CAP’s founding dean, Charles Sappenfield, remembered for standards, style

Topic: College of Architecture and Planning

October 2, 2013

CAP’s founding dean, Charles Sappenfield, remembered for standards, style
The legacy of the late Charles Sappenfield, the founding dean of Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning, lives on in first-class studio work, education beyond the campus and its impact on communities.

Charles M. Sappenfield knew the kind of architecture school he wanted to create: one with exacting design studio standards, one that ensured its students experienced the world beyond its campus and one that made a difference in its community.

Hired in 1965 as the founding dean of what today is known as the Ball State College of Architecture and Planning, Sappenfield got a rare chance to pursue his vision.

So, when news came that he had passed away in Florida on Sept. 30 at the age of 83, former colleagues and students couldn’t help but look around them and marvel at just how fully his vision had been realized.

“From the very beginning, he shaped us into what we are today,” says Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, the current dean of CAP. “We are the ‘School of Charlie’ — we have not changed from that. We continue to profess the things he believed in.

“Top-notch studio work, absolutely; learning without borders, absolutely. Our students go into communities around Indiana — around the world, really — to learn wherever learning can happen.”

R. Wayne Estopinal — a member of the Ball State Board of Trustees and a 1979 graduate of CAP — says Sappenfield brought a particularly effective combination of qualities to the job.

“He recognized the balance between theory and practice,” says Estopinal, who is also president of The Estopinal Group, an architectural firm based in Jeffersonville, Ind. “Charlie built the faculty around that balance and worked hard to encourage them to push every student to achieve more than they ever thought possible.”

Anthony J. Costello, Irving distinguished professor of architecture emeritus, agrees the bar was set high from the outset — and not just in the classroom.

Sappenfield hired Costello to establish the school’s Community-Based Projects program, in which Ball State students and faculty go into cities and towns around the state to offer assistance with downtown redevelopment and other issues.

“He understood that getting students off campus was the only way they were going to learn the reality of urban planning and urban design in a community,” Costello says.

Sappenfield, who served as dean for 16 years before returning to full-time teaching in 1981, also insisted on bringing in top professionals to expose students to the latest thinking in their fields.

Today, even though the Internet and other advances make access to experts easier, CAP recognizes there is no substitute for personal interaction and still brings top speakers to campus through the Charles M. Sappenfield Guest Lecture Series.

Sappenfield, who retired from Ball State in 1994, rarely had trouble convincing top architects and designers to make the trip to Muncie, says Marvin E. Rosenman, chairperson emeritus of the Department of Architecture.

“Charlie did it with style,” says Rosenman, another of Sappenfield’s early hires. “He got out in the field and was known and respected around the country. Everybody just knew who we were — and who he was.”

Of course, it helped that Sappenfield also had won acclaim as a designer for work in North Carolina before he joined Ball State, during his tenure at the university and through studies and work in Denmark over the years. In fact, in 1987, he won a silver medal from the Danish Architects Association, a distinction he shared with such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn and Mies van der Rohe.

Michel Mounayar, CAP’s current associate dean, says he learned just how wide Sappenfield’s reputation had spread during a trip to Beirut in the 1980s.

“I was talking with the head of the architecture department at the American University there, and I said I was from Ball State. The immediate response was, ‘Oh. How’s Charlie?’”

The answer to that question, says Ball State President Jo Ann M. Gora, is that he is securely in the hearts of everyone he touched during his long teaching career.

“The College of Architecture and Planning is what it is today in large measure because of Charlie Sappenfield’s vision and his dedication in pursuing it,” she says. “The best way we can honor his memory is to make sure the college and the university he loved so much meet — and exceed — the high bar he set for us at the very beginning.”

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