Auburn Spotlight, David Hinson

We’re known around the world as a program that produces well-rounded students with an amazing work ethic."
David Hinson
Professor, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture

Spotlight Interview

David Hinson served as head of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, or APLA, in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction for more than 10 years. He stepped down from that role in December to focus on teaching. He is the longest serving school head in APLA; an alumnus of Auburn's architecture program; a fellow in the American Institute of Architects, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the National Architectural Accrediting Board; and an accomplished architect. 

What led you into the architecture field initially?

I grew up in an Auburn-loving family and knew I wanted to be an Auburn student long before I knew I wanted to become an architect. 

Like many of our students today, I was drawn to the idea of a design-centered career. However, when I arrived on campus as a freshman from a small town in East Texas, I knew very little about the profession of architecture. I had some wonderful teachers in my first year in the program and went home that first summer convinced I was in the right place. I feel the same today (nearly 40 years later).

What sets Auburn’s architecture program apart from others?

We have an amazing team of teaching-centered faculty. Their first priority is the learning experience our students take away from here. We’re known around the world as a program that produces well-rounded students with an amazing work ethic and for students who put leadership and community service at the center of their values. We also have a wonderful community within the school. Our students and faculty spend a lot of time together and develop pretty tight bonds.

What is your most meaningful accomplishment during your time as the head of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture?

Anyone who has served in a position like this one will tell you the most important legacy you have are the people you hire. I’ve hired more than half the faculty and staff in APLA, and they are a terrific team. 

I was attracted back to Auburn (from Philadelphia) almost 20 years ago when I learned about a (then) fairly new program called the Rural Studio. It was pretty unusual to have something like the Rural Studio in an architecture school at that time, and I wanted to be a part of that inspiring work. Over the 14 years that I’ve been in leadership roles in our school, I’ve worked to move the values that underpin our off-campus teaching venues (the Rural Studio in West Alabama and our Birmingham-based Urban Studio) – learning by doing, community service, collaboration, etc. – from the periphery of the school’s culture to its center. Today, these values are our strongest signature with the design education community. It is clear to me that our reputation as the “gold standard” for community-based teaching translates to open doors for our graduates in any job market they want to aim for. I hear that message from Birmingham to Beijing.

I certainly did not do this alone, but that goal has been my pole star from the beginning. Pretty proud of that.

What are you most looking forward to as you transition back to teaching?

Being back in the design studio with students! Our studio-based teaching model is a powerful way of learning. The give and take with students and the two-way learning that takes pace in that setting is just a blast to lead. I’m also looking forward to being able to re-engage the community-based outreach that was at the center of my teaching and scholarship before taking this post.

What do you do in your free time?

Both my daughter and son enjoy sports, so I’ve spent a lot of time on the sidelines of different ball fields. I also love sailing every summer when we’re vacationing on the coast.

What is your favorite Auburn memory?

My favorite Auburn teaching memories are the numerous project dedication ceremonies associated with our community-based design work. There have been many of these where the descriptions of impact and the expressions of love and appreciation we hear from our community clients are just so very powerful. Couple that with seeing the pride the students feel in what they’ve done and you just can’t help being moved  - and fortunate to play a part in it.

My favorite “Auburn fan” moments are being in the stands with my son (with my daughter across the field in the Auburn University Marching Band) for the wins over UGA and Bama in 2013. Either one of those would have been “lifetime” memories, and we shared both. Good stuff!