Virginia Tech Magazine
In Retrospect -|- Fall 2006

Cowgill and Cowgill: Meeting the test of time
by Clara B. Cox M.A. '84

Not flashy but a solid scholar, Clinton Harriman Cowgill founded a sound Department of Architectural Engineering, laying a firm foundation for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS), which emerged from his program. Today, in recognition of his role in its creation, part of the college is housed in a building that bears his name.

Cowgill Hall
Cowgill Hall

Designing a different sort of building

The modern design of Cowgill Hall in the mid-1960s represented the first major departure from the traditional neo-Gothic architecture that had flourished on campus since the early1900s. Designed by Henry V. Shriver (building design '51; M.Arch. '54), who had studied his craft in Cowgill's shop, the four-story structure has housed architecture programs, architecture faculty, and CAUS administrators since it opened in 1969.

Like its namesake, the building has made a lasting impression. In May, it garnered the Test of Time Award from the Virginia Society, American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Professor Clinton Cowgill
Professor Clinton Harriman Cowgill

Building a different sort of program

If such an award were available for people, one would go to "Clint" Cowgill. As it is, the houses he designed in the Miller-Southside neighborhood of Blacksburg during his 28-year-stint as department head have made it onto the National Register of Historic Places for their architectural and engineering significance.

Cowgill also changed the face of Virginia Tech, developing plans for campus growth under three presidents and designing several buildings and even a few gargoyles.

President Julian A. Burruss brought Cowgill to the school, then known popularly as VPI, as part of his effort to expand instructional programs and recruit professors widely known in their professions. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Cowgill was a professor at Iowa State College at the time and maintained an architecture practice.

Reserved but competent, Cowgill jumped feet first into his duties, developing--and then running--the only architectural engineering program in Virginia. His curriculum prepared students to become architects or builders or to handle other technical aspects of building design.

Cowgill's lectures evolved into Architecture Practice, a book that had an impact on the architecture profession nationwide.

"It seems to me," wrote AIA President Philip Will Jr. to Cowgill in 1961, "that all my professional life I have been reading your writings and learning your wisdom. That this is true of me suggests that it must also be true of thousands of others. You have, in effect, written 'The Book,' the importance of which is hard to overstate."

Architecture Practice stayed in print for more than 25 years. Cowgill also penned Building for Investment and left behind a manuscript for a third book.

The groundbreaking professor also presided over the Virginia State Board for Examination and Certification of Professional Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors; chaired the National Architectural Accrediting Board; and was a member of the AIA, which recognized his contributions to architectural education by elevating him to fellow status.

Cowgill left VPI in 1956 to work as an editor for the AIA in Washington, D.C., before retiring in 1961. He died in 1975.

Keeping the building going

Even a Test of Time Award-winning building occasionally needs to be spruced up. According to CAUS Interim Dean Jack Davis, "Virtually every unit of the college is affected by moving and renovating space over the next two years." The plan calls for renovation to begin on Cowgill Hall in June 2007 and to be completed in August 2008.

Then Cowgill Hall can put forward an even better face to honor the man who set the college in motion.

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