Art (aka Arthur Lyon Kaha, Jr.) for many University of Illinois School of Architecture students is the gentle giant who guided them through coursework selection and University policy and politics. During his tenure, he listened to the torments and challenges. He celebrated rewards, awards and achieved goals. Art was and to this day still is a trusted friend and mentor of many famous and ordinary architects. For many, Art Kaha is the reason they were in the School of Architecture and the reason they became architects.

To honor this influential educator, councilor and mentor, a scholarship fund has been formed in the name of Art Kaha. Per his request, the scholarship will be awarded to a transfer student. This could take the form of a transfer from within the University of Illinois or another institution of higher education. The award will be determined based on the amount in the fund and the qualifications of students making the application.

A humble beginning in the delta of Illinois’ Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Art was the son of a railroad steam locomotive engineer father and a nurse’s aide mother. As a four year old, he dreamed of using his father’s cast off work clothes bags to be a “picker” rummaging through other people’s trash for treasures and trinkets of his own. As a high school student, Art never thought about attending college. He was a C|D student until recruiters started noticing the 6’-3”, standout, high school athlete. Art was setting track, basketball and football records that held for many years after his participation. As a senior, he made the honor roll and All-State Football Team, and accepted a full ride scholarship to the University of Illinois’ football program.

As the first in his family to attend higher education, Art worked to make his foray into architecture a success. While he started with a football scholarship, a thigh injury put him on the bench and eventually out of football completely. While the University offered to honor their scholarship through to the fifth year, Art decided that he would allow the scholarship to go to another student. To finance the rest of his education, Art worked as a janitor, dishwasher, and a drafter for the Campus Planning Office and dropped out a semester to work. He took out a $200 loan, worked summers and Christmas vacations to earn enough for his education. He started in Architecture, transferred to City Planning, transferred to Architecture, transferred to Civil Engineering, transferred to Math, and finally transferred back to Architecture to stay. In reality, he was intimidated by the free hand drawing class (six semesters were required) because his mother and sister were outstanding artists in their own right. Art didn’t think he could measure up to them.

Finally mastering drawing and the other requirements for architecture, Art graduated 8½ years after his start. With the stops and starts and an almost complete internship, he soon sat for licensure and became a firm principal 2½ years after graduating from college. While being a principal was a lucrative position, Art wanted to be on the boards. After six years of being a principal in another’s firm and then starting his own, he decided to take a huge pay cut returning to the University of Illinois to further his educational process. While there, he was offered a one year teaching position. That was 1974.

From 1974 to 2004, Art renewed his teaching contract with the University one year at a time until official retirement. Art didn’t pursue the tenure track because he wanted to work with the students.  This path did allow him to work with students along with taking on challenges and opportunities that might not have been available had tenure been his goal.  Art restarted the Introduction to Architecture course because, at the time, there was no contact with the freshman.  As a result of teaching the course, Art overcame stage fright and introversion to become a beloved instructor professor.

Art’s door was never shut to students, potential students, parents of potential students, friends and colleagues. Keeping in mind that individuals create their own paths, he served as a guide to students who had ideas for improving student life and academics while searching for their own career paths. For many of his protégées, he was a person who tried to say, “Yes!” as often as possible. He was rewarded for his love, generosity and kindness. These honors include:

·         20 times rated “Excellent” as a teacher by his students

·         4 time recipient of the School of Architecture Excellence in Teaching Award

·         8 times nominated for the School of Architecture Excellence in Teaching Award

·         UIUC Alpha Rho Chi Nathan Ricker Award (only offered once)

·         Alpha Rho Chi National Faculty Advisor Award

·         Finalist for the Campus Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award

·         Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising

·         AIA Illinois Excellence in Education Award

·         Outstanding Educator Award of the Association of Licensed Architects

·         University of Illinois Dad’s Association Outstanding Educator Award

Art has been many things to students, their families and the University. Thousands of former students have been touched by Art’s spirit of generosity and willingness to place service to others above his personal needs. Like many outstanding educators and mentors in the School of Architecture, Art Kaha has been a guide who is beloved and remembered by many. Won’t you join in creating an endowed fund in his honor and future memory to keep his gentle, humble spirit alive for years to come within the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the School of Architecture.

Oskee wow wow, Illinois School of Architecture Alumni!

Gifts to the Art Kaha Honorary Scholarship in Architecture Fund through the University of Illinois Foundation are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. 

For additional information on the Art Kaha Honorary Scholarship in Architecture Fund, please contact: 

Gail Rost 
Director of Development, Environmental Arts 
College of Fine and Applied Arts
117B Temple Hoyne Buell Hall