UC Berkeley professor Paul Groth dies

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Paul Groth, a campus professor at the College of Architecture and Design known for his research on low-income housing, died Jan. 16.

According to Dell Upton, professor of architectural history at UCLA, Groth spent much of his career studying architecture, which organized the lives of low-income and working-class people.

Upton and Groth began teaching at UC Berkeley around the same time and quickly became close friends. According to Upton, the two made many exploratory trips together to study the built environment of ordinary people.

“I learned a lot from him through his curiosity about people’s lives and the environment in which ordinary people lived, and his growing understanding of how farms and agriculture work,” Upton said. “It was just driving around and looking at things and taking pictures and talking about what we saw.”

Groth, whom Upton dubbed “a man of contradictions,” grew up in a farming town in North Dakota. He remained proud of his roots in rural and farm environments while pursuing a scholarly interest in urban issues, Upton noted.

Much of Groth’s research has focused on single occupancy, or SRO accommodation, which Upton says he wrote about in one of his books, Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States. Upton said Groth advocates the importance of recognizing SROs as urban sites worth investigating because they have uniquely impacted poor communities.

“One of the points he always wanted to make was that a lot, a lot of people live like that and you can’t just say they’re not…proper houses,” Upton said. “He opened people’s eyes to the variety of landscapes and the variety of spaces that people create for themselves that are not just chain houses, skyscrapers or churches.”

Groth taught at UC Berkeley for over 30 years, according to a press release from the Campus College of Environmental Design.

Outside of his academic work, Groth enjoyed playing music. He had bachelor’s degrees in both architecture and music, and according to Upton, he was a classically trained pianist. He added that Groth also frequented symphony concerts and was involved in his Lutheran church.

Upton said Groth inspired his students, who took his ideas to universities across the country and used them in historical preservation projects. Even after Groth’s graduate students left his lectures, they kept in touch with him.

“He was a very brilliant person, but he was also a very humble, very gentle person,” Upton said. “In many ways he was a model of what a professor should be, his dedication to students, his friendliness towards students and colleagues. He leaves a big hole that many people feel.”

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila

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