Posts tagged with "Obituary":

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Critic and historian Martin Filler remembers Robert Venturi

During my four decades as an architecture critic, I developed close personal relationships with several of my subjects, including Charles Moore and Frank Gehry, although, unsurprisingly, our dealings became far less amicable when my enthusiasm for their work waned. My longest direct connection to those I’ve written about has been with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. But that intimate bond had both its rewards and perils, as I recalled after his death on September 18 at the age of ninety-three. Criticism of architecture is complicated in ways that differ significantly from other mediums. Authoritative evaluations require that you get inside the works in question to make a responsible judgment, especially in the case of private houses or other properties not open to the public. One must also have technical information in order to provide an accurate account of a building’s physical characteristics. An art critic may easily determine the dimensions and components of a painting by seeing it on a gallery wall, a theater or music critic by purchasing a ticket for a performance, or a book reviewer by obtaining a copy of the publication. But an architecture journalist had best be on speaking terms with his subjects, a lesson I repeatedly learned the hard way with Venturi and Scott Brown. Early in my career I wrote a puerile review of their Penn State Faculty Club (1974-1977) in State College, Pennsylvania. Today that article makes me cringe. In an attempt to shock, I called their charming homage to Shingle Style domesticity “a whorehouse without a second floor” because its upper-story fenestration was purely ornamental. Their jest was no crime, but I was trying to establish street cred as a tough critic. My crude epithet outraged the architects, of course, and I was in the doghouse for years afterward. Fortunately, Bob and Denise, as I came to know them, were very fond of Rosemarie Haag Bletter, the architectural historian who had been among the first academicians to include their work in college-level modern architecture courses in the 1960s. She would also become my future wife. After we married, I tried to make amends with the two architects, whose susceptibility to feeling wounded was exacerbated by their having lost numerous architectural competitions they deserved to win. To my relief, I eventually received a handwritten letter from Venturi in which he announced, with courtly formality, that because Rosemarie had accepted me in matrimony, they forgave my youthful indiscretion. However, the dangerous flip-side of being shunned by one’s critical subjects is becoming too close to them, and I admit that I gradually did cross the line into friendship with Bob and Denise. They were prominently featured in Michael Blackwood’s 1983 documentary film Beyond Utopia: Changing Attitudes in American Architecture, which Rosemarie and I wrote and for which we conducted the interviews. When we were guest curators for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1985 exhibition High Styles: Twentieth Century American Design, we recommended that they be hired to create the show’s installation; they were, and their work—a witty Pop mounting that reflected their love of the decorative arts—was widely admired. It was no surprise that around that time they were also designing equally delightful furniture for Knoll, china for Swid Powell, flatware for Reed and Barton, rugs for V’Soske, and even a cuckoo clock for Alessi. Still, there were risks. In 1991, having heard from the National Gallery’s board chairman, Jacob Rothschild, that Venturi and Scott Brown’s problem-plagued Sainsbury Wing was nearing completion, I gained access to the closed construction site on Trafalgar Square by posing as a member of the architects’ firm—hardhat, clipboard, and all. Exhilarated by the nearly finished project, I urged the magazine I worked for to run pre-completion photos of the new building in order to land a scoop. Breaking the press embargo caused an initial Venturi eruption—he concealed a volatile Italian temper beneath his buttoned-down Philadelphia preppiness. But after an interval I was absolved once more and the Sainsbury Wing is now justly considered their masterpiece. Thereafter, considering their advanced age and towering historical stature, I decided to write about them only when I had something positive to say. And I was delighted when I could praise without reservation a late-career gem, their Dumbarton Oaks Library of 2001-2005 in Washington, D.C., a veritable concerto in patterned brick, alive with architectural syncopation and functional logic. It would be my last review of their work to appear during his lifetime. He retired from practice in 2012, as Alzheimer’s disease sapped his formidable creative and intellectual powers, a loss all the more poignant because he was the most learned architect I’ve ever known. Bob’s funeral was held six days after his death, on a cool, overcast afternoon when some seventy family members, colleagues, friends, and caregivers gathered in Newtown Square, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, at the Willistown Friends Meeting, an eighteenth-century Quaker meetinghouse of exquisite rigor and simplicity. The tranquil, timeless setting—a rural scene of rolling hills and low fieldstone walls—seemed like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life (the artist lived at Chadds Ford, fifteen miles to the southwest). It was hard to believe that one was still in the violent and hate-saturated America of 2018. Venturi’s parents, both from Italian Catholic families, converted first to Unitarian Universalism and then to Quakerism. Their only child took their faith’s precepts of nonviolence and pacifism seriously enough to become a conscientious objector during World War II and defined himself as “a proper Quaker” until the end of his life. The officiant at his ecumenical funeral was not, however, a Quaker elder, but rather Father John McNamee, a retired Roman Catholic priest with early ties to the Catholic Worker Movement and who was honored for his social activism in inner-city Philadelphia. He had also been responsible for overseeing the Venturi firm’s 1968 reconfiguration of St. Francis de Sales Church in Philadelphia, which was spurred by new liturgical practices advanced through the Second Vatican Council. As Father McNamee pointed out during the funeral service, Venturi’s respect for ordinary Americans’ values and aspirations remained paramount. The priest began by reading the Beatitudes, the very kernel of the Christian message, albeit one ignored by many present-day American Evangelicals, and then quoted Father Daniel Berrigan, the 1960’s Jesuit antiwar crusader. The ceremony featured two of Quakerism’s hallmarks: ten minutes of silence, followed by spontaneous contributions from congregants who spoke as the spirit moved them. The emotional highlight of the gathering came in a sequence of personal reminiscences by four home health-care aides who cared for Venturi during his final years. The crucial role that such unheralded heroes of everyday life play in our society has never been more immediately expressed nor as touchingly clear to me. And although each spoke separately, their shared sentiments resounded as if they were harmonizing soloists in a gospel choir. One of them, Pat Thompson, was too overcome to speak directly, so her heartfelt tribute was read by a colleague, Wanda Whittington. In their moving and funny anecdotes, Verna Wood and Carolyn Heller likewise told of growing to love their sometimes difficult but inevitably appreciative client. Several of them said that they had no idea at the outset of their service that Venturi was a world-renowned architect, and that although they came to appreciate his exceptional stature, it was the man, not the artist, they would miss most. This was the all-pervasive feeling in the room. After the eulogies, the mourners filed out to the cemetery, shaded by mature trees and dotted with low headstones of nearly identical design. After the squared-off, unfinished wood coffin was lowered into the grave, Venturi and Scott Brown’s only child, the urban planner and documentary filmmaker James Venturi, laid a homemade wreath of laurel leaves next to the grave; the victor’s laurels with a down-to-earth ethos.
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Remembering engineer Robert Silman, 1935-2018

“Hidden in plain sight,” describes the legacy of the beloved structural engineer, Robert Silman, who died at age 83 on July 31. The great landmarks he renewed, along with the new ones he realized, prove this point, from Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, and Fallingwater to the Polshek Partnership’s Weill Recital Hall, Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum, and Freelon Adjaye Bond’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. Working until just a few weeks before losing his long battle with cancer, Silman communicated through intuitive problem solving, enriched by a lifelong curiosity about the creative intent of his colleagues as well as his forebears, whose accomplishments could only stand with his benevolent intervention. His engineering always deferred to the original intent of the architects he worked with, either in person or posthumously. Mr. Silman’s career as practitioner, educator, and advocate inspired thousands of students and young professionals across two generations and set a standard of engineering excellence that merged scientific knowledge with social need. What distinguished Silman, especially in the realm of preservation architecture, was a determination to go beyond the mandated assumptions of stability and safety by introducing an innovative elegance marrying new technologies with historic form. His solutions attest to a poetry of invisibility—a symbiosis of means and methods that defined new possibilities and set professional precedents. Right to the last, he taught a course at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design called “The Philosophy of Technology,” imbuing a spirit of inquiry best sustained by a broad cultural awareness and willingness to innovate in the face of restrictive axioms. When at Silman's urging, architect Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner was brought on as a young consultant by the Hillier Group in 1996 to renovate the notoriously complex, leaky roof of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Racine, Wisconsin, Wingspread, she describes it as a time when “shoving in steel” was the common engineering contingency. Silman instead “turned to the nascent art of computer modeling, using data from an exacting load analysis to solve the problem in a bold new way.” Instead of ill-suited roofers, boat builders banded sheets of carbon fiber, used before then only on ships and jets, around the replacement roof. She added, “He made connections between both people and ideas with a generosity of spirit that inspired all of us working alongside [him]. As with so many others, he set my career in motion and did so at a time when opportunities for women practitioners were still limited.” After studying architecture at Cornell and at NYU graduate school, Silman worked entry-level jobs at Ammann & Whitney, Ove Arup & Partners, and Severud Associates before founding his namesake firm in 1966, a year after the passage of New York’s landmarks law. Jobs on early preservation efforts that were too small for big competitors led to a lifetime of civic engagement and advocacy, even at times when such work might be at odds with the more lucrative prospects of demolition and new construction. Just two years later, the 1968 advent of Beyer Blinder Belle spawned a bond, now in its 50th year. Jack Beyer conveys his loss: “We called ourselves the ‘Four Brothers,’ as Bob demonstrated from the start his peerless skill at weaving strict systems into the historic fabric of landmark buildings. Thanks to his conceptual thinking and capacity to listen even to those with little of use to say, he was never intimidated by existing conditions.” Beyer continued, “Bob and I served as volunteer advisers to the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, where he figured out how to rebuild and seismically stabilize its great 16th-century wooden pagoda temples. Without reimagining their un-mortared brick foundations, any aboveground restoration work would have failed. His impact was global.” Anthony C. Wood, founder and chair of the New York Preservation Archive Project, recalled, “Whenever preservationists were confronted with a building that opponents said was too far gone to save, the ‘go to’ person to call for structural help was Bob Silman. Generously responding to such calls, he could work his magic to find a way to save the day.” For 11-year Silman Associate Justin Den Herder, “Bob reinforced the importance of all the arts. He was a design-minded collaborator because he was genuinely in love with architecture. He was an effective communicator because he was passionate about literature. He even kept a poster of Gustav Mahler over his desk that likely informed his work at Carnegie Hall, where the German maestro conducted his final concert in 1911 just a few months before his death. No doubt Mahler approved the results of Bob’s graceful hand.”
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Barry Bergdoll, Robert Miller, Jennifer Bonner, and more remember the late Robert Venturi

Robert Venturi passed away at age 93 on Wednesday, and there has been an overwhelming response from the architecture community. From dedicated disciples to former intellectual foes, many architects and critics have taken a moment to recognize how deep and impactful Venturi’s legacy really is. We collected some of those tributes here. Adam Yarinsky: Complexity and Contradiction was truly revelatory for me, as I read it at a moment in my early undergraduate education which coincided with beginning to learn about architectural history and also how to ‘read’ architectural drawings. I never saw it as a prescriptive handbook about making postmodernist forms but rather, in the examples of his work included in the back of the book, as a means of acknowledging architectural practice as critically engaging history (and more generally culture) through design. The idea of thinking about design as part of a constellation of relationships is the progeny of the understanding kindled through his work. Winka Dubbeldam: Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction from now over 50 years ago, was and is a groundbreaking architectural publication. For me it was the book that started my interest in philosophy and critical thinking (theory) in architecture. Venturi was such an important thinker and architect and his work and books influenced so many people in their careers. I personally was very lucky to have met Bob and Denise early on, when I was a young faculty member at Penn and was asked by the then Dean Gary Hack to present my student’s work to the Board of Overseers. I was excited and nervous to note that Bob and Denise both were on the Board, but they were excited to see the work, and we had a great conversation after the presentation. Our thoughts and warm wishes are with Denise.
Barry Bergdoll One of the first books I bought as a freshman in the 1970s was Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, a proud use of my brand-new MoMA student membership (my first copy has its members $2.96 tag). Venturi opened my eyes to seeing architecture, and to seeing modernist architecture. Far from a manifesto for an as-yet-to-be-named postmodernism, it was a love letter to architecture and a primer in ecumenical appreciation of things as seemingly distant as Lutyens and the vernacular.  My copy must be like so many others—a palimpsest of underlinings and marginalia. Dialogue with Venturi continues to this day, his thoughts as fresh as they are of their moment of origin. Catherine Ingraham: I typically write notes when I know I will reread a book. But I have no notes for Robert Venturi who, in concert with Denise Scott Brown, wrote Complexity and Contradiction and Learning from Las Vegas, even though I refer to these books on numerous occasions. Why? Because these texts, coupled with the architectural experimentation they inspired, are still on the main list, still live material embedded in the brains of those of us—young and old—who ran parallel with that epoch. This work made seminal contributions to the difficult category of American architecture and it will continue to contribute to the long, complex, game of the discipline and practice. Robert L. Miller: In time, I believe, the built work and projects of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and VSBA will claim an even higher place than the justly praised writings and theories. There may be no better way to honor Venturi’s memory in these next few days than to look again at one of these projects—ideally a built work, on site and in context, and with some of his incomparable drawings for it. This is an architecture that is at last comfortable with real modern American culture, not 1920s or 1950s modern but an unembarrassed, information-rich modern architecture of now.
 
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Rest in Peace, Robert Venturi🕊

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Jimenez Lai: Robert Venturi’s life and work, together with Denise Scott Brown, inspired us to treat architecture as a platform upon which one can learn “everything." The inclusive mindset Venturi lived by offered us the opportunity to view architecture as an embodiment of human communications that demands all of us to look harder and learn something from every aspect of the everyday around us. Venturi’s disposition towards “everything” as intellectual fodder opened the doors to us to reevaluate the aesthetic framework of the “ugly” or the “ordinary”—whilst enjoying a sense of a humor about it all. We are indebted to Robert Venturi for our continuing desire to keenly observe the world around us, and the sense of lightheartedness from which we tell our stories. Thank you, Mr. Venturi, for shepherding in the qualities of the messy, complex, awkward, and clumsy, so that we can embrace the perfections and imperfections of everything around us. Most importantly, thank you for leading the way to show us that architecture may or may not look like architecture, and architecture communicates on the behalf to the humans inside and outside the architecture. Jennifer Bonner: "I like elements which are hybrid rather than 'pure,' compromising rather than 'clean’, distorted rather than 'straightforward,' ambiguous rather than 'articulated'.... I am for messy vitality over obvious unity." – Robert Venturi (Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture) Robert Venturi gave us the intellectual, the ordinary, and humor in architecture. An undeniable force that has moved several generations, Venturi and Scott Brown showed us a different way of reading architecture. His “non-straightforward” architecture is infectious and especially so for a 17 year old from Alabama who lived in Las Vegas the summer before entering college. My first book to read on the subject of architecture was Learning From Las Vegas. Thank you.
Craig Konyk: Surely an important watershed moment. Ideas carry forward long after we articulate them. He and Denise will forever share the immortality of ideas. Adam Nathaniel Furman: It is almost incomprehensible to lose Robert Venturi, so important and central was his spirit for those practicing in my generation. A thinker, teacher, architect, and writer who played a vital role in massively expanding the notion of what academic architecture was, and could be, and how architectural history and our contemporary environment could be looked at with eager and appreciative eyes, and vivid, intellectually curious minds. May his legacy keep flowering in a thousand different receptive places… Joan Ockman: Robert Venturi’s contribution to the architectural culture of the last third of the twentieth century was original and profound. Equally a thinker and a maker, his early books Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and Learning from Las Vegas (1972, with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour) were instrumental in articulating the set of ideas that would soon be coined as postmodernism. Projects like the Vanna Venturi House and Guild House translated his theories into built form. While other architects recognized the failures of late modernism by the 1960s, Venturi was among the first to produce a body of work that launched architecture in a genuinely new direction.
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William Saunders, founder of Harvard Design Magazine, passes away

William S. Saunders, educator, founding editor of Harvard Design Magazine, and author, has passed away at 72. Saunders regularly contributed to Architectural Record and served as the book review editor for Landscape Architecture Magazine after stepping down from Harvard Design Magazine in 2012. He also offered his consulting services to various design firms. In his books and publications, he was a thoughtful commentator on architecture and landscape architecture, particularly as it evolved in the 1990s and early 2000s. Saunders was a fixture at Harvard, having conducted his postdoctoral studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in 1980, where he taught until 1982. Saunders then held various communications and advisory posts at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) until his retirement in 2012. In 1997, Saunders founded Harvard Design Magazine, a biannual, critical examination of urban and landscape issues and theory meant to help design school graduates stay “in the know.” The magazine relaunched in 2014, helmed by Saunders's successor Jennifer Sigler, and issue 45, Into the Woods, was released earlier this spring.
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Robert Venturi, pioneer of Postmodernism, passes away

The family of Pritzker-prize winner and giant of contemporary architecture Robert Venturi has reported to AN that Venturi has passed away at the age of 93. Venturi was a pioneering author of books on architectural theory (especially Learning from Las Vegas and his introduction to the history of Rome) and, along with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown, founded Venturi Scott Brown Associates—later renamed VSBA. Together they have been credited with ushering in the Postmodern period in architecture. The firm would go on to design a number of important postmodern buildings, many of which are currently under threat, though Venturi himself retired from VSBA in 2016. Venturi accrued a number of architecture’s highest honors during his life and worked with Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn during his early career. Besides his Pritzker win in 1991, Venturi was an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a Rome Prize Fellowship winner, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. AN will follow this announcement up with a more complete obituary and remembrances from friends and colleagues in the coming days. Venturi's family requests that their privacy be respected at this time. See the following statement from Venturi's family on his passing: "Last night, Robert Venturi passed away peacefully at home after a brief illness.  He’s been surrounded by his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown and his son, Jim Venturi.  He was 93.
The family is planning to have a memorial service to celebrate Venturi’s life and this will be announced in the coming weeks."
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MJ Long, beloved Yale architecture instructor and alumna, passes away

Yale University’s esteemed, long-time architecture faculty member and alumna Mary Jane “MJ” Long passed away last Sunday at her home in Sussex, England. She was 79. Born in the United States in 1939, Long moved to England after finishing her master’s degree at the Yale School of Architecture in 1964. She then worked for Colin St John Wilson & Partners, eventually becoming director of the firm and marrying principal Colin “Sandy” St John Wilson. With Wilson she designed many major projects in Great Britain including the British Library at St Pancras, which took 15 years to complete—one of her most famous works. From 1974 to 1996, she also ran a separate practice designing artists’ studios. Alongside her Wilson colleague Rolfe Kentish, Long established a new practice in 1994, Long & Kentish. Together they designed the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, the Jewish Museum in Camden, and an extension to the British Museum in London. Over the last few years, Long taught part of the third-semester core studio at Yale, teaching students how to build detailed daylight models to simulate direct sunlight and interior illumination. “MJ always stayed close to Yale, returning to teach an advanced studio with Colin St John Wilson and then several times as a studio critic,” said Dean Deborah Berke in a statement. “MJ’s legacy will continue through the pedagogy at the school, the generations of students she inspired, and the many pioneering buildings she designed.” Long is survived by her daughter Sal and her son Harry as well as three grandchildren. Her partner, Colin St John Wilson, died in 2007 at age 85.
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Robert Silman, noted engineer and preservationist, passes away

Robert Silman, founder of the engineering firm Silman and expert in the structural stabilization of historic structures, passed away on July 31 at the age of 83 after a decades-long battle with cancer. Following his education at Cornell and NYU, Silman started his engineering career working for ARUP in London and Ammann & Whitney in New York. He began his eponymous firm, Silman, in 1966 as a solo practitioner. As reported by Architectural Record, this early phase in Silman’s career established the engineer as an expert in historic preservation of small-scale projects including the rehabilitation of dilapidated or burnt out tenements across New York City. As his firm grew in stature over the last five decades, Silman worked on an impressive roster of preservation projects, including the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island and Carnegie Hall. The engineer had a particular affinity for the projects of Frank Lloyd Wright; he worked on restorations for Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum, and Wingspread. Silman received a number of accolades for his preservation work, such as the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Leadership Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and his firm has engineered over 24,000 projects including buildings by 14 Pritzker Prize winners such as SANAA’s Grace Farms and Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum. As noted by AIA New York, Robert Silman played a key role in the establishment of the Center for Architecture in 2003. In recognition of his continued support of the Manhattan-based architectural forum, Silman was awarded the AIA New York Chapter Award in 2009. Throughout Silman’s battle with cancer, he continued working at the firm’s Boston office and taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He is survived by his wife Roberta, and their children, Miriam, Joshua and Ruth. 
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Richard Haag, groundbreaking landscape architect, passes away

Richard Lewis Haag, a pioneering landscape architect known for his groundbreaking experiments in post-industrial landscapes and bioremediation, has passed away at age 94. The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) commemorated Haag’s death in a tribute over the weekend, describing his passing as “a quiet but profound blow to the many colleagues, friends, and admirers whom his life and work touched deeply.” Haag passed away on May 9, 2018 and was well-known around the world for the designs of Seattle's Gas Works Park and the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, among the over 500 other built commissions he completed over his lifetime. Haag was born in 1923 and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked for his father, who was a self-trained horticulturist. Having never graduated from high school, the budding Haag enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1945 and served as a radar engineer in the Air Force. After traveling to Morocco, Egypt, China, and India while in the service, Haag returned home to study landscape architecture at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he benefitted from the G.I. Bill. While at U of I, Haag studied under professors Stanley White and Hideo Sasaki, two of the country’s most renowned post-World War II landscape designers. In 1949, Haag transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture in 1950. From there, he worked for the lansdcape architects Dan Kiley, Osmundson and Staley, and Lawrence Halprin before setting out on his own in 1957.  At this point, Haag relocated to Seattle, where he was instrumental in establishing the landscape architecture program at the University of Washington’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  Perhaps best known for his work on Gas Works Park, Haag set a new path in landscape design by choosing to preserve the hulking remains of a disused gas plant on the 19.1-acre site. By converting the hollowed-out industrial shells into a children’s “play barn” and leaving other elements as industrial ruins, Haag blended picturesque and abstract modes into ecologically-minded designs. The designs were among the first in the nation to utilize bio-phytoremediation to clean up the park’s heavily polluted site. The park opened in 1975 and eventually received the American Society of Landscape Architects Presidents Award of Design Excellence. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 and is also listed as a Seattle City Landmark and a Washington State Landmark. TCLF completed a video oral history of Haag’s work in May 2014 that features interviews with Haag at his home and at selected projects in and around Seattle. The history also features written reflections by Haag scholar Thaisa Way and landscape architects Gary Hilderbrand and Michael Van Valkenburgh, among others.  See TCLF’s website for the full tribute. 
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Thomas Todd, former partner of Wallace Roberts & Todd, passes away

Thomas Abbott Todd, a retired architect, planner, and artist who was a partner in the Philadelphia firm of Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT), died on June 14 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 90.

Born in Connecticut and raised in the Philadelphia area, Todd was educated at Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in city planning, respectively. A licensed architect from 1963 to 1991 and professional planner starting in 1970, he was a named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.

Along with David Wallace, Ian McHarg, Bill Roberts, and others, Todd built a large firm that was known for its multidisciplinary approach to design, combining architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Based in Philadelphia, it has a second office in San Francisco.

Among Todd's best-known projects were the master plans for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor renewal area, the U. S. Capitol area in Washington, D. C., and Abuja, the Capitol of Nigeria. He worked on landscape architecture projects for Battery Park in New York and was part of the design team behind Philadelphia’s Liberty Place towers, which broke the longstanding gentleman's agreement that no structure could be taller than William Penn’s statue atop City Hall.

Working in a variety of idioms, Todd also designed smaller works, including three houses for his own family as well as urban sculpture. His 1982 McKeldin Fountain, also known as The Waterfall, was designed to be an explorable waterfall formed by a series of concrete prisms with water cascading down on all sides and collecting in pools below with platforms at different levels containing plants and walkways for people. Both a utilitarian part of the city’s infrastructure and a sophisticated work of Brutalist architecture, it was part of Baltimore’s official inventory of public art until it was demolished by the city in 2016.

Joseph Healy, architect and managing principal of WRT, said employees in the Philadelphia office spoke about Todd last week during a staff gathering, reflecting on the key role he played in the firm.

“To this day, the underlying beliefs and integrated practice that Tom helped shape at WRT hold great value for the talented professionals and aspirational clients drawn to the firm,” Healy said in a statement. “The positive impact of their collective work is more relevant than ever.”

Todd was “a versatile designer, not always a Modernist,” Healy added. “He was very attentive to context and craft.”

Todd’s professional career began with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, led for many years by the noted planner Edmund Bacon. After winning a fellowship that allowed him to travel in Europe for a year, Todd joined the University of Pennsylvania as a campus planner and designer, then started a planning firm known as Grant & Todd, then worked for Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham.

In 1963, Wallace and McHarg hired him to work for Wallace-McHarg Associates, which was taking on land planning projects and other commissions around the country, including a much-publicized plan to control development in Baltimore County’s Green Spring Valley. After Todd and Bill Roberts became full partners, the firm was renamed Wallace, McHarg, Roberts & Todd.

Todd’s penchant for planning and his attention to detail extended to his leisure time activities, including model shipbuilding, music, and painting. He could speak and read Latin, which he studied at Germantown Friends School and Haverford, and enjoyed translating common phrases and quotes into that language. He traced his family history back to the colonial era, discovering that he was related to Benedict Arnold. He made a harpsichord and taught himself to play it. He sang in choral groups. He painted portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes.

After WRT’s master plan for Baltimore called for the USS Constellation to be the sculptural centerpiece of the Inner Harbor, Todd built a scale model of it, down to the miniature cannon balls on the upper deck. His model is on display at the U. S. Naval War College in Newport, R. I.

In 1956 Todd married the former Carol Roberts, who died in 2014. They had a son, Jonathan Christopher “Chris” Todd, and two daughters, Suzannah Elizabeth Arnold Todd Waters and Cassandra Roberts Todd.  Besides his children, he is survived by a sister and four grandchildren.

In 1991, Todd retired from WRT and moved to Rhode Island, where he continued to consult professionally. In 2008 he moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts. He lived in Plymouth, Mass., at the time of his death.

Todd’s son paints a picture of a restless Renaissance man who saw the glass as half full and threw himself into whatever he chose to pursue, whether it was traveling to see the lands discovered by the Norse explorer Leif Erikson or building frames for his own oil paintings.

“He loved bad jokes and good company,” Chris Todd said. “I wouldn’t say he didn’t have his moments of concern about finances or health. But by and large, he led a rich life.

“He was absolutely the most industrious person I have ever met,” his son continued. “TV was uninteresting to him. He would get up after a few minutes. He wasn’t interested in passive entertainment. He wanted something more. He wanted to make things, and he wanted to learn about things in order to make them, to be able to discuss them intelligently. He had a questing mind.”

A memorial service for Thomas Todd will be held on October 27 at 10 a.m. at the Germantown Friends Meeting, a Quaker church at 47 West Coulter Street in Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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In memoriam: Landscape architect Ron Herman

The award-winning San Francisco Bay Area landscape architect Ron Herman has passed away.  The University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design (CED) announced Herman’s passing in a post on its website earlier this week. Herman, an alumnus of the school, graduated in 1964 with a Bachelors in Landscape Architecture. The designer practiced in the Bay Area for over 35 years and created over 400 full-scale gardens during this time. Herman’s designs included some of the country’s largest and most intricate residential gardens, including Japanese garden-inspired designs for the 25-acre site surrounding the home of Silicon Valley billionaire Lawrence Ellison. Herman grew up in Hollywood, where his father owned a plant nursery. As a child, Herman helped his father install gardens at the homes of rarefied clients, including celebrities Phil Silvers and Steve Allen. After graduating from CED, Herman studied Japanese garden design at Kyoto University in Japan for three years. While there, Herman grew inspired by the tension between regimented and organic forms inherent in traditional Japanese garden design. Herman brought this sensibility back home, imbuing his works with a mix of formal and informal sequences of spaces and plantings.  Like his father, Herman’s list of clients included a whos-who of celebrities and prominent individuals and companies, including the professional football player Joe Montana, Neil Young, and Ellison’s company, Oracle. Herman also designed the garden for the East Wing addition by I.M. Pei to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. In a 2002 profile, Herman summed up his philosophy to SF Gate: “A successful garden doesn't show itself all at once...there needs to be an integration or relationship between indoors and out—such as a room that opens onto the garden."
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Remembering Jay Baldwin, experimental geodesic dome champion

May 12, 2013 Penngrove, California Drive north through Marin County, past Petaluma on Route 101, exit onto Railroad Avenue and right onto Old Redwood Highway. Small farm lots, old barns and sheds, prickle hedges and honeysuckle. “It’s not a commune,” says Jay Baldwin, coming out to greet us, but it is a shining hill that rises to the west from Penngrove Valley with seven tiers of chicken coops restored by old hippies and student squatters. Jay and his wife, Liz Fial, have been here longer than anyone else, since 1963. “Is it possible?” he asks himself, counting backward on the fingers of one hand. “Same year that Kennedy got shot, two months earlier,” he says, describing how he moved out from Michigan, driving 2,370 miles from Ann Arbor, through Denver, breaking down outside of Salt Lake City, while carrying all of his worldly possessions in the back of a ‘56 Chevy. Their domesticated coop has a low sloping ceiling, but it’s attached to a larger barn where Jay stores all of his experiments. Old wood planks are nailed vertically, board and batten, weathered and dark, as if oiled and smoked for years over a slow-burn fire. There’s a configuration of short two-by-fours beveled and nailed onto one wall in a radiating asterisk shape with elk antlers hanging from the center, sacred animal vibe, wild roses and ancient Ford, rusted out. Jay and Liz did all the work themselves, and they manage to live on $8,000 a year, happy and fine and low-impact. We eat a lunch of fresh berries, homegrown lettuce, cucumbers, cheese, and lemonade, while Baldwin tells me about his association with Buckminster Fuller, how he first met him in Ann Arbor, after one of Bucky’s all-night, epic lectures that started at 7 p.m. and went till dawn the next morning. They met up again in the fall of 1969 when Bucky came to visit Pacific High School, a free-form hippie school in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Baldwin and his fellow dome-head, Lloyd Kahn, were teaching students how to build domes. Together, they fabricated as many as 17 different versions of Bucky’s geodesic prototype, and one of the most experimental variations was Baldwin’s “Pillow Dome” that was made from clear vinyl pillows inflated with hydrogen. (The vinyl pillows were fabricated by a company in San Francisco that made inflatable female dolls for porn shops.) Bucky liked it so much that he lay down and took an hour-long nap inside the 20-foot-diameter structure. When he awoke, he asked Baldwin to build one on the Fuller family island in Maine. Baldwin said yes, if Bucky would pay for all the material expenses. “He said OK and wrote us a check,” Baldwin says, who prefabricated all the parts at his barn in Penngrove and then packed them into the back of his trusty ’67 Citroën DS wagon and drove from California all the way to Camden, Maine—about 3,300 miles—only stopping in Carbondale, Illinois, to help a friend make a ferroconcrete sailboat. “We were on Bear Island for about a week, living in one of the old barns,” recalled Baldwin. “There was an ancient pool table in there, and we shot pool by candlelight on the greatly slanted table, a challenge. It all went well, though Kathleen [Whitacre] and I were held in obvious low esteem by the New Englanders, probably because we weren’t married.” August 27, 2013 Bear Island, Maine A few months after seeing Baldwin at his house in Penngrove, I make it out to Bear Island, Bucky’s wind-swept, family island in Penobscot Bay, and although I know that one of Baldwin’s domes might still be lying in ruin, somewhere on the island, I’m taken aback when I see it there because I didn’t think it would be positioned so prominently on that first foggy march up from the harbor, up the hill, just past the Eating House, on the way to the Big House, emerging like a specter from a wafting plume of mist, silvery white against a backdrop of deep pine-tree shadows. I’m stunned by its simple, geometric beauty, an unexpected surprise, a hidden gem, and I hold back from looking too closely on this, my first pass, because I want to save it for later when I will return, alone and with my camera, to inspect the structure from all possible angles, inside and out. This is what I do an hour after my arrival, because I don’t want to lose the milky light and mysterious veils of mist, but by the time I return to the site, the light has dissolved into a dull pewter matte and the wind has kicked up to blow all the fog away. Once he’d transported all the parts from the mainland to the island on a lobster boat, Baldwin assembled the Pillow Dome on an old tennis court using three-fourths-inch EMT electrical tubing “because it’s galvanized inside and out,” and filled each opening with a 15-milliliter triangular pillow. It took them about a week to complete the dome, only because of so many distractions, including Bucky himself, who would frequently come by to check on their progress and talk for hours, or insist that they go sailing for the rest of the day. Late one evening, everyone sat beneath the struts of the unfinished dome and waited for a lunar eclipse, but when Fuller’s sister rushed down from the Big House to announce its arrival and said: “Brother, the eclipse is coming up from the bottom!” Fuller snapped back: “The moon doesn’t have any UP, stupid!” Everyone laughed except for Baldwin who felt bad about making Bucky’s sister the brunt of the joke. I walk around the ruins of the Pillow Dome. The vinyl “pillows” disintegrated a long time ago, but the thing itself, the main structure, the galvanized geodesic skeleton, struts, connectors, and bolts, are in surprisingly good shape considering it’s a 43-year-old artifact left to endure the salt air and brutal winters of coastal Maine. Even the star-shaped skylight at the top of the dome is still intact, and you can see how it was hinged around the edges so that the top panels could be flipped open for ventilation. There’s no sense of a roof pressing down, or of walls closing in. It is more of a floating, bubble-like sensation, and reminds me of Fuller’s enormous “Biosphere” that I visited the years before, in Montreal. It felt like a future that hadn’t happened yet, or at the least, a future that hadn’t been fully digested. The tetrahedral poetics of the geosphere, now black and naked, stripped clean of its original acrylic shell, manifested itself as an alternate sky—if that makes any sense—and there was something about looking through its prism-like veil that made the oddly pixelated horizon seem infinitely small. After his experiment on Bear Island, Baldwin worked with John Todd of the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, and together they fabricated a larger version of the Pillow Dome, skinned with Tefzel, an ETFE fluoropolymer resin made by DuPont.
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Furniture artist Wendell Castle passes away at 85

Rochester-based sculptor, woodworker and furniture-maker Wendell Castle has passed away at the age of 85 after a long struggle with leukemia. Castle is best known for his sculptural and elaborate handcrafted furniture, which was produced in a range of materials, including wood, concrete, plastic and bronze. As reported by USA Today, Castle had been in and out of the hospital over the last two months but remained committed to the output of his studio and the production of more furniture and sculpture. Castle was an artist-in-residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and taught at the university from 1962 to 1969. The artist's workshop is located in Scottsville, a town just outside of Rochester, and employs ten people including his son, Byron Castle. The celebrated designer was known for merging the detailing of traditional crafts with the engineering of industrial design, creating unrestricted sculptural furniture that emphasized form over function that allowed for malleability in stylistic genres and materials. Described by RIT as the “father of the art furniture movement,” Castle was awarded a number of accolades during his lifetime, from the National Endowment of the Arts, the American Craft Museum, the James Renwick Alliance and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Castle’s prodigious output can be found across the globe, and is included in the permanent collections of over 50 museums and cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In a design statement for his exhibit at RIT, Wendell Castle Imagined: A Revelation of Creative Process, the artist described the creative process behind his work as “a voyage of discovery,” one set upon “thousands of ideas on paper, before getting an authentic one dragged up from my guts,” subject to continual invention, distortion and exaggeration. Castle is survived by his wife and similarly acclaimed artist, Nancy Jurs, two children Alison and Byron, and two grandchildren, Arabella and Archibald.