Profile: Howard Davis

Photograph by John Bauguess

Go no further than the door of Howard Davis’s office to see the impression the acclaimed architecture professor has left on students. An elaborate mantle, like the frame of some exquisite piece of art, borders the entrance of 321 Lawrence Hall on three sides, all a gift from a student.

“He designed his final project so that the half-scale fits around my door. Then he built it and gave it to me,” Davis recalls.

The student, Tom Kerr, MArch ’90, studied with Davis more than twenty years ago but the two remain in touch and, whenever possible, visit one another. One memorable trip was Davis’s journey to India while Kerr was studying on a Fulbright scholarship. Kerr showed his former professor some of the country’s most famous buildings, an experience Davis notes as his “introduction to Asia.” Davis’s relationship with Kerr is just one of many enduring student-teacher ties he has fostered in twenty-five years at the UO.

During those decades, Davis has traveled frequently, often to visit Ducks in the far-flung reaches of the world. Just this past summer, Davis could be found in Italy, then Japan, advising students studying abroad. After a brief pit stop in Eugene, he spent September leading Ducks around London.

“Architects are supposed to travel,” he says. “There’s so much significant architecture all over the world and it’s very important to experience it firsthand. It’s sort of like how professors of literature read everything. We try to see buildings.”

When Davis and his students visit a city, he encourages them to talk with locals. The goal, he says, is to understand the active role buildings play in people’s lives.

“The thing about this architecture school is that for some reason students who come to the UO are predisposed to thinking about architecture in cultural and environmental terms,” he says. “They’re very receptive to the idea that buildings are not abstract objects that just land from outer space. They understand that buildings are anchored in the world of people, of cities, of the environment.”

This rare disposition, Davis adds, makes his job all the better because students come in ready to learn. He verified as much a couple of years ago while teaching a seminar. Davis asked the students how many had come to the UO because they expect to make a difference in the world. Every student raised a hand.

Name: Howard Davis

Education: BS ’68, The Cooper Union; MS ’70, Northwestern University; MArch ’74, University of California at Berkeley

Teaching Experience: Twenty-five years at the UO.

Awards: In 2009, received both a Distinguished Professorship award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and a Faculty Excellence Award. Two years later, won the UO’s Thomas F. Herman Faculty Achievement Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Van Evera Bailey Faculty Award.

Off-Campus: Davis, who has visited every continent except Antarctica, hopes to next travel to Peru, Bolivia, and Finland.

Last Word: “I think I do have an impact on students, but I think that they’re ready to be taught. We’re all doing it together.”

By Elisabeth Kramer '12