“He opened my eyes to a whole new world.” That’s the sentiment most commonly expressed in hundreds of remembrances left for Yale University professor Vincent Joseph Scully, Jr. upon his death at age 97 in 2017.
By Ian Spula
From being featured on the cover of Time magazine for his remarkable achievements to earning the title of “most influential architecture teacher ever” by one of Modernism’s most renowned architects, Scully was truly a legend—and not just among designers.
Scully made his mark through more than 60 years of leading engaging lectures enjoyed by students on many different career paths. Even those with little to no interest in architecture were drawn to his courses as he made built environment topics vital, accessible and intoxicating for everyone in the room.
Launched in spring 2019 with “The Brilliance of American Architecture,” the Chicago Architecture Center’s Vincent Scully Masterclass Series examines timeless fundamentals in conceiving and communicating architecture, and strives to connect people in ways that honor Scully’s unique approach.
WHO WAS VINCENT SCULLY?
Scully was born in New Haven, Connecticut. in 1920. He stayed in his hometown and studied at Yale before beginning his teaching career there in 1947 as an art historian. Feeling scorned by the traditionalists who dominated the field, he started to feature architecture more prominently in his lectures on art history, which soon became his calling card.
Something of an outsider himself, Scully had a penchant for redirecting impressionable undergraduates into architecture. “The Brilliance of American Architecture” host Reed Kroloff, nationally recognized commentator, current dean and Rowe Family College of Architecture endowed chair at the Illinois Institute of Technology, considers himself a direct product of Vincent Scully. Kroloff returns via Zoom in spring 2022—along with several accomplished guest commenters from across the design world—for the CAC’s third Scully Series, titled “The Future of Architecture,” on May 17, June 8 and June 28 (6pm start time; hosted on Zoom).
“I would have gone to law school had I not encountered his lectures early on. I took every class I could [with Scully] as an undergrad at Yale.” – scully series host reed kroloff
As a student, Kroloff was most impressed with Scully’s ability to ground architecture in popular culture. With an authoritative yet approachable style, Scully taught students how to see the built environment, and how to value architecture’s role in society.
Scully didn’t just chronicle the past, either. Instead, according to Kroloff, he would turn to current events to critique Modernist orthodoxy. Witnessing firsthand the destructive toll “urban renewal” had on New Haven, Scully sprang into action as an early champion of historic preservation.
SPARKING INTEREST IN ARCHITECTURE TODAY
Through the CAC’s now-recurring Scully Series, Kroloff and his associates hope to make architecture more accessible to general audiences, demystify creative and design processes, and reinterpret a subject as expansive as American architecture.
“This is not about veneration through replication,” Kroloff said. “It is about saluting the spirit of Scully and helping a broad-based audience develop an appreciation for how cities and everyday surroundings matter in their lives—never more crucial, with both our human and natural environments under threat.”
Scully outlived many architectural luminaries of his time, such as Paul Rudolph, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Robert Venturi and others. But Scully’s own influence as a peerless educator and communicator—“the most influential architecture teacher ever,” according to some—is likely to outlive even the built works of these titans.
Registration is now open for the 2022 Vincent Scully Lecture Series: The Future of Architecture, generously sponsored by Ann and Richard Carr. A member of Yale University’s class of 1961, Mr. Carr was a student of Vincent Scully.