William G. McMinn Awarded 2006 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion

by Russell Boniface

Architect and professor William G. McMinn, FAIA, has been named the 2006 recipient of the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education by the AIA Board and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).

The AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion honors an individual who has made outstanding contributions to architecture education for at least 10 years, whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students, and who has helped shape the minds of those who will shape our environment. The award will be presented at the ACSA annual meeting in late March 2006 in Salt Lake City and in early June at the 2006 AIA National Convention in Los Angeles.

In nominating McMinn for the Topaz Medallion, John McRae, FAIA, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design, stated, “Bill McMinn has, throughout his career, served as a strong bridge between practice and education. His vision has always been to provide a seamless transition between the two realms . . . with thoughtful, engaging, and productive action, while serving with humility and grace.”

Heart and soul of FIU
McMinn served as founding dean of the Florida International University (FIU) Architecture Program (subsequently the School of Architecture, beginning in 1997) before retiring from full-time academic practice in 2004. At FIU, he incorporated undergraduate programs in architecture studies and interior design and graduate programs in architecture, landscape architecture, and environmental and urban systems. Under his leadership, the architecture department received accreditation by NAAB and had its status changed from a department to a school of architecture. McMinn’s leadership helped the school’s faculty increase by 30 percent and the student enrollment increase by 45 percent. When the administration secured $15 million by the state for a school of architecture building, McMinn was instrumental in turning the competitive selection process for an architecture firm into an interactive part of the education process for the architecture students.

“Students learn so much from each other, sometimes more than from faculty,” McMinn said in an interview with Florida International University Magazine. “Faculty sets the climate, leads discussions, but the testing process is with each individual student and with their peer groups. A design project is a series of experiences. You’re competitive and sharing. There’s an intensive glue in the architecture and design field.” McMinn’s work at FIU earned him the Educational Leadership Award in Architecture from the AIA Miami Chapter.

“I have known dozens of deans,” commented Modesto A. Maidique, FIU president, in his nomination letter. “Seldom have I found one with the passion, dedication, and sophistication that Bill exhibited during his tenure.”

Texas native
Born in Abilene, McMinn earned both a BA (1952) and a BArch (1953) from Rice University and a MArch (1954) from the University of Texas, Austin. McMinn administered the teaching of architecture for almost 50 years with seven universities. A recipient of the ACSA Distinguished Professor Award, McMinn began teaching in 1956 at Texas Tech University, and then moved to Clemson University three years later. He joined Auburn in 1963 and was later selected chairman of architecture there. From 1971 to ’74 he was the head of the Louisiana State University Department of Architecture. He then spent 10 years, beginning in 1974, at Mississippi State University as the first dean of that School of Architecture, proceeding to develop and cultivate it into a fully accredited school. In 1976, he was elected ACSA’s regional director for the Southeast Region.

McMinn’s 13 years of service at Cornell University began in 1984. As dean of its College of Architecture, Art and Planning, the oldest program in the U.S., McMinn was instrumental in establishing an undergraduate program in planning, strengthening all graduate programs, and increasing graduate support funding. He developed alumni interest by appointing an international college board of advisors; completed a five-year, $22 million fund-raising campaign; upgraded educational technology; and instituted a study-abroad program in Rome. He also served on the Cornell University Council and the board of governors at the Cornell Center for the Environment.

Aiding accreditation
Along the way, McMinn practiced professionally from 1968-71 as director of design for Six Associates in Asheville, N.C., where several of his projects received design awards. He also contributed to professional accreditation in architecture. In 1980, he was appointed to the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) by ACSA. Three years later, he was elected NAAB president. During his tenure, he established the NAAB’s “New Procedure and Criteria for Accreditation” with the AIA, ACSA, and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He has also chaired NAAB team reviews of 24 architecture programs, including those at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Berkeley. He also served on the Commission on the Future of the Architectural Profession for the Carnegie Foundation for Education.

McMinn’s international achievements include his appointment by the U.S. State Department as a consultant to the School of Architecture at the University of Jordan, in Amman; establishing a School of Design at King Fahd University in Saudi Arabia; and improving the curricula at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, Turkey. McMinn is also a fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

A tidal wave of admiration
In selecting McMinn for the Topaz Medallion, the jury commented, “The breadth of Bill McMinn’s educational accomplishments demonstrates a level of continued excellence and innovation that is truly exceptional. His influence is felt in the criteria and procedures of the NAAB as well as in the conduct of the ACSA. Such a leader inspires not only students and faculty but the community. We have endless admiration for what he has done.”

Michael Kerwin, AIA, president of AIA Miami, offered strong support of McMinn’s nomination: “Dean McMinn embodies the principles that the Topaz Medallion was created to recognize. The list of his accomplishments continues to be a source of inspiration for all of us.”

And Sharon Carter Matthews, AIA, executive director of the NAAB, stated, “I see him on teams, every year—practicing the same magic: leadership in the invention and support of new programs, support of scholarship, ability to balance abstract thinking and pragmatic action, and his understanding of the necessity for both competition and collaboration.”

Since stepping down from his position at FIU, McMinn’s accomplishments continue to inspire. He was appointed professional advisor of a national architectural competition for the design of a $20–$30 million Performing and Visual Arts Center in Hendersonville, N.C., which attracted 58 entries from around the nation. In 2004, he was designated as special architectural consultant to the provost of the University of South Florida in Tampa to identify candidates for the position of dean of the School of Architecture there. He also continues his much-respected long-term work with NAAB.

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