[Portraits of Warren Powers Laird]
(Dooner, Richard T.)
Warren Powers Laird Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania.
Local ID #: 047.70
Although Warren P. Laird did comparatively little in the way of conventional architectural design, his career as an "advisor" on architectural competitions and projects greatly influenced many important commissions in the United States before the Depression. Laird also played a crucial role in shaping the School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania as its first dean in the period when its architectural program became one of the best in the nation. Thus, while Laird's career was unlike that of most Philadelphia architects, he was a significant force in influencing American buildings as well as generations of important designers.
Laird was born in Winona, MN, the son of Lydia Powers and Matthew James Laird, and was educated in public schools before entering the special course in architecture at Cornell University in 1885. After completing the course in 1887 he was an instructor there during the academic year 1887-1888. Early biographical sources indicate that Laird also apprenticed and/or worked for six years in architectural offices (three in Minnesota and three in Boston and New York), presumably before studying at Cornell. During 1890-1891, Laird traveled in Europe, perhaps studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
In 1891, he came to Philadelphia to become the director of the architecture program in the Towne School at the University of Pennsylvania. One of his first acts was to counsel those students in the program who did not meet his exacting standards that they should pursue other careers. This drive toward excellence would lead to a steady expansion of the size and prestige of the program over the next four decades. Laird's professional standards and administrative abilities led to widespread demand for his opinions as a consultant, planner, advisor, and arbitrator for private and government clients (this work began soon after he came to Philadelphia). Laird's skills were the ideal complement to those of atelier director Paul P. Cret, who was recruited to teach at Penn in 1903.
When the School of Fine Arts was established at Penn in 1920, Laird (called "Popsy" by his students) was named its first dean. He retired from this position in 1931 and was succeeded by George S. Koyl.
Laird was one of the founders of the Assocation of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and its president from 1912 to 1919. He was named an honorary fellow of the national AIA in 1915. The University of Pennsylvania recognized his contribution to the school by conferring upon him an honorary Sc.D. in 1911 and an LL.D. in 1932. Laird served as chairman of the church building commission of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and was a member of the committee on church architecture of the General Council, Lutheran Churches of America. He also served on the Philadelphia Zoning Commission in 1929 and was later a director of the Tri-State Regional Planning Federation of Philadelphia. He was also a member of the Great Council of the Cathedral of Washington, and of the Pennsylvania State Art Commission, on which he served from 1928 until 1936, and to which he was re-appointed in 1938. Laird was also a member of the American Civic Association.
Emily T. Cooperman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture
- University of Pennsylvania
- Cornell University
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