Design school at Morgan given seal of approval


Twelve years after Morgan State University began a tiny architecture program in an attempt to boost the number of minority professionals in that field, the program has received a national nod of attention.

The university said yesterday that its Institute of Architecture, which offers master's degrees only, has received the imprimatur of the National Architecture Accrediting Board, the group that inspects schools of architecture and certifies that they meet minimum standards.

For Morgan, it means the end of a journey beginning in 1979, when the historically black university fought for and won the right to open an architecture program -- the only one in Baltimore, a city with a long and rich tradition in architecture. The University of Maryland College Park has the only other accredited architecture program in the state.

For much of the 1980s, the program was moribund because of a lack of resources, and the university fought off criticism from the architecture community as well as from educators who said it should have been placed at another school. A group of local architects even tried unsuccessfully to get the University of Maryland to move its undergraduate architecture program to Baltimore, saying the city would benefit just as Boston and Cambridge benefit by having Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

An architecture school provides teaching opportunities for local architects, brings in visiting lecturers and other dignitaries, and generally stimulates public discussion about urban issues. A city such as Baltimore, in turn, provides a living laboratory for students and a variety of interesting sites for design projects. In some cases, the student projects can turn into real projects that benefit the city, said architect Edward Hord, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Morgan State University President Earl Richardson said the national stamp of approval resulted from a major effort to redirect resources to architecture. Over the past four years, that investment has totaled $600,000, most of it for revamping space and state-of-the-art computer design equipment. In addition, Morgan built a faculty by giving the institute vacant positions from other unrelated academic departments.

Today, the master's level architecture program enrolls 50 students in two different programs. About 70 percent of the students are in a three-year program for students with no undergraduate background in architecture. The remaining students are working professionals, many of them from Baltimore architecture firms, who take advanced architecture program at night.

"I'm happy to see they finally got it," he said of the accreditation.

Morgan won accreditation for its engineering program last year. Both programs are one part of the campus's strategy to become a taking off point for minorities in architecture and engineering.

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