Professor of Architecture, Foundation Executive
Jonathan King, HAIA, was born in New York City in 1925, attended the Lincoln School of Teachers College and graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University in 1949, after serving in the United States Army in the Philippines during World War II. His father was Gordon C. King, a writer, and his mother Carol Weiss King, was a civil rights attorney. He began his professional career at the Ford Foundation.
He is perhaps best known for his work in building systems, which changed the shape of American schoolhouses. In addition to his own creative work, he was an advisor, critic and mentor to several generations of architects. A master of the one-liner, he was always able to characterize complex subjects simply and inspire his students, colleagues and clients. Once asked if systems construction was the same as fast track scheduling, he replied, No, they are separate, like nuts and bolts. He worked in the classrooms and research laboratories of universities as well as the boardrooms and offices of some of the countries leading companies. He stimulated, guided and performed some of the most innovative research into the built environment in the last half of the 20th century. Although he had no formal training as an architect, he became a professor of architecture and a member of the profession.
In the 1960s, King was vice president and treasurer of Educational Facilities Laboratories (EFL) in New York City. EFL was a non-profit foundation established by the Ford Foundation to encourage research and experimentation in school and college facilities. EFL’s grants subsidized the first geodesic dome for school athletic facilities, the first open space schools and the first schools with movable and removable walls. The most notable series of projects were the systems development programs in California, Florida, Toronto and Montreal, programs which used economical, industrialized, standardized elements to build non-standard schools. The result of this program affected the construction of thousands of schools throughout North America. King also edited EFL’s research reports, of which more than two-million copies were distributed. These reports were designed to help architects and school administrators design and build better schools.
His influence in architecture for education was felt through EFL grants and publications, but also through his own writings. His first article, In Which the Bells Toll, was published in the Saturday Review in 1960. Since then, he published over 40 articles, research reports, and book reviews in professional, university, and general journals, including Harvard Business Review and Architectural Record. He also contributed to several books on education. He was principal author of the seven-volume Michigan Courthouse Study which received a Progressive Architecture Research Citation, and he was co-author of Pre-Construction Evaluation, a report that detailed a full scale mock-up and evaluation of hospital rooms.
In 1965, King received the American Builder Award for Innovation in Building, and in 1969 he was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.
In the 70s, King was a partner and officer of the Houston Architectural Firm Caudill Rowlett Scott (CRS), one of the nation’s leading architects for school projects. He was also a director for CRS’s construction management subsidiary, CM Inc. CM Inc. became the largest professional construction management company in the United States.
While at CRS, King worked on vocational-technical colleges that were designed and built in less than a year, an apartment housing project for 1000 students that received six design awards and an industrialized housing systems program for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. During his Houston years, he was also an adjunct Professor of Architecture at Rice University.
From 1976 to 1986, King was professor of architecture at the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He was the director of the Architectural Research Laboratory until 1983. He was the first president of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium. He was visiting professor at King Saud University in 1982 and, in 1987, was the Hyde Lecturer and visiting critic at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. In 1983, he received a Fulbright Lectureship at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts. He was made professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Michigan in 1986. King was also a serious collector of Contemporary American and Canadian art.
He retired briefly in 1986 to Fripp Island, South Carolina, and in 1990, he was elected Chairman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party.
In 1992, he returned to Texas as visiting professor and associate director, and subsequently director, of the CRS Center at Texas A&M University. The CRS Center is concerned with management and leadership in the design and construction industry, and houses the archives of CRS.
He retired from Texas A&M University in June 1997, and in July completed the manuscript of a book, CRS: the Autobiography of an Architecture Firm, An Oral History.
On November 19, 1997, Jonathan King died at age 71 of cancer at his home in Houston, Texas.