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UC Berkeley professor Paul Groth has died

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

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

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

“It was in this curiosity about people’s lives and the environments that ordinary people lived in, and his growing understanding of how farms worked and how agriculture worked, that I learned so much from him,” said Upton. “It was just driving around and looking at things and taking pictures and talking about what we were seeing.”

Groth, whom Upton described as a “person of contradictions”, grew up in a farming town in North Dakota. He remained proud of his roots in rural and agricultural environments while taking an interest in urban subjects, Upton noted.

Much of Groth’s research focused on single room occupancy, or SRO, housing, which he discussed in one of his books, “Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States,” according to Upton. Upton said Groth advocated for the importance of recognizing ORS as urban sites worthy of study because of the unique way they have shaped poor communities.

“One of the points that he always wanted to make was (that) many, many people live like that and you can’t just say they’re not… real homes,” Upton said. “He opened people’s eyes to the variety of landscapes and the variety of spaces that people create for themselves that aren’t just crawler houses or skyscrapers or churches.”

Groth has taught at UC Berkeley for more than 30 years, according to a press release from the campus’ College of Environmental Design.

Outside of his academic work, Groth enjoyed playing music. His undergraduate degrees were in both architecture and music and he was a classically trained pianist, according to Upton. He added that Groth also frequently attended symphony concerts and was involved with his Lutheran church.

Upton said Groth inspired his students, who took his ideas to college campuses across the country and used them to inform historic preservation projects. Even after Groth’s graduate students left his classes, they stayed in touch with him.

“He was a very bright person, but he was also a very modest, very sweet person,” Upton said. “In many ways he was a role model for what a teacher should be, his commitment to students, his kindness to students and his colleagues. It leaves a big hole that many people feel.

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