- Nice Grand Arenas, Nice, France
- Montpellier Cité Créative, Montpellier, France
- Draga district, Sibenik, Croatia
- Cultural Center of Castelo Branco, a dramatic form cantilevered over an ice skating rink in a small Portuguese city
- Film Theatre of Catalonia, whose simple concrete facade was designed to fit into a gentrifying Barcelona neighborhood
- Prague National Gallery Entrance Hall, a sensitive design for a museum entry in a historic Prague complex.
To walk the streets of a city with Diane meant to be move slowly and with focus, and to often come to a complete standstill when the discussion at hand was primary over all else. This immersion was in striking contrast to her gait and quickness in the halls of Cooper Union and her brisk efficiency in the orchestration of a construction site. She lived in accord with the tenets of her practice and her teaching, and her intellectual rigor and intensity were applied to all endeavors. She believed deeply in the necessary confrontation of the existing with the ideal. The rub of dueling conditions as the source of artistic inspiration was a concept for Diane that spanned from Dante’s Divine Comedy (the introduction to our course at Pratt) to how she engaged the eccentricities of building within a given condition. To work alongside Diane on the job site was a demonstration of architecture as both an art in form and a theater piece with a unique casting call and stage directions in a whirlwind toward exquisite results. In the center was Diane, always a cutting sight in her effortless, yet careful wardrobe and its accents; the most important were her eyeglasses. She had wanted glasses since an early age and was thrilled when they became a necessity.
Diane’s ability to enjoy life was to make the best possible conditions for living, eating, thinking—whatever happened to be the pursuit of the moment. She had a gusto for food and ate with the same enjoyment and abandon as when she watered the garden at one of her many 9th street studio locations, a bit messy but with pure joy, flinging water so that it hit not only the plants but also the table she designed and the chairs and cushions. She was a talented cook and brought recipes from all over the world back to the studio, where she would regret that we did not have a dedicated chef on staff as Scarpa had when she visited his Venetian studio in the ’70s. Decades later when we visited Venice she insisted the first act must be to go immediately to Harry’s Bar, which was filled with Carnival revelers.
Wherever Diane lived it was always in a work of architecture, whether by her own hand or by selection. She would spend the summers in Long Island renting the guesthouse from Charles Gwathmey’s mother, and she lived for many years on a floor in William Lescaze’s townhouse on 48th street, where she was later married. In a metropolitan style, she had simply stopped by and made an inquiry to his widow if there were rooms for rent; Diane later designed an addition to her D.C. residence. Diane would note that she saw the principals of Hejduk’s Wall House in the Lescaze townhouse. Her intrinsic ability to see the lineages of work and continuity of thought allowed her to absorb, project, and hypothesize. She created a literary a-chronological world of architecture that is both deeply engaging and spectacularly liberating.
As a professor she preserved the sanctity and dignity of the students and adhered to the highest aspirations of academic sovereignty. She treated us with respect and demanded a critical forum for the discussion of work, investing in each student close readings as well as the independence to shape our studio projects. Under her teaching team, our class, and many others, created spectacular work from both expected and unexpected sources. Her gravitational field pulled people from near and afar: My friend and classmate Jack immediately applied to Cooper after having Diane during her tenure in the Hyde Chair at the University of Nebraska. Diane herself applied to Cooper as an art student at the recommendation of George Segal, whom she met in Syracuse in a high school summer program. Pei Cobb Freed & Partners’ Everson Museum of Art was in construction nearby; they would be second firm she would work for after initiating her professional career in the office of Richard Meier.
Most striking about Diane was her precise language, her careful articulation and her prescience to the gulf between thought and speech. Her unrelenting attention to meaning and complete absorption in structure were a means to penetrate through the contrived and conventional. Diane demanded that we engage the world not as it is, but as it should be. She entitled an unfinished book, Mind Over Matter.
Diane H. Lewis, 2017 It is with profound grief and a heavy heart that I share this communication with my students, colleagues, and alumni of The Cooper Union. Today, we lost one of the most beloved and influential voices of our community, architect and professor Diane H. Lewis. Diane Lewis came to The Cooper Union as a student in the Art School in 1968, transferring to Architecture in 1970, and completing her studies in 1976. Immediately upon graduation, she was awarded the Rome Prize in Architecture, making her one of the youngest members to be honored by the American Academy in Rome. Upon her return to the United States, Lewis joined the offices of Richard Meier and Partners and later, I. M. Pei and Partners where she received her early training—this, while also launching her teaching career. Initially a professor at the University of Virginia, Lewis went on to teach as a visitor in many respected programs including Yale University, the Technical University of Berlin, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the University of Toronto, where she held the Frank Gehry Visiting Chair in 2006. But it was here at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture that she planted her foundations as a radical and committed educator; Lewis was the first woman architect to be appointed to the full-time faculty, and later tenured in 1993. In an age when few dedicate themselves to teaching as a craft, her focus on creating a transformative space of learning will be a central part of her lasting legacy. Indeed, as much as Lewis was a product of Cooper Union, today we can look back at more than thirty years of her contributions and come to realize that we are, in fact, defined by the culture of her teaching. As a practicing architect, Lewis set up her own office in 1983 under the banner of Diane Lewis Architects PC, and she has since led a focused and critical practice concentrating on competitions, urbanism, and built projects known for their exquisite refinement in both plan and detailing. Of those projects, the Studiolo for Colomina and Wigley, the Mews project for Professor Dworkin, and the Kent Gallery all demonstrate the nuance and skill that Lewis brought to her sense of materiality, figuration, and occasion. With a protean intellectual profile, Lewis’s work spoke to the panoramic range she held within her scope; a writer, designer, film-maker, and urbanist, Lewis brought passion to her many activities, often synthesizing her investigations into the many publications she edited and authored. Her most recent book, including the work of several generations of students, Open City: Existential Urbanity is one such example, featuring not only her written work, but also her research on Neo-realist cinema, the role of the civic institution on the making of urbanity, and even book design as a central part of its argument. The practice of Diane Lewis served as a conduit for her inter-disciplinary interests, and she seamlessly navigated between professional practice, scholarly work, and her teaching projects as part of a larger commitment to the discipline. Naturally, as co-editor of the Education of an Architect, Lewis shared a vision about how the commitment to teaching was also part of a social contract to give back to society in productive ways. Exhibited widely, including at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the Van Alen Institute, and the Galerie Aedes in Berlin, Lewis also gained many accolades such as the John Q. Hejduk Award and nominations for the National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt and the Daimler Chrysler Award. Diane Lewis was widely recognized as a consummate architect and professor. Loved by students, respected by professional colleagues and debated by academic peers, Lewis defined architecture with equal parts passion and erudition. In recent years, her Design IV urbanism studio was known for its often twelve-hour long final reviews—each one of them a marathon discussion of critical precision and clarified architectural thought. On a more intimate note, I can only say that I will personally miss Diane dearly, most especially the tenacity with which she engaged in fierce architectural debate. Diane’s persevering intellect and commitment to leadership were so ever-present in the School, I can only imagine that both John Hejduk and Anthony Vidler felt her almighty strength in the administration of the school. She led the school symbolically, and when things did not go her way, she led a parallel school of thought alongside the very deans that gave rise to her platform. Her agency represents the very ethos of the key protagonists that a school would want inside its walls. She had a voice, she used it, and she led with it. In the past days and weeks, I have been touched by the many students, alumni, and academic associates who have reached out to me inquiring about her well-being. Diane was loved by many and respected by all. She was fiercely loyal to her students, and she made no secret of her advocacy of the many friends she held dear in both personal and intellectual complicity. To that end, I can only see that this loss is shared far and wide by many. As the Dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, I have the honor of bringing words to the collective sentiments that I believe everyone has voiced to me, and yet, I know that these words do not suffice in face of a deep, collective grief. The presence of our beloved family and friends is real and profound, but in their absence, we also discover that their every lesson, their words of wisdom, humor, and sensibility is something that takes on even more vivid presence precisely because they are no longer here in body. Diane may have left us in person, but her presence will be very much part of the education of many architects to come, and she will continue to speak with strength and clarity in the halls of this institution. As we miss her deeply, we will also have the benefit of her ongoing guidance, the fulfillment of over thirty years of generous giving.