Virginia Tech was founded in 1872 as the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, a land-grant institution. In the 1873 VAMC catalog, the courses on building were augmented by the promise of new shops and a drawing room to be added before year’s end. In 1896, VAMC became Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute or, simply, VPI. Construction education was taught through civil engineering, and an architecture degree was soon granted by adding one year to the four-year civil engineering degree. The Department of Architecture, in Engineering, was created under the leadership of Clinton Cowgill in 1928. Cowgill served as department head for 28 years.
In 1947, the Department of Architecture is first mentioned in the School of Engineering. The department offered three distinct degrees: building construction, architecture, and architectural engineering (dissolved in 1969). Architectural Engineering had a separate tract, while building construction and architecture shared the first four years. A fifth year was added for those pursuing a Master of Science in Architecture. To quote from the 1947 catalog, “This curriculum is for those who wish to prepare for the practice of architecture as a profession and for other planning activities. The art of building is given adequate attention, but more than ordinary emphasis is given to the science of building. An understanding of engineering principles and of building materials and methods, as well as demonstrated competence in design, is required of all recipients of the professional degree.” The degree in architecture first became accredited the following year, 1948. In 1953, the School of Engineering became the School of Engineering and Architecture.
In 1956, Leonard Currie was appointed to replace the retiring Clinton Cowgill as department head of architecture. Currie was a graduate of Harvard College and came from the office of The Architects Collaborative (TAC) founded by Walter Gropius. Gropius was head of the Bauhaus in Berlin from 1919 to 1928. Gropius and his Bauhaus protégé, Marcel Breuer, both moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Currie was a student of both and a subsequent colleague of Walter Gropius at TAC. As department head, Currie added urban design and planning to the curriculum, which became a degree program. Art courses were actively taught as support courses for the architecture degree and for the university community at large. Currie internationalized the content in the curriculum and recruited new faculty with significant national and international stature.
When plans were made to form the College of Architecture, Currie helped to recruit Charles Burchard, who had worked in the office of Marcel Breuer and had been a respected educator at both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is this educational lineage that bonded Currie, Burchard, and Gropius to the architecture program at Virginia Tech.
In 1964, President T. Marshall Hahn appointed Charles Burchard as the founding dean of the College of Architecture. Architecture, building construction, planning, and art were all being taught at the formation of the college and became the precursors to the four schools in the college today.
In 1965, Eduardo Catalano, Professor of Architecture at M.I.T. recommended that Burchard hire Olivio Ferrari, a graduate of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany. This Ulm School of Design was under the rectorship of Max Bill. In addition to his time at Ulm, Ferrari had collaborated closely for several years with Max Bill on a number of significant building projects in Bill’s Zürich architectural office and had been an instructor at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule under Professor Bernhard Hoesli, one of the architecturally significant “Texas Rangers” who had taught at the University of Texas – Austin in the 1950s. Two years later, Dean Burchard appointed Ferrari’s colleague from the ETH, Herbert Kramel, who had been an instructor under Professor Heinz Ronner.
The formation of the new college curriculum in the early 1960s grew from the clear and direct influences of the Bauhaus, the Ulm School of Design, Studio of Max Bill, the ETH, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Harvard, and MIT.
In 1967, Burchard, at the recommendation of Ferrari, invited Herbert Kramel, a former colleague at the ETH and one of his former students at Auburn, Tom Regan, to be faculty. Also in 1967, bringing together the historical precedents of Gropius, and Bill with the teaching approach of Hoesli, Burchard and Ferrari drafted an educational position and curricula that was later referred to as the ‘blue book.’ This was intended as a workbook for faculty, an explanation of the philosophy, and it served as the basis of several curricula in other schools of architecture.
In 1968, Cowgill Hall opened as the new home for the college.
In 1968, the Ferraris and Kramel led the first study abroad program to Salzburg, Austria. This began the legacy of one of the most successful and consistent international travel/study programs in American architectural education.
From 1968 to 1972, Ferrari led a focused studio group called the ‘inner college.’ This unit was made up primarily of 4th and 5th year students was an example of using the ideas from Ulm and the Bauhaus to create an educational environment that allowed individuals to do what they were best at doing.
In 1972, the M.A. in Environmental Systems and the PhD in Environmental Studies were begun. In 1972 two faculty joined the College to provide resources not unlike the Bauhaus had provided in the ‘20s. Ellen Braaten provided a ceramics-based form and materials laboratory and Rengin Holt a printmaking and graphics laboratory. These with expanded shops provided a fundamental and essential support component to the pedagogy.
In 1973, The University became VPI&SU and the college changed its name to the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. This name change better represented the growing urban and regional studies programs in the College.
In 1974, Buckminster Fuller, the former Black Mountain college student and famous architect/inventor came to Blacksburg for a very memorable lecture. He would talk for two hours, take a nap behind the stage, and come back for another two hours and talk. He then went out to dinner and continued to talk for another two hours. The M.Arch 2 and 3.5 programs began in 1974.
Also in 1974, the Landscape Architecture Department was formed.
Dean Charles Burchard retired in 1978 after 14 years and Julio San Jose was appointed dean.
In 1980, Charles Steger, an alumnus of the architecture program, was first made interim dean, then finally dean. For the next 12 years, the college would significantly grow in resources.
In 1980, the first efforts to establish the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center began.
In 1991, after decades of European travel and residency programs through out Switzerland, the VPI&SU Foundation purchased the Casa Maderni, a 200-year-old Lombardy style villa in Riva san Vitale, Switzerland.
In 1992 the Research + Demonstration facility opened to both receive work related to faculty interests and for funded research grants.
In 1993 Patricia Edwards, former faculty and Associate dean for research, became Dean, following Charles Steger who had assumed the role of Vice President for Development for Virginia Tech.
In 1994 Industrial Design was approved for a new degree-granting program and admitted its first freshmen class.
The School of Public and International Affairs was approved by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in 1996 as a collaboration of five departments and programs in two colleges to develop interdisciplinary instruction, research and outreach initiatives related to public policy, planning, and administration and globalization and international development. This collaboration did not have direct line responsibility to any one college and was dependent on funding from contributions from member departments and colleges. Founding departments Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) and the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) and Political Science, Geography, and International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
In 1997 Dean Edwards retired and Paul Knox, a former faculty member and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, was named Dean.
In 1998, Burchard Hall was dedicated. Leading to expanded studio space for 230+ students and new shop facilities.
In July 2003, Interior Design was added to the new School of Architecture + Design, within the College of architecture and Urban Studies.
SPIA became a hard school in CAUS effective August 2003. Founding departments Urban Affairs and Planning and the Center for Public Administration and Policy became programs within the school and a new third program, Government and International Affairs, was created as a result of the transfer of six FTE faculty positions from the former College of Arts and Sciences.
Also in 2003, the School of Visual Arts became part of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies when the Department of Art and Art History, which had previously been part of the College of Arts and Sciences was renamed as the School of Visual Arts to align with the other schools within the college. Truman Capone who was previously department head of the department became the director.
In 2005, two Virginia Tech alumni, A. Ross Myers and John R. Lawson, II, pledged a $10 million gift to establish the Myers-Lawson School of Construction. The school will be jointly housed in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Engineering to provide a unified identity within Virginia Tech to the academic community and to the construction industry.
The Myers-Lawson School of Construction moved into the newly built Bishop-Favrao Hall in fall 2007. The hall was largely the result of fundraising efforts by the Building Construction department and its advisory board. The building is named for Richard Bishop who made the $1 million lead gift for the facility and William Favrao, the Building Construction department head from its inception in 1947 until his death in 1977.
In 2007, Landscape Architecture joined the School of Architecture + Design.