Architect’s gift opens doors for underrepresented graduate students
Architect Thomas Phifer calls his experience at Clemson — and at the Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies in Genoa, Italy — “the beginning of everything for me.”
Phifer earned his bachelor’s degree in 1975 and master’s degree in 1977.
One of the leading architects of our time, Phifer has completed numerous projects, including an expansion of the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland; an expansion of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York; the United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah; the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina; the Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion at Rice University in Houston, Texas; an outdoor performance pavilion in Austin, Texas; and numerous houses in the Hudson Valley of New York State. He was a lead design architect for Lee III at Clemson, which Architectural Digest called “one of the best in new university architecture around the world.” Ongoing projects include the Museum of Modern Art and TR Warszawa Theatre in Warsaw and the Cine Colombia headquarters in Bogotá. It’s an impressive list.
Equally impressive are the accolades. Phifer received the prestigious Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome in 1995. A fellow of the American Institute of Architects, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, in 2004, and the President’s award, in 2016, from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In 2019, he received the National Design Award in Architectural Design from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. In 2022, Phifer was inducted as a lifetime member into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. And these are but a few of the many recognitions that have been bestowed upon him.
“I want to honor the state of South Carolina where I was born and raised … by elevating the presence of a more diverse community.”
Now an endowed fellowship for graduate architecture students from historically underserved and underrepresented communities bears his name at Clemson. The Thomas Phifer Fellowship supports two years of tuition in the School of Architecture for two graduate students from underserved and underrepresented communities to increase access and broaden a more diverse pathway within the architecture profession in South Carolina.
“By opening new opportunities to underserved and underrepresented communities, we strengthen the diversity of voices in our lives,” said Phifer, “offering the promise of a more inclusive, open and welcoming architecture. My hope is that others will join me in supporting this fellowship fund that provides an education that is open to all people.”
In addition, Phifer is establishing an annual yearlong preceptorship in his New York studio for a School of Architecture graduate student in their second year of study.
“Thomas Phifer is a point of pride as an alumnus,” said School of Architecture director James Stevens. “This gift is essential in supporting our underrepresented students, who might otherwise not be able to pursue architecture as a career. Not only does it commit to supporting them financially, but it also commits to mentoring and training selected students in Thomas’ studio — a priceless contribution to our students, institution and profession.”
The School of Architecture has an important historical role in the University’s progress toward greater diversity. Harvey Gantt, Clemson’s first African American graduate, is a School of Architecture alumnus who graduated with honors in 1965. Ray Huff, recently retired director of the Clemson Design Center in Charleston, was one of the first African American students to follow in Gantt’s footsteps, and he has spearheaded efforts to increase the diversity of the School of Architecture’s student body.
“This fellowship will provide an unprecedented opportunity for students of color to pursue architecture as a vocation, enabling their voices, instincts and unique vantage to become purposeful and heralded in the canon of architecture,” Huff said.
“I want to honor the state of South Carolina where I was born and raised, a place that means so much to me, by elevating the presence of a more diverse community. The School of Architecture was the beginning of everything for me. That transformative experience so many years ago is still alive in me today, and I would like to pass along this inclusive ethos to the next generation.
“If we all learn this way, then we will teach this way,” said Phifer.