New Architecture Program Gathers Steam at U of M

By Eric Smith

BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGE: Architecture students at the University of Memphis will have a chance to earn their graduate degrees in the discipline when the school begins offering a master of architecture (M.Arch) in fall 2008. -- Photo Courtesy Of The University Of Memphis Architecture Department

Since he arrived at the University of Memphis a decade ago, architecture professor Michael Hagge has been trying to establish a master of architecture (M.Arch) at the school.

Hagge, director of the architecture department, knew the degree would give the U of M a distinct advantage when recruiting or retaining students and preparing them to become architects.

Also, Memphis was one of the largest cities in the nation without a master's degree in architecture, so Hagge wanted to enhance the university's and the city's standing in the architecture community.

But Hagge wasn't alone. Sherry Bryan, another U of M architecture professor, and Frank Ricks, a principal of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects Inc. and chair of the department's advisory board - along with nearly every professor in the department - have worked toward this goal for 20 years.

Their dream is finally being realized as the U of M is set to launch its M.Arch program in fall 2008 and award its first degrees in spring 2010.

"Everything has just fallen into place," Hagge said.


Retention, retention, retention

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission already has approved the M.Arch degree, slated to become the U of M's 53rd masters program.

And the architecture department, which currently offers a bachelor of fine arts degree (BFA) in architecture, has applied for accreditation through the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB).

It should be a "very lengthy and detailed" process, Hagge said, beginning with a site visit from NAAB officials and not completed until the first class finishes the curriculum in 2010 with approval expected to be granted sometime in 2011.

But the real legwork began with an independent peer review in 2003 by the universities of Texas and Virginia, which found the U of M's undergraduate program to be quite good, Hagge said. Then, with the help of university president Dr. Shirley Raines, the degree began to take shape.

Hagge said he believes this move will help the university's architecture department become more competitive - and help Memphis retain talented, qualified professionals.

"Now, our graduates must earn the professional M.Arch elsewhere," Hagge said. "Once they leave Memphis, they seldom return. Memphis has lost a lot of very talented people because of this. Also, we intend to attract people from other four-year, pre-professional programs nationwide. So, maybe some of them will stay in Memphis upon completion of their M.Arch."


The price of knowledge

The U of M offers a BFA in architecture. That degree was created in 2000, replacing the discontinued bachelor of science in architectural technology as part of the department's transition from the College of Engineering to the College of Communication and Fine Arts - what turned out to be a strategic move.

"This was a significant step towards getting the program in place for accreditation with the M.Arch," Hagge said.

About 10 students will be admitted to the program each year, Hagge said. The tuition rate for graduate school is $3,495 per semester for in-state students and $8,909 per semester for out-of-state students. Architecture students pay an additional $20 per semester hour for the department's operating expenses, Hagge added.

As for the cost of establishing the program, Hagge said the total bill is not yet known, but that most of the cost will go toward hiring new faculty.

"Since the BFA in architecture already exists, much of what it takes to run this program will be used for the M.Arch so the costs are not as great as if this were a totally new start-up not associated with an existing program," Hagge said.


Toward better buildings

Hagge is excited about how the new M.Arch program will foster involvement with the community and provide "city building" for Memphis.

This already is displayed by the university's partnerships with such organizations as the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects and the UrbanArt Commission in the creation of the Memphis Regional Design Center.

"As an urban research institution, the U of M uses the 'laboratory' provided by the region in many ways," Hagge said. "The M.Arch will expand this research and also allow other benefits."

And what are those benefits? Hagge said he hopes the new advanced degree gives architects, city planners and developers the chance to work together to make Memphis a destination - and a drawing board - for aspiring architects.