• great streets illustrative plan_web
    The Great Streets Master Plan by Black + Vernooy remakes 306 blocks of public right of way in Downtown Austin to prioritize the pedestrian experience over automobile traffic. So far, only 2nd Street has been implemented. IMAGE COURTESY: Black + Vernooy

The University of Texas at Austin recently announced a $5 million donation from Professor Emeritus Sinclair Black, FAIA, to support the field of urban design at the School of Architecture (UTSOA). After giving $1 million upon his retirement in 2017 to establish the Sinclair Black Endowed Chair in Architecture of Urbanism, Black recently committed an additional $4 million to the program to establish an urban design endowment, making his the largest cash gift the school has ever received. Considered an Austin visionary for his work in architecture and urban design, Black taught at UTSOA for 50 years, while also leading grassroots efforts that shaped the urban environment he calls home. 

Black hopes the endowment will foster community engagement and contribute to urban design efforts by leveraging UTSOA’s legitimacy and the skills found in the classroom to help guide local efforts. “It is a citizen initiative through organizations like Congress for New Urbanism, local AIA, the endowment, the chair, and the School of Architecture. Pull that all together, and you’ve got a force,” Black says.

Michelle Addington, dean at UTSOA, pointed to the school’s community and regional planning program and its already established partnership with the City of Austin. “This endowment will support the school in its endeavor to become a more active participant in urban design initiatives that will have a lasting impact on Austin’s future and quality of life for all,” she says. “We hope this will serve as a model that will extend far beyond our city and state.”

An endowed chair in architecture of urbanism signifies a meaningful investment in the study of design at the metropolitan and regional scale, a field growing in importance as the world becomes increasingly urbanized. UTSOA is positioning itself to take on a leadership role in the study of urban design by squarely placing the program in the School of Architecture. A decades-old schism, born of the social movements of the 1960s over questions of architecture’s role in urban renewal, meant that many urban design and planning programs absconded to schools of policy, only returning as meek versions when the schools of architecture rediscovered an interest in urban studies. Addington envisions the endowment bridging the disciplines at UTSOA by means of workshops and symposiums that add critical mass to support the school’s relationship with the City of Austin. 

The endowment will fund and support research in the design fields, which will engage with Austin as a living laboratory — a place to move academic research into implementation. “We will be able to bridge not only across multiple disciplines but from academic concept to practice in the public realm,” Addington says. “We believe in the agency of design — not just what ideas represent, but the impact of their implementation on the built environment.”

The ambitions for the endowment extend beyond providing seed funding for projects, which few other schools are able to attain. Since it funds a program rather than an institute that would be faced with fixed costs, more resources will go toward student financial support, building broader undergraduate educational initiatives in urban studies, increasing faculty, and convening discussions that should be taking place, not just in the City of Austin, but throughout the profession.

Erin Augustine is the web editor of TA

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