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City College’s Architecture School Snares $25 Million Gift

April 22, 2009

By C.J. Hughes

A public architecture school that for decades struggled with a chronic lack of funding has walked away with a historically large gift. 

On April 2, the School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape at the City College of New York received a $25 million donation from Bernard Spitzer, a well-known city real-estate developer. Spitzer, who graduated from City College in 1943 with an engineering degree, also is the father of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned last year in the wake of a prostitution scandal.

The School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape at the City College of New York (above) received a $25 million donation from Bernard Spitzer.
Photo courtesy City College
The School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape at the City College of New York (above) received a $25 million donation from Bernard Spitzer.
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Bernard Spitzer’s gift is the second largest ever given to an architecture school. In 1999, developer A. Alfred Taubman gave $30 million to the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The donation is not earmarked for a specific purpose. Rather, it will fund scholarships, pay new faculty members’ salaries, and support travel expenses for student competitions, among other uses, all of which will go toward helping City College compete against local rivals like Parsons, the Pratt Institute, and even Columbia University, says Gregory H. Williams, City College’s president.

“It’s a tremendous mark of distinction that will allow us to be even better recognized,” says Williams, adding that the school has been renamed the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, effective immediately.

Constantly at the mercy of budget-cutting politicians since its founding in 1968, the architecture school didn’t even have a dean for a nine-year period in the 1990s before the arrival of George Ranalli, AIA. He took over in 1999 and is still at the helm.

Today, the school, which has 63 professors, including full-time and adjunct, and 400 students, appears to be on considerably better footing.

Its new $58 million home opens this summer on the university’s upper Manhattan campus, a few blocks south of its current Shepard Hall address in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood. By relocating to the 118,000-square-foot building, designed by Rafael Viñoly, the school will almost double its space. Currently, it’s squeezed into a 65,000-square-foot space inside Shepard Hall (1905), a Gothic Revival building designed by George Post. 

The school also is expanding its academic offerings. Last year, it added a three-year master’s degree—a program mostly associated with Ivy League schools—to attract a broader range of students. And in 2010, City College will start offering a master’s degree in sustainability, and later, a Ph.D. program in urbanism, both of which could be partly funded by Spitzer’s gift, according to Ranalli. “Up until now we’ve been scrambling to make ends meet, and this changes the landscape dramatically,” he says.

For his part, Spitzer, who endowed City College’s political science department with $2 million in 2006, and who has heaped multi-million gifts on New York institutions like the Museum of Natural History, hopes the money encourages more inventiveness with form. “Students who are coming out of school today are showing unusual imagination,” says Spitzer, who’s built nine Manhattan buildings over a nearly 40-year period. “But this could bring even more fantasy to the process.”

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