December 4, 2020 College Memorializes Founding Dean Bill Lacy

The College of Architecture and Design remembers and commemorates the legacy of our founding dean, Bill Lacy, FAIA, who passed away on Aug. 25, 2020, and extends sincere condolences to his family. Lacy’s vision, collaborative spirit and design brilliance established the thriving college we have today, and we will always be thankful.

black and white photo of Bill Lacy

Lacy’s Legacy

In 1965, Bill Lacy, an associate dean at Rice University at the time, answered a call to come to Knoxville, Tennessee, to inaugurate a new era in education at the University of Tennessee, the New School of Architecture. During his years as dean, Lacy established the burgeoning school with thoughtful leadership, essential experience and a keen vision for the future of design.

In a 2008 interview with Architectural Record, Lacy said, “…it was ’65 through ’69, during the Vietnam War. There was a lot of turmoil on campuses. But my classes had good morale; the kids felt they were moving in the right direction and that we were all in something together. We took on the old steam plant and converted it into the architecture school, and I got Herman Miller and Knoll to furnish it. We became guinea pigs for the new open-office landscaping.

“In Knoxville, I formed Design Collective. There were five of us: two architects, a graphic designer, an industrial designer, and an engineer. I thought that’s where practice might go, toward incorporating different disciplines. We worked with Victor Gruen on a downtown plan. We did a department store in town, put on a big show called Stores of the ’70s predicting all these things that didn’t happen.”

Lacy went on to become an international voice for design through leadership in academia, the arts, philanthropy and corporate collaborations. He was known for bringing people and projects together. To Lacy, clients, colleagues and associates were friends, and through his uncanny ability to connect, he designed or inspired some of the most iconic buildings of the 20th Century, including The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the U.S. Courthouse in Boston and the West Kowloon cultural center in Hong Kong and helped preserve major structures such as the Old Post Office and National Pension Building (now the National Building Museum) in Washington, D.C.

He served as director of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Architecture and Environmental Design and president of the Academy in Rome, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and Purchase College in New York. He also was executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize from 1988-2005, started three design firms and later provided design consulting to large institutions in the U.S.

Before the national and international acclaim, before leading the design thinking for corporations and arts alike, before impacting the world’s landscapes and skylines, Lacy gave his time to a dozen or so nervous college freshmen in Knoxville who wanted to learn architecture. In the converted steam plant building in the shadow of Neyland Stadium, Lacy established a program and began a tradition of creative excellence that set the foundation for the vibrant college of today.

Future Impact

To memorialize Dean Lacy and help fund students’ education into the future, alumni, stakeholders and friends of the college can contribute to the Estabrook Endowed Scholarship Fund, established in 2018 by alumni from the Estabrook era. To donate in Lacy’s memory, contact Pamela Cannella Treacy at

In addition to supporting the college’s Estabrook Scholarship, donations in Lacy’s memory also can be made to the Diversity Advancement Scholarship of the AIA Foundation.