Rodney Hill, whose towering legacy as a Texas A&M professor of architecture includes an immeasurable impact on his legions of former students, as well as an abundance of artistic pieces capturing the Aggie spirit that he created as a master artist, is retiring at the end of the spring 2021 semester.

He joined the Aggie faculty in 1969.

“Hill ignited students’ creativity and innovation for so many years because he is a boundless, endless source of creative, innovative and design thinking,” said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture. “That is the magic he unleashed in his classes for 52 years.”

He is the very definition, said Vanegas, of a polymath — a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.

“Rodney can talk about the future with the same ease that he can talk about history or current world affairs in Texas, the nation or the globe,” said Vanegas. “He conveyed to his students the critical need to be aware of the past, present and future of our world.”

Hill’s unique teaching style helped students discover themselves in the contexts of design and the entrepreneurial spirit.

One of Hill’s former students, David Applebaum ’80, an Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Architecture, said that Hill’s impact on his life continues to this day.

“It has been more than 40 years since I sat in Rodney Hill’s studio, but there has never been a day since that I do not use one of the lessons, exercises or examples he introduced to me,” he said.

“Rodney,” said Applebaum, “did not just teach artful design, theory, programming and practice. He taught us to think for ourselves, find our voice and think creatively. He confidently steered me and countless thousands of students and former students toward self-realization.”

Hill’s legendary teaching approach included leading The Design Process, one of the most popular classes on campus, an entrepreneurial-based experience in which Hill asked students to imagine what sorts of goods and services that future societies will need.

“The class helped our students discover themselves and become comfortable with what they’re capable of,” Hill said. “It’s all about self-discovery and developing innovation.”

He amassed a very long list of honors and teaching awards, including elevation to the prestigious American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows, the U.S. Presidential White House Award for Community Service, DesignIntelligence’s Most Admired Design Professor, and many, many others.

Hill is also a master artist whose magnificent pieces embody Aggie history and its indomitable spirit.

A sweeping account of 100 years of Aggie history is permanently displayed in the Memorial Student Center in “The Centennial Wood Carvings,” carved and designed by Hill and his wife, Susan.

The piece, a series of six large, hand-carved wooden panels that highlight important aspects of Aggie history, was dedicated on Centennial Convocation Day, Oct. 4, 1976.

The College of Architecture’s history is also expertly captured in another large-scale carving by Rodney and Susan Hill, and is on permanent display in building A of the Langford Architecture Center.

Hill’s artistic talents are also evident at each Texas A&M graduation ceremony.

The university mace, which Hill designed, leads the stately procession into Reed Arena at the beginning of each Aggie commencement. The mace is a gift of the Class of 1990. Hill also designed the mace used by Texas A&M University at Qatar, which made its debut in commencement ceremonies in 2011.

The deep appreciation that Hill’s former students have for him was expressed at Rodneypalooza, a 2019 event hosted by The Friends of Rodney Hill, a group that sought to honor him by observing his 50th anniversary on the Aggie faculty.

The gathering, which took place at the Ice House on Main in downtown Bryan in 2019, drew an overflow crowd of more than 400 of Hill’s former students, friends and fans.

“For giving us over 50 years of exceptional academic freedom, your gift of creativity, mentoring and encouragement, and your treasured friendship, we are forever grateful,” said Scott Price ’74, at a brief program during the event. “You have given us all an enduring love of learning.”

Hill’s legacy will always be honored by the Rodney Hill Professorship in Creativity and Design, created in 2011 to support a College of Architecture faculty member whose teaching and research mirrors Hill’s creative legacy.

The professorship is also an homage to Hill’s longtime role as the college’s unofficial ambassador of creativity, futurism and student advocacy.

— Richard Nira, rnira@arch.tamu.edu