101 Semesters In and Out of the Studio

When Sinclair Black graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 1962, the city of Austin was a very different place.

Interstate Highway 35 had just opened in the center of the sleepy college town of 200,000 people. The Tower and the Texas State Capitol were the highest points in the skyline. Downtown, wide avenues offered plenty of space for four-door sedans with chrome and tailfins.

In the more than 50 years since, Black’s work as principal architect and urban designer for firm Black + Vernooy has had an enormous impact on Austin’s physical development into a major urban center and American city.

 

His projects—including the 2nd Street District, the proposal to bury IH35 beneath space for pedestrians and cyclists, and the Great Streets Master Plan, a vision for a vibrant downtown—are a major part of the Austin that we experience today. As an urban designer, planner, architect and builder, he is known for creating human-scale works that incorporate the unique design sensibilities of Central Texas. Black’s pioneering work in Austin’s mixed-use developments have established him as a regional expert who has given input on projects like Triangle Park and the Seaholm Power Plant redevelopment.

“More than any single person, Sinclair saw the potential for downtown Austin’s development as an international destination and had a large hand in making it happen,” said colleague and Distinguished Teaching Professor Elizabeth Danze. “In this sense, he is a true visionary, and will continue to be a guiding force for responsible urbanism in Austin and Central Texas for years to come.”

“The very best urban design occurs when physical design skills intersect with both private opportunities and enlightened public policy. The University of Texas at Austin has the creativity, cutting-edge technology, and thought leaders which, when combined with this funding, will create paradigm-changing urban design solutions that benefit Austin and serve as best practice examples for other American cities. I expect great things to come from this!”

Professor Emeritus
Sinclair Black

As the Roberta P. Crenshaw Centennial Professor in Urban Design and Environmental Planning at UT’s School of Architecture, Black taught and mentored generations of young architects. When he retired in 2017, he was the longest-serving faculty member in the school’s history, teaching for an incredible 101 semesters.

For 50 years, Black instructed students in a discipline that incorporates architecture, land use and city planning, economics, sustainable design, landscape architecture, and many other fields necessary to shape cities. His students benefited from the unique context of Austin’s rapidly growing and changing urban landscape, largely shaped by the professor who taught them.

Though no longer teaching in the program, Black has ensured that the School of Architecture will continue to lead urban design in Austin and beyond. At his retirement in 2017, he gave $1 million to establish the Sinclair Black Endowed Chair in the Architecture of Urbanism. This spring, he committed $4 million in additional support to transform UT’s teaching in urban design and advance the School of Architecture’s partnerships with the City of Austin and other community-serving organizations.

“This gift will enable us to position the school as a leader in urban design and will further strengthen our connections with, and contributions to, the development of Austin,” said Dean Michelle Addington. “The transformative possibilities of Sinclair’s generosity will provide unprecedented opportunities for the school to define a more integrative and collaborative approach to urban design that should serve as a model for others to emulate.”

The Sinclair Black Endowed Chair will support a professor with distinction and expertise in urban design, bring in visiting critics and lecturers, sponsor events and activities related to urban design, and support UT graduate students in the field. The additional investment will enable the School of Architecture to continue its work as a knowledge-builder and collaborator with groups like the Mayors’ Institute and Austin City Council.

“My vision is to position the School of Architecture as a leader in urban design, and to promote urban issues that enhance the quality of life in Austin and beyond through placemaking, equity and economic sustainability,” said Black. “The University of Texas at Austin has the creativity, cutting-edge technology and thought leaders which, when combined with this funding, will create paradigm-changing urban design solutions that benefit Austin and serve as best practice examples for other American cities. I expect great things to come from this!”

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