The National Monuments Foundation mourns the South Bend, Indiana based founding Dean of the Classical School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, Thomas Gordon Smith. He was a great friend to the National Monuments Foundation and one of her founding board members. His impact on the world of architecture cannot be overstated. We will describe just a few things.
University of Notre Dame School of Architecture
The dean, in bringing about a revolution in world architecture, also provided a brilliant design retrofit of historic Bond Hall at the heart of the University of Notre Dame campus, which supports the education of future architects and serves their professors at the University of Notre Dame. The existing building was the university library until 1964. The old 60,000 s.f. structure was gutted for functional and aesthetic reasons and completely rebuilt on the interior. The original limestone exterior with Ionic detailing on the east side was preserved and restored. A 10,000 s.f. addition was made to the west elevation.
The interior spaces were reconfigured to serve new functions and to correspond with the original classical character of Bond Hall. The centrally placed library, a new rare book room, a gallery, and an auditorium occupy the main level. Studios, faculty offices, classroom and seminar rooms, a wood shop and a computer lab complete the program. The design of Bond Hall reinforces the classical education provided by the School within a symbolic and a functional environment.
The new west elevation of Bond Hall and the half circular courtyard complement the structure’s original architectural features. Vitruvius’s admonition that architects balance theoretical and practical knowledge is inscribed under his bust. The sculptor Miklos Simon made a cartouche symbolizing the school of architecture. He also sculpted the metopes that alternate boukrania and wreaths that encircle architectural implements. These embellishments proclaim the building’s didactic function and communicate the vitality of continuity in traditional architecture.
Thomas's private practice was enormous and important, and the nation's most important museum was graced with his beautiful touch as well.
Smith designed the historic interiors and decorative arts (1820-1915) for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's American Wing. The 19th century was a time of heightened historical awareness, coupled with an unprecedented uncertainty about what the proper style for the times should be. Accordingly, the galleries and rooms on this part of the first floor display a dizzying array of different styles. In addition to a rare painted panorama and a Shaker period room, the historic interiors represent the classical (1820-40), Rococo (1840s), Gothic (1840-60), and Renaissance (1870s) revivals; the Aesthetic (1875-95) and Arts and Crafts (1900-1920) movements; and the styles associated with the two leading designers of the late 19th century, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright.
The arrangement and detailing of these galleries pay homage to the Greek Revival style and were directly inspired by two important surviving buildings, Alexander Jackson Davis's magnificent Colonnade Row (1833), on Lafayette Place in Lower Manhattan, and the Richard Alsop IV House (1838-39), on the campus of Weslyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The arts of the period 1810 to 1845 are on display here, including furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, sculpture, and paintings. The furniture and decorative arts freely mix Greek and Roman details and employ many ancient decorative motifs and forms. Note especially the pair of grand silver urns presented to Governor DeWitt Clinton in 1825 at the opening of the Erie Canal.
As Dennis Brown wrote, "As a Rome Prize Fellow in Architecture at the American Academy in Rome in 1979-80, Smith became committed to the profession of classical architecture and brought that tradition to Notre Dame. Under his direction, the classical curricula at the University quickly became regarded as the leader in higher education and at the forefront of a resurgence in classicism in American architecture, prompting The New York Times in 1995 to describe Notre Dame as 'the Athens of the new movement.'"
As stated by David Brussat:
"Today, Notre Dame’s architecture school bestrides the world like a colossus. Some 1,200 classicists formed at Notre Dame have expanded the number of classically oriented architecture firms from a mere handful to hundreds around the world today. It is widely asserted that Notre Dame graduates are far more likely to secure jobs as designers than graduates of the typical modernist academic program. Mark Foster Gage, ’97, writes of the impact of Smith’s leadership:
[H]e’s the person who single-handedly turned Notre Dame into a classical architecture program, and they’ve been pumping graduates into the world with these highly unusual but very sought-after skills for three decades.
In 2006, Smith was nominated by George W. Bush to be chief architect of the General Services Administration, which is in charge of designing the vast federal portfolio of architecture. It is testimony to Smith’s influence that the entire modernist establishment rose in horror at the prospect, and managed to block his appointment. The brouhaha may have served as a dry run for the more recent effort of President Donald Trump’s executive order to promote classicism in federal architecture [and his appointments of all seven members being classicists of the Commission of Fine Arts] – in a manner not altogether dissimilar to Smith’s transformation of architectural education at Notre Dame."
His home speaks volumes as to his mastery of the classical vocabulary and his exuberant fun with its interiors, seen here in a principle salon with his beloved Marika and one of his six children.
The Millennium Gate, the result of the Richard Driehaus Charette
Thomas was a champion of the design and construction of the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta, home of the National Monuments Foundation. He is commemorated at the very top of the list on the commemorative plaque.
He participated in the Richard Driehaus Design Charette for the Millennium Gate, chaired by Michael Franck, at the Washington National Cathedral's College of Preachers.
(L-R below) NMF CEO Rodney Cook, NMF Director Prascilla Roosevelt, NMF Director Richard Driehaus, NMF Director Susan Eisenhower, and NMF Director Thomas Gordon Smith.
Driehaus Charette winners present their final design College of Preachers, Washington National Cathedral
Opening at Biltmore House in Asheville as the guests of the Cecil Family, Thomas assisted Director Christine Franck in the choreography of the school's curricula and is seen here attending the grand opening of the American school.
HRH arrives at the main entrance of Biltmore House
Thomas was a key advisor along with Henry Hope Reed for the competition to design a proper monument to the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games which was hosted in Atlanta. A gift to the people of Georgia and the United States by HRH, tens of thousands of people descend on this site at moments of national celebration or mourning. It is now a property of the National Monuments Foundation and it could not have been built without the help and counsel of Thomas Gordon Smith.
Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture leadership from across America and around the world met at Hastings-on-Hudson to assist HRH with American student placement when his foundation for architecture was reorganized. It was agreed that the group would meet one year later in Charleston to determine if our objectives had been achieved.
One year later, Mayor Joe Riley hosted us at Charleston City Hall and gave us the City Council Chamber in which to meet. It was determined that all Prince of Wales's students had been properly attended to. A document highlighting all of the accomplishments of the Prince of Wales and his architecture programs around the world was signed by Thomas and us all and later presented to HRH at Poundbury. Dick Jenrette then hosted us at Roper House in town and Millford Plantation in the countryside.
Andres Duany signs and Calder Loth prepares to sign a document of thanks to Prince Charles for his global accomplishments in architecture.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia Board of Regents Chairman Sachin Shailendra, National Monuments Foundation CEO Rodney Mims Cook, Jr. and other educators present Georgia's document of thanks to HRH The Prince of Wales at Poundbury.
The world has lost a great light. As you can see from our personal experience at the National Monuments Foundation, Thomas was everywhere. We owe him so much it can never be calculated. He will be greatly missed by thousands and his positive impact has been on millions.