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Clemson architecture team develops a new way to build

A team of Clemson architecture students assemble Indigo Pine East, the first structure built using the sim[PLY] construction method. Off-the-shelf plywood is cut by CNC routers into interlocking tab-and-slot pieces that fit together to form a solid, tight frame. With the sim[PLY] method, digital cut files can be emailed to a CNC fabricator, then shipped flat-packed to the construction site, ready to be assembled by hand by unskilled laborers.

Clemson University’s School of Architecture is developing an innovative new construction method that is gaining worldwide attention for its potential market impact in rapid, low-tech sustainable housing.

Using the sim[PLY] Framing System, “With a click of the button, someone could order a custom-cut, flat-packed home online and construct it by hand with the help of their friends and neighbors in a matter of days,” said Kate Schwennsen, professor and director of the School of Architecture.

One of the sim[PLY] Framing System’s innovative advantages is its revolutionary interlocking tab-and-slot connection system (patent pending). Assembly is intuitive and easy; so buildings come together much like a 3D puzzle, using no nails, just steel zip ties and some screws. This means buildings can be disassembled just as easily, without causing structural damage.

“sim[PLY] is faster, safer, easier and more energy-efficient than traditional construction with power tools,” Schwennsen said.

sim[PLY] offers a rapid, low-tech construction solution with a profound reduction in a building’s total carbon footprint. Here’s how:

  • sim[PLY] uses locally sourced plywood and computer numeric control (CNC) fabrication.
  • Construction plans are digital and can be emailed anywhere there is a CNC controller.
  • Components can be pre-cut using off-the-shelf materials, pre-measured and flat-packed, requiring less transport space and smaller vehicles versus other forms of prefabricated structures.
  • Cut pieces lock into place on site with no power-operated tools or heavy equipment required.

sim[PLY]’s evolving impact:

  • A national Department of Defense (DOD) building contractor has looked at sim[PLY] for Rapidly Deployable Housing applications, such as for use in temporary military housing. sim[PLY] is being considered as a potentially cost-saving opportunity to build better structures faster, safer and using less energy on the jobsite.
  • sim[PLY]­ ’s built-in ease of construction makes it an ideal framing model for various types of do-it-yourself housing. Think: tiny homes. To explore this popular housing trend, Clemson’s architectural students have designed an energy efficient sim[PLY] tiny home prototype that could be structurally framed in just one day’s time.
  • Timber is one of South Carolina’s most important cash crops, with an economic impact of $20 billion, according to the Forestry Association of South Carolina. sim[PLY]’s use of plywood would create both a positive economic and environmental impact here at home. Beyond causing a greater demand for timber, wide acceptance of the sim[PLY] process would mean a more diverse and robust use of forest resources; plywood manufacturing, unlike that of lumber, makes use of older, more mature trees.
  • Architectural communities in Italy, Austria and Germany – countries considered to be worldwide leaders in wood construction and sustainable building – have expressed interest in sim[PLY]. Overseas and in the U.S., sim[PLY]’s sustainable performance benefits are compelling.

The sim[PLY] rafter assembly for a CropStop community kitchen.
Image Credit: Clemson University School of Architecture

An example of a sim[PLY] structure in use is the CropStop community kitchen on Lois Avenue in Greenville. The building makes it possible for crop owners to better process their harvests to meet local demand for fresh farm-to-table foods. A new universal CropStop prototype was designed in the fall and could impact global agrarian economies where there is interest in this concept for sustaining local growers and evolving farm communities.

sim[PLY] was first developed by Clemson architectural faculty and students as part of their entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition. While their end result was a solar-powered, energy-efficient home, it was just the beginning for the innovative framing system that is proving it has a marketable life of its own.

Architecture student Paul Mosher examines sim[PLY] pieces cut by a Computer Numeric Control device. Sim[PLY]’s interlocking connection technology is patent-pending.

“sim[PLY] is an ongoing, evolving project,” Schwennsen said. “New teams of students are being challenged to optimize the design and create newer, smarter versions to meet the needs of a variety of commercial, government and end-user market applications.”

The School of Architecture and its faculty continue to be leaders in integrating critical and creative research into its nationally ranked accredited graduate program.

The sim[PLY] team includes faculty inventors Dan Harding, Dustin Albright, Dave Pastre, Ulrike Heine, Vincent Blouin and Ufuk Ursoy; and contributing student inventors Anthony Wohlers, Michael Stoner, Eric Balogh, Tyler Silvers, Clair Dias, Alison Martin, Jon Pennington, Jeff Hammer, Will Hinkley, Justin Hamrick, Alexandra Latham, Neely Leslie, Daniel Taylor, David Herrero, Rebecca Mercer, Russell Buchanan, Amelia Brackmann, Paul Mosher, Allyson Beck and Alex Libengood.

Clemson’s footprint expands in the Lowcountry

It’s a warm, humid morning in Charleston and the call of seagulls has finally replaced the sound of bulldozers and blowtorches. In just over nine months, architects and construction workers erected a building that is more than just a pretty face.

The state-of-the-art 75,000-square-foot facility, an iconic glass and metal structure located on the waterfront of Charleston’s old naval base, will symbolize the joint vision of Clemson University and businesswoman/philanthropist Anita Zucker. The program will serve as the academic anchor in the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) applied technology park, joining the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center. The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center will offer master’s programs in electrical engineering, systems engineering and digital production arts (DPA) and a Ph.D. program in computer science.

“For years our business community has complained that we don’t have enough graduate-level courses in engineering. Well, I feel like that call will finally be answered with this new center,” Zucker said.

“The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center will respond to industry’s demand for an engineering workforce for the future,” said Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, director of business development for CURI. “The center will bring opportunity for personal and professional growth for place-bound engineers who would like to have an advanced degree and expand their opportunities in the job market.”

The idea is that the engineering programs will help keep young talent and expertise from leaving South Carolina for other places that offer opportunities to grow in the industry. Additionally, the DPA program will expand instruction in video game design and content development in hopes of creating a new regional industry. The center will start with a combination of on-site and remote (via video conference) learning with a plan to have the program completely local within three years.

The timing of the opening is ideal as Charleston is quickly becoming one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas for such advanced business and industry sectors as aerospace, transportation, advanced materials, advanced security and biomedical services and manufacturing. According to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Charleston region is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the United States, and growth in population and employment is expected to continue to exceed the national average.

But the Zucker center isn’t the only new building for Clemson in Charleston — new to Clemson, that is. In August, the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston and the Historic Preservation Program were united under one roof when they moved into the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street. The former cigar and textile manufacturing plant was originally built in 1881 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Formerly, the two programs were housed in three separate locations. To better meet existing needs, anticipate planned growth and ensure that Clemson students in Charleston have all the resources they need, a larger, more functional facility was required.

“Clemson is thrilled with this solution to house our allied design programs in Charleston under one roof,” said Richard E. Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “It has been a long-time goal of the University’s to integrate the creativity, scholarship and service outreach of these programs in one central location.”

Though completely different aesthetically, the hope is that both these buildings will expand the footprint of Clemson in South Carolina and in turn cement the idea that the University is committed to providing opportunities to students, teachers and industry alike, across the entire state.

Best in Show: Christine Tedesco ’82, ’85, M ’90

Christine Tedesco_022For Christine Tedesco art and life all bleed into one. Art is life. Life is art.

Nothing is an imitation. Each building she’s designed as an architect with a team is just as much a piece of her as a quilt she’s created alone for the couch at home.

Her creative pursuits led to a “Best in Show” at the Anderson Arts Center 41st Juried Arts Show this past spring for a quilt named “Beige #1.” It was one of more than 500 entries in the show. She’s also shown pieces at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., the Ogden Museum in New Orleans and Art Fields in Lake City.

“I think the first thing I made was an apron,” said Tedesco. She began sewing when she was age nine, and as she grew, the instructions from her mother grew from stitches to life lessons on careers.

“My mother was very adamant that I had to major in something I could do so I didn’t have to depend on a man,” said Tedesco. Her love of making things led to a career as an architect, where she now leads at RSCT architecture + design.

But she didn’t leave behind her personal creative time just because she was being artistic at her day job. Instead she wanted to challenge herself to be innovative. At age 29 she took sewing to the next level and began quilting. “I wanted to try something more difficult,” she said. She also took a tailoring class and tackled making a man’s suit.

Even graduate school was taken as a confrontation to defy daily life. “I just came to the conclusion, there’s got to be more to life than this. My mind was cut open and things were poured in. I had such a great time. It was probably one of the biggest challenges of my life, but my desire to learn was different.”

Like many artists or creative types, Tedesco is driven by desire. “I get an idea in my head and it doesn’t leave until I figure out what I’m going to do. I never use a pattern.” Even her use of color isn’t conventional as she doesn’t follow traditional color relationships, but instead gut reaction to the ways a red or an orange can paint a purple or a blue a different hue. “I don’t follow patterns because colors inform me in a way what to do with them.”

In “Beige #1,” the piece wasn’t about color at all, but instead about the relationships of the seams and how they intersect. “I just started mapping lines and free form — it’s a lot less color,” she said.

Tedesco said she tries to be disciplined about her work. Each piece takes about 40 to 80 hours. A bedroom in her Pendleton home serves as a studio.

Unlike her work office, which has clean lines and barely a trace of a paper trail from the day’s work, her studio showcases years of ideas. Quilting books stacked about 4-feet tall stand by the door. Scraps of a current orange, beige and black piece are pinned tall and high on the wall.

“When you make a piece of art, it’s a solitary activity. … That’s why I create art. It allows me to do something alone.”

Clemson team to compete in international Solar Decathlon

For the first time, Clemson will be among the 20 teams selected from universities around the world to compete at this fall’s international Solar Decathlon, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The competition, held every two years in Irvine, California, challenges teams to design and build a cost-effective, energy-efficient and visually appealing solar home, blending affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and design efficiency.

Comprising students from each of Clemson’s five colleges, along with dedicated faculty members, Clemson’s team has embraced the challenge to build and operate the home, named Indigo Pine, a three-bedroom, 1,000 square feet, net-zero energy, solar house that is cost-efficient in today’s market and comfortable in South Carolina and comparable climate zones. The name “Indigo Pine” originates from the home’s Southern roots. Indigo was historically grown in South Carolina while pine trees remain a vital cash crop to the state’s economy. The concept focuses on stitching together innovative building methods, Southern charm and local products in a home for a Southern family.

Clemson is taking the competition to a new level by choosing to “email” the house across the country then using those digital files to cut out the structural system using a CNC, a computer-controlled cutting machine. This system, referred to as Sim[PLY], allows Indigo Pine to be built virtually anywhere a CNC is available using off-the-shelf materials and handheld tools. Indigo Pine is challenging the construction and design world to think differently about light wood framing and construction in general.

Utilizing the Sim[PLY] system to email the house digitally from coast to coast rather than shipping the entire home by truck allows the team to vastly reduce the production of carbon dioxide emissions from the project. Furthermore, Team Clemson plans to construct not one but two versions of Indigo Pine, one in the South Carolina Botanical Garden this spring and the other in California this fall. This will allow for testing of the home’s functionality and will showcase the ability of the home to be built anywhere.

Clemson’s Solar Decathlon team is operating entirely on private funding from individuals and corporate sponsors.

The Unveiling of Indigo Pine: 

 

More information about Indigo Pine, including how to volunteer or donate. 

 

Landscape Architecture as Kinesthetic Experience

Most people think of design as a visual discipline, but a project in the Landscape Architecture department at Clemson in spring 2014 explored a multi-sensory approach.

Collaborating on the project were Mary Padua, founding chair of Clemson’s Department of Landscape Architecture; landscape architecture professor Dan Ford; and Jennie Wakefield, Clemson alumna and former English department lecturer. Eight freshmen landscape architecture majors and one graduate student participated in the four, 2½-hour experiential workshops on an under-developed, topographically challenging site beside Lee Hall.

The workshops used kinesthetic experience and the creative process developed by renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to explore a “qualitative rather than quantitative” approach to design, said architecture professor Annemarie Jacques, who photographed the project. Halprin (1916-2009) is the California landscape architect who was brought in to redesign downtown Greenville in the late 1970s.

The project incorporated Halprin’s vision of landscape architecture as the choreography of people’s movement and interactions through a place. This point of view grew from a lifelong collaboration with his wife, modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin, and daughter Daria Halprin, who expanded their work into new models for psychology, education and leadership through the establishment of Tamalpa Institute in San Francisco. Wakefield is a teacher training graduate of Tamalpa.

Jennie Wakefield 01april14It’s natural to begin making something by sitting down at the computer or drawing pad to think up an objective form. But a blindfolded walk from Lee Hall to the site, led by Padua, who worked with Halprin at one time, threw the students back on their senses. Then an unblindfolded score (Halprin’s term for a plan of action over time, like a musical score) asked them to investigate the site using that sensory awareness.

From a collaborative group-building activity using found materials, performed without pre-planning or talking, to the creation of scores for classmates’ movement through the site, the emphasis was on the process that leads to design. Only after fully experiencing the site through sensory, kinesthetic activities and poetic reflections did the students generate preliminary designs. Presentations of their ideas were grounded in imaginary, sensory and emotional experience.

This project explored the creative process and a way of learning, working, and being – both individually and collectively – that is holistic and expressive. As one student commented, it was an experience that “totally opens up your mind and your creativity.”

Matthew E. Szymanski ’01

Szymansk_Matthewi

ReSpace

Orange is a defining color for most Clemson Tigers. Matthew Szymanski, however, also identifies with green. Szymanski, a design major, left Clemson with a desire to actively make a difference in his community.

At DesignSpec, an architecture firm based out of Chapel Hill, Szymanski works on projects ranging from architecture to interior design, with an emphasis on sustainability and a modern design aesthetic. Additionally, Szymanski encourages the use of sustainable design while serving as board member of the Triangle American Institute of Architects and director of the Young Architects Forum & Emerging Professionals group. Szymanski’s leadership within the design industry allows him to make his voice heard about the environmental implications inherent to every design project. But now, he’s redefining the way we think about design with one word: ReSpace.

Szymanski, looking for a new way to raise awareness about reusing materials in design projects, joined forces with like-minded industry professionals to found ReSpace LLC. The organization’s goal is reflected by their largest effort, the ReSpace Design Competition, respace.org. This competition requires designers to develop project designs to be built with salvaged materials. Once the top design is selected, volunteers build it in just a 48-hour period. Szymanski hopes the event will help students, architects and builders realize the importance of reusing materials whenever possible. “We cannot sit back and watch vast quantities of materials that still hold value be carted off to the landfill without a second thought,” said Szymanski.

The 2012 ReSpace Design Competition received submissions from across the globe — Europe, Australia, North America and South America. “The purpose of this competition is to serve as a catalyst for excellent design with salvage materials,” Szymanski said. By getting designers directly involved in the process of sustainable small space design, ReSpace will be able to make a larger impact in the overall sustainability conversation.

“That’s what I love about the competition,” he said. “One by one, we are getting people to take up the cause and do something.”Szymanski credits his Clemson roots for inspiring his actions.

“Clemson taught me the importance of caring about your local community while taking responsibility for wider, global causes,” he said.

Southern Roots + Global Reach


Clemson Architecture Center Genoa

Clemson Architecture Center Charleston

Clemson Architecture Center Barcelona

In 1913, the world was rushing toward its first Great War. But it was also a time of exploding creativity. The Woolworth Building in Manhattan, one of our earliest skyscrapers, had opened in April. The Armory Show had rocked the art world when it opened in New York in February, changing forever how we view art. A scientist named Albert Einstein was hot on the trail of his General Theory of Relativity that would explain how space and matter affect each other to create the universe in which we live.

And in the deep South, a forward leaning land-grant college called Clemson would realize that young architects trained in design and the building arts would soon be in great demand to imagine and design the spaces in which we would live, learn, play and work.

Almost a hundred years later, in the spring of 2010, Clemson historian Jerry Reel tapped the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities on its proverbial shoulder and pointed out that the year 2013 would mark the centennial of architecture education at Clemson University. A celebration and a commemoration seemed in order, he suggested.

The college agreed with enthusiasm, but in retrospect, not a soul who was listening to Professor Reel speak that day could have imagined the wild ride of research, discovery, writing and making that would unfold during the next three years. Students, faculty, alumni, emeriti and staff of Clemson’s School of Architecture and the larger University joined together on a voyage of discovery that will culminate this fall with a retrospective display in the Lee Gallery and a reimagined “Beaux Arts Ball” — millennial style.

Looking forward by looking back

Planning for the centennial celebration began by looking backward, to the program’s earliest beginnings, to that tipping point when Clemson Agricultural College recognized the need for architecture education that was separate and distinct from its engineering program.

As the centennial committee delved into the history of architecture education at Clemson, they sifted through some 700 student projects that have been kept in storage. Records, documents, photographs and film footage were scoured. Alumni and emeriti were queried. An impressive collection of source material was soon at hand. Within a matter of months, however, the growing and collaborative group of scholars, students, librarians, artists and writers would realize they were even more interested in looking forward — ahead to the coming century. They wanted to learn how the decisions and achievements of the school’s first 100 years might give form and meaning to its next. They wanted to draw lines between the careers of alumni to the broader scope of the profession and to world events. They were looking for connections and scanning their horizons.

Lecturer and shop manager David Pastre stands in the Charleston center with the interactive display for children that will be unveiled statewide this fall. Commissioned by the S.C. chapter of the AIA, the display was designed and fabricated by students and faculty in Clemson, Charleston and Genoa.

Bending space and time

Peter Laurence, assistant professor and director of the graduate program in architecture, writes, “Since its first year of instruction in 1913, architectural education at Clemson has been mindful of its geographies — its connections and relationships to both the state of South Carolina and to the wider world.”

No kidding. The School of Architecture has grown from its humble beginnings in Riggs Hall to become an interconnected Fluid Campus, with centers in Genoa, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; and Charleston, S.C. The centers are joined at their cores by student travel and residency, by professorships-in-residence, and by digital and distance learning techniques — working together as one campus across great distances by bending space and time in ways that would have made Albert Einstein proud.

Just this year, for example, a studio project that began in Clemson soon moved to Genoa for further research and development, then on to Charleston for fabrication and fine tuning, and finally back to Clemson this fall for completion. That project, an interactive exhibit for children based on the Reggio Emilia Approach to education, will roll out in cities across South Carolina this fall. Watch for it.

Marking times

Throughout the year, the centennial has been observed with lectures, symposia, design projects, essays and celebrations. And others joined in as well. In August the South Atlantic Region of the American Institute of Architects held its fourth annual Architecture for Health conference at Clemson on the topic “Local Roots and Global Reach,” in keeping with the centennial theme. A reception and alumni gathering helped celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Architecture + Health program at Clemson.

Also worth noting, the year 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Clemson Architecture Center in Genoa, the 25th anniversary of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston, the 45th anniversary of Clemson’s Graduate Program in Architecture + Health, and the 13th anniversary of the Clemson Architecture Center in Barcelona — all observed during Clemson Architecture’s centennial year. The celebration, begun in those cities last spring, is gathering steam as it heads into Clemson this fall.


Extending roots and reach

The timeline created as part of this celebration makes clear that the trajectory begun in 1913 will not level out as the School of Architecture begins its second century. Simply scanning the range and scope of alumni accomplishments illustrates an influence in both the design of buildings and the building of communities.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Clemson President James Barker ’70 said, “If architects want to be influential, we need to get out of our ateliers and connect with the curriculum, engage the culture and serve our larger communities.”

This year’s annual meeting of the American Institute of Architects made it clear that the graduates of Clemson’s architecture program have taken that challenge to heart. Clemson alumni captured three of the institute’s national awards — the Twenty-five Year Award, the Honor Award for Architecture and the Young Architects Award. And Harvey Gantt ’65 captured the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for social activism and responsibility.

Join the celebration!

On September 30, the exhibition “Southern Roots + Global Reach: 100 Years of Clemson Architecture” opens in the Lee Gallery. Explore the people, themes and stories of the past century.
On October 18, the symposium “The Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization” features a keynote lecture by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, Ph.D., and a panel presentation including Frank Harmon, FAIA, and Marlon Blackwell, FAIA.
On October 18, get your Beaux Arts on with “Upcycle!” This formal reception and dance will be held in the Wedge in Lee III, the new addition to Lee Hall, designed by Thomas Phifer ’75, M ’77.


Celebration School of Architecture

VIew the gallery exhibition about 100 Years of Architecture at Clemson.

Photo Gallery

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Q & A with the President

This spring, Clemson World sat down with President James Barker to get his perspective as he prepares to step down from the presidency and back into the classroom.

CW: What was your first priority as Clemson’s president?

BARKER: The way I always respond to that question is the same, and that is, my first priority is our students. But that’s a set of people and really the reason for our existence, and it’s a reminder to all of us on the campus what role our students really play.

If I think back to that moment, there were two things. We needed some stability here. I had lived through five presidents in 15 years, and each of those changes was so disruptive that it was hard to have any momentum built, because you were constantly changing the strategic plans. So I reasoned that if I would commit to stay at least 10 years, then that would be a symbol about stability. The other was that some fractures were starting to get a little bit wider, and I was concerned about keeping the Clemson Family united and unified. So the idea of One Clemson emerged early on. And nobody is as strong as Clemson when we are united.

CW: In your inauguration speech you noted that Clemson is “a living organism with a core and surface,” the core having a covenant with tradition and the surface having a covenant with change. How have you balanced tradition and change in your leadership?

BARKER: This place has a special genius, a collective genius, about understanding that balance. Otherwise, we could not have experienced the degree of change that we did in the ’50s and ’60s when we went from an all-male and all-white military school, to the Clemson you see today, with students from 90 different countries, with 50 percent women. That would have torn many schools apart, and that did not happen to Clemson.

There’s this almost innate understanding about when it’s time to hold on to traditions tightly and when to let go and make sure that change is what dominates our thinking. All I really tried to do was not mess that up too badly — to just pay attention to that history and say, “We’re now in one of those times again, and it’s time for this amount of change or this amount of tradition to rise.”

In that quote, I was really challenging each of us to engage in that change-versus-tradition discussion — let it not be an abstract idea, but a very real idea on how we solve problems, how we build strategic plans, how we deal with the future. That dialogue about change and traditions served us very well. You can go back to the ultimate source of tradition, which is Thomas Green Clemson’s will, and he doesn’t make it very clear about how this is to be done. He saw it as a dynamic thing; he understood the need for change.

You can’t say in the 19th century what the 21st century’s going to be, or in the 21st century what the 23rd century Clemson should look like. We take seriously our roots as an ag school and an engineering mechanical school. But that doesn’t stop us from working with BMW, and that doesn’t stop us from doing wind energy. What will it take to bring prosperity to South Carolina in whatever century we’re in — that’s our charge from Thomas Green Clemson.

CW: You didn’t begin your presidency timidly. The top 20 goal was a bold reach. What motivated you to choose that?

BARKER: I’ve said jokingly that I wish I’d said top 25. That would have been very easy to do. Everybody thought that was ridiculous, because it seemed like a stretch too far. But when I think about the distinctive qualities of Clemson, it is clear that we are very competitive by nature. I challenged that competitive nature to say, “We can be top 20 in sports, and there’s no reason we can’t be top 20 in academics. This is something Clemson can accomplish if we work together.”

And yes, I gulped a few times before I said that, because I knew we had been in the third tier a year or two before. And we’re not there yet. But five consecutive years in the top 25 is clearly a trend, a level of success that I think we can be proud of.

CW: You also noted in your inauguration speech that “Clemson is still a work in progress.” What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your 14 years?

BARKER: It’s hard not to start with technology. The kind of impact that instant communication has had — much for the better I think. I would list the range and location of where we are attracting students now — truly a national base, and an international base. Paths are as well worn in parts of China for students following their colleagues as they are in Bamberg and up and down the East Coast and in California and all the Midwest.

The other thing that’s changed dramatically for the better is our self-concept. To a person, we believe that we are a great school. Now some would say we are on our path to being a great school, and I wouldn’t argue with that either. There are still many things we want to accomplish, but our expectations are that we’re going to be great. That’s emboldened us to dream bigger dreams and to try harder things. I’m proud of all three of those things, but I think the change in self-concept is fundamental to the success of what our university can be.

CW: What was your biggest challenge?

BARKER: We’ve never really had the financial base to be able to justify our dreams. At the start of my service, we were 40 percent funded by the state, and now we’re about 9 percent funded by the state. When I was a student, it was about 80 percent.

But the biggest challenge, I think, was the Great Recession, when we all were furloughed — all of us took a pay cut — and yet we came through without any layoffs. We kept the Clemson Family as united as can be in a crisis like that. Coming out of that now, we’re stronger than we ever were. Certainly our capital campaign has shown that — we’re approaching $700 million, and we’re dead serious about reaching that $1 billion goal. When we do, we’ll be the only school our size ever to have done that, and I think that shows a lot about self-confidence and self-concept.

CW: You’ve often begun speeches with stories of life in the president’s house. What’s one of your favorites from over the years?

BARKER: Maybe the first one I told is still my favorite. We were here on a Saturday — just the two of us, Marcia and I — and that doorbell rang. I was doing something, so Marcia opened the door. She found me and said, “There’s a group of students who want to talk to you.” So I went out to talk with them, and they said, “We’re on our way to Bowman Field to play Frisbee. Do you wanna play?”

I called back to Marcia and said, “Can I go out and play?” And she said, “Yes, as long as you’re back by 3 o’clock, because you have an appointment at that time.”

That engagement is something I treasure probably more than anything else about living on campus or this work. That students would think to invite the president to play Frisbee — there is just something right about that. And I guess that gave me the confidence, that maybe I ought to get in the Tiger suit and do push-ups, and who knows, water-ski behind the rowing team. That degree of engagement always seemed to me to be the most joyful part of the job, but an important part of the job too.

CW: How has your background in architecture enriched your presidency?

BARKER: I can’t imagine a better preparation, a better education for a university president than architecture. I never thought of it this way, but at some point about six months into this service, it dawned on me that I’m practicing architecture.

My education was very broad — all the way from poetry to plumbing — but it wasn’t very deep. And that’s what a president’s job is. You don’t have to be an expert in everything on campus, but you need to have some understanding. The liability is that I don’t have the depth in any one area, but as president, that could get in your way. I really value that education because of the breadth that it gave me. It also asked for me to use both sides of my brain, the left brain and the right brain. So you’ve taken physics and you’re also taking painting.

The other part is that I am conditioned to strive for the beautiful. My eyes and my brain are very much tuned to things that aren’t, and they stand out when you’ve had that kind of education. I really value the beauty of this campus and making sure that it continues to become even more beautiful with every decision we make. It’s not just an aesthetic game I’m playing; we attract students and faculty to this campus because they look around and say, “This is beautiful — I want to live here.” It makes me look forward to getting up and coming to work every morning because I’m surrounded by this kind of beauty.

We have to make sure that we continue to do that in both the design of our buildings, and in the spaces between the buildings, the outdoor rooms. We ought to strive for this place to be a garden — every inch of it to be a garden — and I think we’re making real progress there.

I get to live here, and enjoy it when it’s filled with people and enjoy it when it very quiet and the mist is coming off of the lake. It’s a spectacular piece of the earth.

CW: When you look back, what were your proudest moments, both personally and professionally?

BARKER: Let me touch on a few of the highlights. I think that each one was a success that I didn’t do, that the campus did — everybody was a part of this. These things are too complex for one person to do. But I would list among them the fact that we set out to get a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, and now students are leaving Clemson with that very important credential, and it’s changed our self-concept.

The fact that we enrolled and created the National Scholars Program in 2000 — I would list that as a major moment.

The fact that we raised tuition 42 percent in one year and kept this family together. People rallied to support it because they believed in the quality of a Clemson education. We were one of the lowest priced, in terms of tuition, statewide, and we should have been priced according to the value we were giving. We built that base, and heaven knows — that was before the Great Recession — where would we be if we hadn’t done that? The quality wouldn’t be there.

The partnerships we’ve enjoyed with BMW, with Michelin, with the City of Greenville and with the state that created ICAR. It was a matter of really good teamwork and really good timing, and it’s helped give South Carolina a direct look at what a knowledge-based economy looks like.

The way we got through the Great Recession, with no layoffs, and we kept ourselves together.

The fact that, at the start of the Will to Lead capital campaign, we could have delayed that announcement, because you don’t do that kind of fundraising in the worst recession in 60 or 80 years. The Board said continue, the Foundation Board said continue, and we did. And that’s why we are where we are now.

Winning both a National Championship in Golf and the Habitat for Humanity International College Chapter of the Year. That shows the true balance of Clemson.

The Department of Energy grant we got to develop the drivetrain test facility in North Charleston, which is nearing completion now. That $45 million, combined with the state match, produced a $100 million project that we were able to capitalize on to create an environment that will help industry and serve our students remarkably well.

Creating the Academic Success Center, and Dori Helms, our provost, deserves credit for that. It was her idea and now we see the physical manifestation of a very good idea in a brand new building on campus.

I was touched by the Ring Ceremony, and having Col. Ben Skardon, one of my teachers, talk about what his ring had meant to him on the Bataan Death March and his prisoner-of-war experience for almost four years in the second World War.

And one that was hard, was the brawl we had with the University of South Carolina in football in 2004. We decided that we weren’t going to go to a bowl game. That was behavior we couldn’t accept, and we were not going to reward ourselves by having a bowl experience. I think that sent a pretty clear message about where our priorities were and a little bit of a statement about Clemson’s integrity. It was not universally praised, but I think it was the right thing to do.

CW: How has being an alumnus affected your presidency?

BARKER: Clemson is not ordinary; it is not normal. It is a school with all sorts of idiosyncrasies. We just don’t behave like other schools behave, and we don’t put priorities on things that some people, at other schools, might put priorities on. But the things we do put priorities on are critically important to us. It has taken me a lifetime to figure those things out.

I started at Clemson as a 17-year-old, the oldest of three boys, in a family that never had anyone go to college. My father died a year before the first time I walked across Bowman Field. I’ve just found that knowing that history, those traditions, how a campus can embrace someone — that’s where our priorities ought to be, and I understood that almost instinctively. I would have been a lousy president somewhere else because I didn’t understand those things. I think that understanding those distinctive qualities, praising them, strengthening them, has been an important part of what I hope we’ve accomplished.

CW: Is there anything you would characterize as “unfinished business” as you retire?

BARKER: The enterprise legislation. I knew it was a very hard task to get that through in one year and even more so in an abbreviated year. But that’s unfinished. It must happen — it is vital to our future. But we’re halfway there, and we’ll be planning our efforts between now and when the legislature begins in January. And we’ll be very active in this offseason to plant the right seeds hopefully so that we can be successful.

CW: What will you miss as you return to the classroom?

BARKER: No more knocks on the front door and to see who’s there — to open that door and to see what kind of Clemson experience someone is having, and whether or not I can make that better. I will miss that. I’ll miss the interaction with students and with faculty and staff too, but that interaction with students. That’s one thing we’ll miss, living right here in the middle of campus, surrounded by that energy, or that depression after the first round of tests. You can feel it by just being a part of this campus. So being an integral part of the campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is something I think we’ll miss.

CW: Is there a place on campus that has been particularly significant for you, either as a student, faculty member, or as president?

BARKER: There are moments when you walk on this campus that you get these glimpses of the mountains. There are a couple of beautiful spots where that happens on the campus; one of them is at the base of Tillman Hall. You look down College Avenue, and you see those mountains looming in the distance. I never get tired of that view. It’s breathtaking.

And Bowman Field, because every time I walk across it, I have that memory of the first time I walked across it, and the sense that this campus gave me, just intuitively, that said, “You’re going to be okay. We know you’ve got lots of challenges, financial, you lost your dad, you’re sort of representing your whole family in this effort. Trust us, you’ll be okay.” I felt that very much that first time, and now when I walk across Bowman Field, I feel the same way, every single time.

CW: Is there a person who was particularly significant for you as a student?

BARKER: Ben Skardon. This Marine reading poetry in his big deep gravelly voice and reading Shelley and Keats — I was just mesmerized by that.

Two faculty members in architecture who realized that I was having a financial crisis. They found a scholarship that fit my grade point average and need, and that kept me from having to drop out of school.

And then there was this speech teacher who had us listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King back in 1966 or ’67. She never talked about the content. She would say, “Listen to the inflection here. You know I’ve been teaching you about how repetition works when you’re giving speeches, and inflection and volume.” I was a changed person coming out of that class. I was not the same person walking out of there that I was when I walked in. It wasn’t just about technique and speech either.

CW: It’s obvious that you and Mrs. Barker have approached this presidency as a partnership. How has that enriched and strengthened your presidency?

BARKER: That’s absolutely true. The grace that she’s shown and the hospitality that she’s shown — I think it’s in her DNA. But also the kind of preparation that I had for the job — she had the same. Consider this — our first year of married life was in married student housing here. So she had that same understanding about Clemson that I had and was an active part of the community. From her preschool days [as a teacher and director at Fort Hill Church], she has a lot of alumni in this town, and now they’re my alumni. So we’ve handed off four-year-olds who became Clemson graduates, and that’s really a joy to see. When she sees them walking across the stage getting their degree, it’s a special moment for her too. I don’t have any doubt that the best first lady that Clemson’s ever had is Marcia.

CW: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with us?

BARKER: I think the thing that I’m feeling right now, as the time for us to change majors comes, is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am overcome by moments that are so special to me that demonstrate the opportunity that we’ve been given, and the gratitude that I feel for that opportunity to serve my alma mater for 14 years, to be the spokesperson for the Clemson Family, in times of loss, in times of celebration, all the way to memorial services for students, to picking up the trophy from the ACC Championship on the field and everything in between. I just have an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

CW: I would say the University probably has the same sense towards you.

BARKER: I don’t know about that part, but I just know what’s rolling around in my head and my heart, and it’s powerful.

Orange Rose

Since 1999, Marcia Barker has called the two-story white house situated off Cherry Road, atop a grassy hill, “home.” Shortly after she and husband, Jim, moved into the space, she affixed a sign to the front door that said as much. The small plaque has a simple message, but it makes an intentional distinction: This is the “President’s Home.”

In the Barkers’ 14 years of living and entertaining here, tens of thousands of guests have crossed the threshold — each one enjoying an introduction to Marcia’s hospitality and her love of all things Clemson. Whether it’s a donor event, Woman’s Club gathering, faculty reception or alumni celebration, an invitation to the President’s Home is always an invitation to time well spent with Marcia, as she entertains alongside her high school sweetheart, life partner and best friend.

The flowers are fresh, and guests are welcomed with a warm smile and open arms. And if Marcia can help it, the roses are always orange.

“When we lived in Clemson as students, Jim’s architecture faculty embraced all their students,” she recalls, seated in her well-appointed front living room and explaining that, as a young couple in the late 1960s, they were invited to picnics, dinners at faculty homes and all variety of outings.

“So, when Jim started his first faculty appointment, we just opened the door, because that’s the way we had been treated,” Marcia says. Now, nearly five decades after they began their Clemson journey together, Marcia is readying herself and her husband to exit the presidency and begin the process of reflecting on their time spent here. “I realized early on how fast this would go, and that it would pass,” Marcia says quietly and thoughtfully. “I’ve tried to embrace every single moment.”

Marcia and Jim met in Kingsport, Tenn. They were high school sweethearts, dating for five years before they were married in 1969, him at 21, her at 20. Her father signed for her to wed the young Clemson architecture student, and she left Winthrop College lacking one year of school so she could move to Clemson. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in elementary education at Georgia State University in 1972.

Their marriage marked the beginning of a partnership that would carry them through life and academia, starting out in “married student housing” at Clemson, a modest group of buildings known as the “pre-fabs.” The small metal buildings on Jersey Lane have long since been replaced by the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. But every time the Barkers attend a performance, Marcia says they smile a little at the memory of their Clemson beginnings.

“We just thought it was the most wonderful house in the world,” she says laughing. “It would probably fit in the foyer of the President’s Home. That’s where we learned about the Clemson Family, too.”

They moved straight into the pre-fabs after their August 1969 wedding and prepared for Jim to finish his bachelor’s degree. “You know how hot it is here in Clemson,” she recalls of that first summer. “There was no air conditioning, and those little metal houses were warm.”

Shortly after they’d unpacked, one of Barker’s architecture professors, Hal Cooledge, appeared at their door with a window air conditioning unit in hand. He told them he just happened to have an extra one lying around. Marcia may never know if that was true, but she says this, smiling: “It cooled that whole little place, and probably saved our marriage.”

Nearly 45 years later, she’s seen more kindness extended to her family by the Clemson Family than she could ever have imagined.

“It’s been overwhelming and very amazing,” she says. “We can just feel their genuine care and concern.”

Barker was appointed dean of the College of Architecture in 1986, and the couple left Mississippi State University to return to Clemson for the second and last time. Marcia had one lament about the move back, after years of making the trip to Clemson to visit friends:

“We were so excited to start this adventure here,” she recalls. “I said, ‘There’s only one bad thing about coming back to Clemson.’”

It was a comment that she remembers surprising her husband: “When we would come back to visit, we would drive into town, and I would get that excited feeling in my stomach when I would get to Bowman Field. And I said, ‘I will miss that.’”

She found out that the feeling never actually went away, whether she was driving to work as a teacher at Fort Hill Presbyterian or passing by Bowman on one of her early-morning walks around campus, something she enjoys with a small group of friends as often as she is able:

“I still get that feeling, because there’s always something different going on there. It’s the heartbeat of the campus.”

Through the years, the Barkers worked together to serve the students and faculty and to advance Jim’s career, raising two sons, Jacob and Britt, along the way. They celebrated a wedding and two grandchildren in that time — son Jacob married Rita Bolt Barker and they have since had two daughters, Madeline and Eliza.

On her own, Marcia has served the community with diligence and selflessness, volunteering her time and her talents to many, many organizations — America Reads, Friends of Lee Gallery, Fort Hill Presbyterian Church, Clemson Child Development Center and University organizations among them. As first lady, she is honorary president of the Clemson University Woman’s Club, and each year she hosts their open house. As a caring friend, she can be counted on for her homemade breakfast casserole during times of loss (a death) and moments of celebration (a new baby!). She is often responsible for flowers when a special event is happening at her church.

Those who know her well say Jim has always been her No. 1 priority. Marcia explains her support of him the same way she characterizes her engagement with students, faculty, staff and donors: “When you care about someone or something, you really want to do what you can to make that person successful and happy. That’s the way the people at Clemson are.”

The Barkers moved into the President’s Home in 1999, and since 2000 they have hosted an impressive 93,708 guests at 789 events there.

In all that time, Doris Johnson has been the executive housekeeper. And in all that time of sharing a house and a calendar with Marcia, Johnson says, “I have never seen her upset.”

Johnson works hand in hand with Marcia’s executive assistant, Linda Wofford, to support the events and entertaining that take place at the President’s Home. Johnson and Wofford have been a team since they both worked for University dining services in the 1990s. They agree that Marcia’s cool, calm and collected public persona doesn’t change behind closed doors. What folks don’t see as often, they say, is her sense of humor.

Case in point: Years ago, the Barkers were entertaining a group of college deans with an outdoor, white tablecloth dinner reception. As Johnson and Wofford were just finishing setting the tables and the Barkers were inside getting dressed, the backyard sprinklers went off. Everything was soaked.

The two staffers looked at each other and realized that someone was going to have to tell the Barkers. So, Wofford stood at the foot of the stairs and called up to them, saying, “We have a problem.”

The Barkers emerged. They saw the soaked table settings. Their response? “They laughed,” Wofford recalls, smiling. The four of them worked as a team to wipe down the glassware and china and replace the soaked tablecloths. Minutes before guests walked through the door, Marcia was helping her team dry off the wet grass with bath towels.

“If anybody had seen us, they would have thought we were crazy,” Johnson says. It remains one of her most treasured memories from her years at the President’s Home.

There’s seldom a face that Marcia Barker forgets. Rare is the occasion that doesn’t merit a hand-written note in her perfect script. She’s in a constant state of outreach — be it congratulations or condolences. It’s not out of obligation. It is, friends say, because she really cares.

“She will know as much about you as you know about her,” says Hazel Sparks, a longtime friend of Marcia’s and her former teacher’s assistant at Fort Hill Preschool. Marcia taught and served as director of the preschool for 10 years, prior to becoming first lady. Sparks, a Clemson institution in her own right, connects the dots between Marcia’s teaching days and her role as first lady.

“She could focus on one child’s need and still be aware of everything else going on in the classroom,” Sparks says. “In a social situation, she can focus on the person she’s talking to, but she still knows what’s going on around her.”

And chances are, if you had a nice conversation, she’ll write a thoughtful note to say so. There’s no telling how many notes Marcia has penned through the years. But if you ask her, it’s one too few.

“I write a lot, but that’s one thing that’s really hard for me. I always feel like there’s one more I need to write that I don’t get time for,” she says. “I do think it’s important, and people have been so incredibly great to write us — just some heartfelt thanks and gratitude. We will definitely treasure those.”

It’s been years since they’ve gone back and looked in the wooden box that holds the thousands of letters they’ve received through the years, dating back to when President Barker was inaugurated. In retirement, they have plans to revisit those letters and those memories, one at a time.

A favorite memory Marcia shares occasionally is a valentine’s party that several male students talked them into hosting at their home. The undergrads convinced the Barkers to let them cook dinner in their kitchen and have their blindfolded dates chauffeured to the President’s Home to share the meal.

The young women took turns gasping at the surprise before being invited to sit down to dinner. Afterward, the group of about eight ladies gathered in the den with Marcia, and the next thing they knew, one of the young men had slid behind the grand piano. He started playing. The rest of the men, including President Barker, then filed in through the French doors and surrounded the piano, proceeding to perform a choreographed rendition of the song, “L-O-V-E.” (Think, “L, is for the way you look tonight.”) The song ended with Jim on bended knee in front of Marcia, an orange rose in hand.

At the end of the night, they were in a state of shock, Marcia recalls. “We just looked at each other when they walked out the door and said, ‘What just happened?’”

It’s clear that memories like that will live on long after the last of the Barkers’ belongings are moved out of the President’s Home and into a home off campus. Marcia hasn’t spent too much time being reflective about her tenure as Clemson’s first lady, in part because she’s still so busy, but also, she says, because it makes her emotional.

“Jim always says it’s been a great honor in his life to serve Clemson as president,” she offers. “When he says that, I always in my mind say, ‘It’s really been an honor for me to serve alongside him.’”