A decades-long partnership in life and work
"At some point in your life, you have to take what you've built up and share it in meaningful ways."
Phillip Smith ’61CC, ’69GSAPP and Doug Thompson ’70GSAPP met as students at Columbia University in the late 1960s, leading to an extraordinary partnership in life and work that flourishes to this day.
"One thing we discovered in school is that we both had a very similar approach to thinking about architecture," says Doug. "That brought us together before other things did. It is very constructive and exciting."
Since founding their architecture studio, Smith and Thompson Architects, in the 1970s, the couple has completed more than 100 projects ranging from office interiors and residences to sanctuaries and museums.
"We work closely together on every single project," says Phillip. "In fact, everyone in our office works side by side with us all day, all the time. There is no hierarchy here."
Both attribute the ease of their working relationship in large part to the training they received at Columbia, where they learned to respect different views and to collaborate without confrontation.
"I can't imagine not having this incredible exchange that we have on everything. There is nothing I look forward to more than sitting down to work on a project with Phillip," adds Doug.
Transformative years at Columbia
Phillip grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, and remembers that he was "always drawing houses." Intent on getting a liberal arts education prior to studying architecture, he attended Columbia College on a full naval scholarship. Upon graduation, he served as an officer in the Navy for a few years, which afforded him the chance to explore the great cities and architecture of Europe.
Doug grew up in Binghamton, New York, and was always interested in construction and design. He started college as an engineering major but switched to history and art history before homing in on architecture as his career path. Both men attended Columbia with the help of scholarships. There they worked together around the clock, learned to be each other's critic, and immersed themselves in architecture. It was a broad-ranging, competitive, yet friendly experience.
Doug points to a first-year studio with architecture professor Peter Pragnell as particularly life changing. "Peter would give these brilliant talks that lasted into the night," he says, "and he was so devoted to the studio."
Another defining moment was the campus uprising of 1968. "GSAPP was the only school to occupy its own building," recalls Phillip. "Out of that moment came long discussions with faculty and students about how to foster a new way of working in the school."
As part of the restructuring, students could now initiate their own projects; and Phillip and Doug proposed an interdisciplinary effort to reimagine Times Square. They put together a studio and recruited students ranging from the planning program to the law school, business school, and the sociology and anthropology departments.
"A lot of students come to architecture with the notion of the form and the creation of a three-dimensional object," says Phillip. "Columbia opened our eyes to the other humanistic and social aspects that underpin the discipline. We still carry that forward in our work today."
"Those four years gave us a way of looking, thinking, and working comprehensively," says Doug. "Actually, I think it's time we had an architect as president."
A gift to honor what brought them together
Phillip and Doug have been committed supporters of GSAPP since the early 1990s. In 2016 they formally documented a gift through their wills to support scholarships at the school, a commitment that places them among the leadership donors to the Design, Create, Engage Campaign for GSAPP.
In fact, the couple decided to activate their estate gift early so that they could see the impact of their scholarship support during their lifetimes.
"A person of means once said to me that at some point in your life, you have to take what you've built up and share it in meaningful ways," says Phillip. "That resonated with me."
"None of this would have been possible without the scholarship assistance we both received as students," adds Doug. "We'd like to share that opportunity and give back. It's as simple as that."
Have you included Columbia in your estate plan or as beneficiary of a retirement account or life insurance policy? Please let us know! We would like to honor your commitment now and welcome you as a member of the 1754 Society.
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