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In memoriam: Samuel Hurst, 94

Former dean of the USC School of Architecture and Fine Arts was a Southern gentleman who believed in social justice

Samuel Thomas Hurst IV, who brought architecture and fine arts together at USC in a single school based on the principles of the Bauhaus, died on April 10 in Montecito, Calif. He was 94.

Hurst was dean of the USC School of Architecture and Fine Arts from 1961 through 1973 and taught at USC until retiring in 1990.

He previously had worked in the private sector, taught at Tulane University as well as Georgia Tech, his alma mater. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he became the youngest dean of architecture and fine arts at Auburn University.

USC Professor Emeritus Ralph L. Knowles, who was on the faculty at Auburn and later followed Hurst to USC, said Hurst, operating in a state where the segregationist George Wallace was governor, had to deal with a conservative university administration who wanted to require faculty members to sign loyalty oaths.

“Sam told the president that he would personally sign the oath but would refuse to require it from his faculty. This meant a lot to a young and untried faculty that Sam had collected, mostly from the Northeast,” Knowles said. “Under these conditions, Sam built a program dedicated to the integration of art and architecture, and emphasizing concepts of social justice and experiments in studio teaching.”

An experimental program

At USC, Hurst set about building one of the most experimental programs in the country, Knowles said, one that emphasized social justice and building in the urban context.

Dean Hurst saw architecture in the complex environment of Los Angeles.

Ralph Knowles

“Unlike older educational models that treated building design without seriously considering what was around them, Dean Hurst saw architecture in the complex environment of Los Angeles,” Knowles said.

Hurst, who had studied with Walter Gropius at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, brought many modernist lecturers to USC, including Charles Eames, Craig Ellwood, Richard Neutra, Julius Shulman, Buckminster Fuller, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Lawrence Halprin and Garrett Eckbo.

That was no gamble

Hurst was instrumental in USC Architecture taking over maintenance of The Gamble House, the Craftsman masterpiece in Pasadena designed by Charles and Henry Greene. This action, taken in 1966, included a joint deed with the city of Pasadena, which took over responsibility for the grounds. Hurst appointed a curator for the house, began a program of students living there as scholars-in-residence and created a committee of docents to manage public showings.

Also under Hurst’s tutelage, a new architecture building, Watt Hall, was erected on campus and dedicated in 1974. Adjunct Professor Edward Killingsworth ’40 designed the building and Hurst was the supervising architect.

The foundation laid by Sam T. Hurst is still solid today and will play a major role in the school’s future mission.

Qingyun Ma

“The foundation laid by Sam T. Hurst is still solid today and will play a major role in the school’s future mission — an architecture that integrates arts and sciences and culture and politics to better serve society,” said USC School of Architecture Dean Qingyun Ma.

International prominence

Hurst was a fellow of the American Institute of Architecture who gained national and international prominence through his writing and speaking and as chair of the National Architecture Accrediting Board. He was a founder of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, a founding board member of The Sustainability Project in Santa Barbara, served on the board of The Fund for Santa Barbara and was active in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He founded a weeklong symposium at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on the economics of sustainability.

His wife of 30 years, Lillian Gershenson Carson, described him as a true Southern gentleman who loved music and dancing, politics, nature (especially trees), hunting birds and photography. He was an avid tennis player into his 90s.

Hurst is survived by Carson, three stepchildren and six step-grandchildren, as well as his first wife, Melinda Hurst, and three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A brother, John Hurst, survives him.

At his request, there was no service.

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