Texan: You are one of the longest-serving deans on campus, having been in the position since 2001. What are the most interesting changes you have seen in the work done in the school and the types of students who matriculate?

Frederick Steiner: We get very bright young people. They are very smart, motivated and hard-working. I think the thing that has changed the most in the past couple of years is that they have become more idealistic. Before the recession, jobs were plentiful, so every student had several offers. During the recession, the students became more entrepreneurial... their idea of architecture expanded. A lot more became interested in public interest design. They also began to blur the edges of design. A lot of them are now interested in gaming and graphic design. 

DT: What are the major projects that are going on in the School of Architecture? 

Steiner: The biggest thing we are working on is the renovation of Battle Hall. Battle Hall is our initial library on campus, which is over 100 years old and needs restoration. And the library is not handicap accessible. So one of the three parts of the project is to connect us to buildings that will help our handicap access... and fire safety. We will convert the West Mall Office Building into much-needed studios and classroom spaces. We’ve also ramped up our research areas like green building design. The third part of the project is a modest addition for John Chase who was one of the first African-American students at the University. The three parts of the project involve preservation, infrastructure improvement and classroom and research space issues.

DT: What kind of work do your graduates do?

Steiner: Most architecture majors end up working at private firms. Planning majors mostly work at public agencies. Landscape architecture is kind of in between. Interior design did well during the recession because buildings may not be built, but they still have to redo interiors. They are mostly in the private sector. The growth area has been the nonprofit sector. More people have gone to work for public health or nonprofit housing agencies or watershed associations. 

DT: Since you started as dean, have you seen any changes in the numbers of students enrolled in the school’s programs?

Steiner: It’s been really constant. The undergraduate enrollment is pretty constant all the way back to the ‘70s. The graduate’ enrollment has increased through time. The number of graduate application in architecture spike during the recession, then came back down a little bit and now just went up by 100 more applicants this year. Our intake is about the same. We stay around 700 students.

DT: How important do you find fundraising to be to the School of Architecture?

Steiner: Absolutely essential. 

DT: And do you find it’s become more essential since you started?

Steiner: Yes. The Capital Campaign was a huge success. Battle Hall is a $70 million project. President Powers has said that [we] need to come up with between $10 and 15 million.

DT: How soon does the school expect to reach that goal?

Steiner: I get discouraged a little bit because people are generous but sometimes not as generous as we would like them to be. [Laura] Bush has been incredibly helpful [as our honorary chair]. She really loves libraries, so that’s her connection. She is really hands-on, and has been giving us really specific suggestions. 

DT: Is there anything else you’d like students to know about the School of Architecture?

Steiner: It’s a terrific school. The one other challenge we face is keeping up with technology. If we want to stay as a leader, we need to invest more technology. My fear is that we have fallen behind where we should be with technology. If the biggest budget challenge is Battle Hall restoration, technology is probably the second big one, followed by faculty salaries and graduate student stipends for recruitment.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Working toward a major renovation project, the School of Architecture is in the midst of a fundraising campaign for a project, which is currently in the planning stages.

First announced in April, the project seeks to preserve Battle Hall, renovate the West Mall Office Building and construct a new addition to the school. In September, the Stillwater Foundation donated $1 million to the campaign, which hopes to raise $10-15 million.

Fritz Steiner, School of Architecture dean, and Luke Dunlap, the school’s director of development and external relations, were in Dallas on Wednesday to meet with former first lady Laura Bush to report on the progress of the project, according to Steiner.

“Battle Hall is certainly a very important resource for the School of Architecture, but it’s also a really important resource for the University,” Steiner said. “It was the first library, which is why Mrs. Bush is interested — because of its history as a library.” 

Dunlap said the project is vital to preserving historical architecture.

“It’s important to the University and the state of Texas to preserve the great architectural heritage that we have,” Dunlap said. “The other thing that it will allow us to do is create a unified School of Architecture complex within the UT campus.”

Steiner said the preservation of Battle Hall — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is important to the University as a whole. 

Aside from enhancing the building, Steiner said the project will also address the various building codes Battle Hall currently violates in its current state, including some which could limit access in times of emergency.

“Battle Hall is one of the most important buildings in Texas; it’s over 100 years-old, and, so, it’s facing preservation issues as well as disability access issues, and it also has issues with its fire safety,” Steiner said.

Steiner said when the architecture school moved into the West Mall Office Building more than a decade ago, it was made for offices instead of classrooms.

“The space is configured for offices, not teaching,” Steiner said. “We really need to renovate that space for our teaching needs. What we really need is studios and lecture halls.”

In addition, Steiner said there are plans in place to build on an existing parking lot and loading dock. The school plans to name the new structure for alumnus John Chase.

“While we were doing all that, it was thought that doing a modest addition would be wise since there was a lot of construction going on anyway,” Steiner said.

Steiner said the project is estimated to cost about $80 million, with much of that money going toward fire safety and accessibility improvements. However, Steiner said those costs cannot be covered completely by donations.

“It’s really something that we can’t ask for from philanthropy,” Steiner said.

Steiner said the UT System Board of Regents must approve the project in its Capital Improvement Plan in order for the project to proceed with design, which he hopes will happen February. The regents must also approve the naming of the new addition.

Spanish junior Berkeley Mashburn passes by Battle Hall when she gives tours to prospective students. Mashburn said preservation of the building means a lot to her.

“It’s one of the only places I can go and remove truly from my mind everything but my studies,” Mashburn said. “Battle Hall is one of my most treasured places on campus.”

Professor of architecture Lawrence Speck speaks about the architectural significance of Battle Hall at Jessen Auditorium, Friday night. Following the lecture, faculty and students were invited to view original blue prints of Battle Hall and tour the building, celebrating its centennial.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

During the celebration of Battle Hall’s centennial anniversary, architecture professor Lawrence Speck said architecture has become too reliant on imagery, forgetting its roots in the visceral and corporal experience of a building.

Battle Hall, which was designed by Cass Gilbert for UT and finished in 1911, is one of the 150 favorite buildings in American architecture, according to the American Institute of Architects. As part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of its creation, which was sponsored by the Texas Exes, the School of Architecture and University of Texas Libraries, Battle Hall opened its doors to students and faculty Friday evening.

Speck kicked the celebration off with a lecture where he weaved comments on the state of architecture together with stories of his own family’s experiences of Battle Hall.

“Good buildings make an incredible difference in the world, and I’m tired of looking at buildings as just a style,” Speck said. “Architecture is an experience that changes peoples lives, and Battle Hall is a building that has shaped us, UT and our community.”

After the lecture, interested guests took part in a guided tour of Battle Hall to see original blueprints of the building recently retrieved from New York City by the Texas Heritage Society, said Jim Nicar, director of campus relations for Texas Exes.

“We’ve been working on this for around two years now,” Nicar said. “Almost all 45 of these works had been in the New-York Historical Society, and this is the first time the archives have been housed in their own building.”

Alumni and others who had been impacted by the building also returned to Battle Hall on Friday evening to celebrate its centennial, including Eloise Ellis, who served as librarian at Battle Hall from 1982 to 1995.

“It was a wonderful place to be — a delightful job,” Ellis said. “My favorite thing was the stairwell. It was all stone, but there are places where the stone has worn away over the years from people walking on it. I passionately love the school. I live on through it.”

Students also visited, especially those interested in UT’s history and the field of architecture.

“Being students, we have a lot of interest in UT’s history and the second-oldest library on campus,” said architecture freshman Alex Dallas. “It helps you appreciate how much the University has grown.”

Others, like Speck, urged students and staff not to view Battle Hall as just a building but rather as an experience that changes lives.

“Today, we’ve reached a milestone for our University,” said Travis Willmann, communications officer for UT Libraries. “This building has had a history with presidents, the band and the architecture school over the past 100 years. This building has impacted so many students on campus, and when they think of UT, they will think of Battle Hall.” 

Printed on Monday, November 14, 2011 as: Battle Hall reaches 100th anniversary