Richard Weinstein, an architect whose contributions helped to rethink traditional zoning and urban planning in both New York and Los Angeles, passed on February 24 at the age of 85 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. Weinstein, a proponent of public-minded urban planning, was known for crafting zoning regulations that were specific to the context of individual neighborhoods rather than conform to a universal template.
Weinstein began his academic career in the field of psychology, receiving his B.A from Brown University and an M.A from Columbia. As reported by the New York Times, Weinstein’s professional tenure as a psychologist based in Washington D.C exposed him to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright that dot the capital’s landscape. Spurred by this exposure, Weinstein enrolled in Harvard’s architecture program but ultimately transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his master’s in 1960.
The architect’s planning career began following John V. Lindsay’s successful campaign for mayor in 1965. Under the Lindsay administration, Weinstein served as the director of the Office of Planning and Development for Lower Manhattan and was a founding member of the Urban Design Group, a revolutionary body that embedded architects and planners within city governance and decision-making. With the authority of the mayor’s office, the Urban Design Group negotiated directly with the development community to guide New York towards an inclusive and pluralist policy of urban design.
Weinstein’s approach to planning is described by UCLA as grounded in the belief that “the city’s mandate was to preserve and enrich the life of the public and cultural street as the city grew taller with private investment,” increased tax revenue was not to be considered a valid exchange for building variances.
While working for the Lindsay administration, Weinstein was crucial in the protection of Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, Cass Gilbert’s United States Custom House, and pushed for the creation, and expansion, of the Times Square Historic District. His knowledge of New York’s complex system of air rights facilitated economic self-sufficiency for the city’s landmarks and simultaneously guided development along predetermined channels
Weinstein took up the post of dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning in 1985, a post he held until 1994. He remained at UCLA as a professor of architecture and urban design until 2008. There, his influence on a generation of architects was immeasurable. As Thom Mayne, founder and principal of Morphosis, and a professor of architecture at UCLA, stated, “Richard saw architecture/urbanism as a noble profession with immeasurable potential to shape everyday life, inextricably linked to its social, political and cultural circumstance. We often discussed the seemingly unknowable nature of our profession which only propelled us to stubbornly attempt to achieve the impossible — in every project.”
Weinstein is survived by his wife, Edina, and two sons – Nikolas and Alexander.