William Pope Barney was the son of Charles Gorham and Frances (Pope) Barney. He was born in Columbus, GA, and received his early education at the Chatham Academy in Savannah, GA, and at Savannah High School, where he graduated in 1907. He then studied architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, graduating from there in 1911 with his B.S. in Architecture. (His senior thesis was entitled "An American Academy in Rome," and he was president of the Institute's Architectural Society and winner of the Atlanta Architectural Arts League prize membership for 1911.) From Georgia he came to Philadelphia, receiving his second B.S. in Architecture in 1912, and his M.S. in Architecture in 1913 from the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1915 Barney would earn the Walter Cope Memorial Prize given by the T-Square Club for his "Treatment of an Open Place at the Head of the Bridge over the Schuylkill River at Packer Avenue, South Philadelphia," but by then Barney had entered the office of his mentor, Paul P. Cret, and was associated with him during the design of the Indianapolis Public Library. He then spent 1915-1917 with Zantzinger, Borie & Medary, working on the Philadelphia Museum of Art during his time there. In fact, Barney's contribution to the design for the Philadelphia Museum of Art was crucial, as David B. Brownlee has illustrated. Brownlee states:
Barney's drawings had the kind of panache produced by the best students trained in the manner of the Ecole, for they took a vague description of purpose and somehow translated it into a credible plan. It was his plan that was the ingenious invention. Graceful and unmannered, it stepped back from the cliff to make use of the entire Fairmount hilltop, although it still dropped elevators from the frontmost pavilions down to lobbies at the level of the parkway.
From 1917-1918 Barney worked in the Pittsburgh office of Frederick A. Russell. He then returned to Philadelphia and entered another well-known firm, Day & Klauder, at that time engaged in considerable collegiate work, including plans for Princeton, Yale, Cornell, and the University of Colorado. In 1921 he was awarded the Henry Gillette Woodman Scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania, enabling him to travel to England, France and Italy during 1922-23. Upon his return, he became head designer for Paul A. Davis in the firm of Davis & Dunlap, rising to the position of partner in 1924 and changing the name to Davis, Dunlap & Barney. In 1929 Barney established his own firm with Roy Banwell, and this lasted under various names (Barney, Banwell, Armentrout & Divvens, 1955-58) until his retirement in 1958.
In addition to the Woodman Scholarship, Barney had also received the Walter Cope Memorial Prize in 1915, the Gold Medal of Architecture of the Architectural League of New York in 1929, and the First Prize in the House Beautiful 13th Annual Small Houses Competition, published in 1941. His commitment to architectural education was an early and continuing factor in his career. From 1914-1915 he served as the Patron of the Atelier of the T-Square Club in Philadelphia. From 1915-1917 he was instructor in architecture for Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He was also visiting critic in architecture at Princeton University during the 1932/33 academic year, and visiting architect, design critic and consultant at Pennsylvania State University in 1937-1942.
Barney's early work certainly was influenced by Paul P. Cret, but as his career progressed, he expanded both the building types and styles in which he worked. While he designed a number of Christian Scientist churches, as well as residences, and a number of buildings for Swarthmore College, he also worked with Oscar Stonorov in 1933-34 on the Juniata Park Housing, otherwise known as the Carl Mackley Houses. Because Stonorov was not then registered as an architect in the United States, Barney's name appears as chief architect on the drawings. In 1938 Barney and a team comprised of Frank R. Watson, Roy Banwell, Edmund B. Gilchrist, Harry Parker, and William H. Thompson won over 141 other architects in a competition for the Glenwood Housing Project, 27th Street and Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia.
Barney had served during World War I in France as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During World War II, he was part of the Air Corps and the Air Reserve. His participation in professional societies was important as well. He held memberships in the Architectural Society of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the T-Square Club, and in the New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia Chapters of the AlA, and became a Fellow of the Institute in 1949.