In Memoriam: Charles Hamilton Burnette

March 19, 2024
Charles Hamilton Burnette, Ph.D., who served as the UT School of Architecture’s dean from 1973-1976, died on Sunday, March 3, 2024, at the age of 89.
Charles Burnette headshot

Charles Hamilton Burnette was born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1934. Educated as an architect at the University of Pennsylvania (B. Arch, 1958; M. Arch, 1963; and Ph.D., 1969), Burnette was licensed to practice in New York and Pennsylvania. After receiving his Bachelor of Architecture and serving in the U.S. Army, he began a career in industrial design in 1958 at George Nelson, Inc. in New York by designing six structures for the American Exhibition in Moscow and experimental furniture for Herman Miller, Inc.

Before serving as Dean at The University of Texas at Austin, Burnette was the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Founding Director of the Center for Building Design and Construction, providing access to and services for the building industry in Philadelphia. 

In 1973, he became a tenured professor and Dean of the School of Architecture, where he refocused the school’s curriculum, expanded the faculty, and introduced new programs in continuing education. While here, Burnette also hired several key faculty members who still serve on our faculty and have left a lasting impact on the school: Professors Michael Benedikt, Michael Garrison, and Larry Speck. While Dean, Burnette also served on the board of the Carnegie Foundation Study of Architectural Education, chaired an annual meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and led the academic accreditation of the School of Architecture, proposing a stronger research role for the accrediting process to the National Architectural Accrediting Board.

Reflecting on Dr. Burnette’s time at the School of Architecture, Professor Speck notes: “Chuck Burnette was full of energy and great ideas. His positivity in the face of conflict or opposition was truly impressive. He was a dreamer, a poet, and a thinker.” For Professor Benedikt, Dr. Burnette was instrumental in launching his professional trajectory: “Chuck interviewed me in 1975, not in Austin but at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When I arrived in Austin that fall, the heat was shocking. I stayed at his house on West 6th for a week or so, where he introduced me to iced tea. He understood my work on information theory as applied to architecture. He gave me my career.”

Following his time at UT Austin, Burnette launched Charles Burnette + Associates: Research/Industrial Design/Architecture and became a tenured professor of industrial design at the Philadelphia College of Arts, later the University of the Arts, where he developed a program in community design and spearheaded two master’s programs. He was the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, was recognized by i-D magazine as one of 40 people making a difference in design, and was made a Fellow of the AIA for his research and service to the architectural profession.

As his family notes in Burnette’s obituary, “a deep thinker, big dreamer, and continuous learner, Chuck loved nothing more than to share his ideas and theories on design, design thinking, and design education, whether through conversations or the prodigious numbers of papers he published. Until the end, he applied new information and insights to his theory of design thinking, extending it to encompass issues of personal, social, and ecological well-being. His goal was to apply design thinking creatively to improve the human experience.”