U of M Encyclopedic Survey 1301-1302
Emil Lorch, Professor of Architecture and later Director of the College of Architecture, had a sound background of architectural training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University. In addition, his lively interest in the architecture of the Midwest gave his attitudes vitality and some degree of independence.
Lacking the official national status of the École des Beaux-arts, the several modest American schools of architecture could only echo the approach of the French school by stating and issuing academic problems to be solved by the student with the aid of his critic, the professor of design. It was inevitable that in order to give this process some resemblance to the French prototype, Frenchmen should be eagerly sought as chief critics. In 1907 this pattern was becoming well established. Behind it lay all the authority not only of the French school, but of those successful architects in New York and Chicago who had been fortunate enough to have spent some time at the École des Beaux-arts.
The College managed to maintain its independence in spite of pressure from other schools and from those who could not understand a departure from the tenets of the French system. Professor Lorch was much influenced by the work and writing of Louis H. Sullivan, of Chicago, and by the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright, then a young but exciting and successful contemporary, and the theories of Denman Ross, of Harvard, and Arthur W. Dow, of Pratt Institute.
Professor Lorch’s career at Michigan as head of the work in architecture extended from 1906 to 1936, when he resigned as Director of the College. During this period he served the interests of the school and of education in architecture with unswerving devotion. Always objective in thought and vigorous in action, his was throughout the period the outstanding personality; he was the leader. He was a charter member of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the first president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. This last honor was most appropriate since he was a prime force in the establishment of legislation regulating the practice of architecture in the state of Michigan.
In addition to his concern with education and legal regulation of practice, Lorch was from time to time active in private practice, mainly in Ann Arbor. He was architect and a member of the consulting board of the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit. He designed the Architecture Building. He was the architect of several buildings for the Detroit Edison Company and of numerous residential projects. He early had a particular interest in research having to do with the history of American buildings and since his retirement has carried on this work even more actively, continuing to concern himself with the Classic Revival period of the middle nineteenth century.
Lorch was an inspiring teacher and after his resignation as Director he taught until he reached retirement age in 1940. He was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1939.