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A Livesey Legacy: Knowlton professor retires after 34 years of service

After more than 34 years of service, Knowlton School Professor of Architecture and Architecture Section Head Robert S. Livesey, FAIA, will retire from The Ohio State University. Acknowledging his impact, Knowlton School Director Mike Cadwell commented: “There is no one who has done more to elevate the educational mission of the Knowlton School than Rob. He has transformed the teaching of architecture from one constrained by convention to one that opens architecture to critical inquiry and creative alternatives.”

Robert S. Livesey, FAIA

Shortly after Livesey arrived at Ohio State and became chair of the Department of Architecture in 1983, the program began to reflect his strong design/theory-oriented focus toward architectural education. Building on the existing curriculum, Livesey worked toward the goals of placing greater emphasis on the humanities, creating an honors program and encouraging more women to study architecture. Livesey served as chair of the Department of Architecture until 1991. Notable during this tenure was the influence of his program of visiting faculty, and a remarkable lecture series that brought many of the country’s foremost and avant garde practitioners to Ohio State. From 1997 to 2005, he served as the director of the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture, and later returned as section head of architecture from 2013 to 2017.

"Demanding, intelligent and practical” is how DesignIntelligence characterized Livesey’s approach to teaching in 2017, when he was named one of the 25 Most Admired Educators in the disciplines of architecture, interior design and landscape architecture, a distinction he also received in 2015. Based on extensive input from design professionals, academic department heads and students, the publication added, “Livesey has a strong dedication to current and past students, as well as the profession. An inspirational mentor to students, he has a cross border likability second to none.”

Students that enrolled in Livesey’s design studios knew to prepare for the demands of rigorous intelligence, where they marshaled their critical abilities and grasp of historical precedent. Chuck Paros (MARCH ’95) stressed this point: “The life lesson was we understood that he cared while he kept the rigor and the expectations higher than we had ourselves.”

After three decades of teaching, Livesey’s interactions with students retain this high standard according to Jacqueline Stern (MARCH ’15). ‘‘He’s going to challenge you to push your ideas a little bit further and, with that, no move that you make within an architectural design is going to go unquestioned,” she said.

Campus recognition of Livesey’s significant contributions to teaching include a 2016 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching from Ohio State and, in 2012, induction as an honorary member of Class 106 of the SPHINX Senior Class Honorary in recognition of his unparalleled impact on and service to the university.

Livesey’s commitment to teaching and the field of architecture has also been recognized by Knowlton School Alumnus Navy Banvard (BSARCH ’82), who created the Robert S. Livesey Teaching Award Endowment Fund. Through a $1 million donation, the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation created the Robert S. Livesey Professorship Fund in Architecture at the Knowlton School to advance scholarship, teaching and student support.  

Professionally, Livesey has won numerous design awards including a Citation from Progressive Architecture for Maison Truc, an AIA Columbus Award for Harold Nestor Hall, and the AIA Ohio 2010 Gold Medal Award, the highest honor that AIA Ohio can bestow on an individual. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and of the American Academy in Rome.

“Rob loves good buildings,” reflected Bob Wandel, whose firm Wandel & Schnell (now WSA Studio) partnered with Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects in the design and construction of Knowlton Hall. “His goal was to make Knowlton Hall the best building on campus. If you want to be an architect, you need to be educated in a building like this.”

A recipient of numerous design awards, Knowlton Hall became a reality under Livesey’s direction, an effort that involved securing significant donor funding, the selection of architects and facilitating the design for a building uniquely suited for the education of design students.

“I think this building operates in much the way that Rob does in the discipline, in that it sets up a platform for conversation," noted Associate Professor of Architecture Kristy Balliet, taking into consideration the openness of the building through view corridors and the potential for collaboration through verbal and visual connections throughout the building.

Through his exacting attention to the details of building a state-of-the-art facility, developing the Architecture Section’s pedagogical structure, and creating and sustaining exceptional travel and mentorship experiences, thousands of students have been provided a foundation upon which their continued studies and design practices may flourish.

“I think we lose sight sometimes in a professional education that this is not just about getting a job; this is also about opening students to a broader vision of the world and their potential for interacting with that world, and changing it,” commented Cadwell. “I think that is Rob’s legacy: making the world larger for Knowlton students.” 

by Holly Griffin, Knowlton School of Architecture