Wayne Troyer, FAIA, one of New Orleans’ most distinguished and engaged architects, died on May 3. Troyer battled against pancreatic cancer for nearly three years but continued to produce projects with his firm studioWTA that were his hallmark: modernism merged with New Orleans distinctive urbanism and historic structures. A native of the city, he not only designed dozens of the city’s best new buildings but was also active in civic and cultural commissions and boards, including the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Architectural Review Committee, the Preservation Resource Center, the New Orleans Film Society, the Contemporary Arts Center, and founded the local chapter of Docomomo. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 The Times-Picayune newspaper credited Mr. Troyer with “helping the city rebuild, working with initiatives such as the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, the Unified New Orleans Plan and Operation Comeback.” His own house was a hallmark of his design thinking and won multiple national and local design awards. Tracey Hummer of Frederic Schwartz Architects worked with studioWTA architects on the 2006 New Orleans Recovery and Master plan and writes of her colleague and friend who she admired: “Wayne was an architect's architect and great fun to be with anywhere, but especially New Orleans. Art, music, and film were all part of his daily life and practice…his compassionate open-minded personality translated to the studio's work.” A memorial for Troyer will be announced in the coming weeks.
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German photographer and artist Michael Wolf has passed away at the age of 64. Wolf is best known for his work in Hong Kong, where he isolated chaotic samples of the built environment out of context to reframe the urban environment. Wolf first moved to Hong Kong in 1994 as a photographer for Stern magazine and left to pursue his personal work in 2003. The density of the megacity became the focus of Wolf’s two long-running photo series, Architecture of Density (2003–2014) and Informal Solutions (2003–2019), which not only took a larger view of the city but explored its alleyways and hidden crevices. The Berlin-born Wolf eventually expanded out from his Hong Kong home while he documented both Asia and Europe. In Tokyo Compression, Wolf explored the crowded Japanese subway system, while in Paris, he made extensive use of Google Street View as a photographic tool. Wolf was a prolific artist and contributed to a number of photo books, including 17 in the last decade alone. Wolf was recognized for his work in his lifetime, having won the World Press Photo competition in 2005 and 2010, as well as an honorable mention in 2011. In 2010 and 2016, he was also nominated for the Prix Pictet award.
George Homsey, one of the founding members of San Francisco–based firm Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis (EHDD), has passed away. Widely considered a giant of California architecture, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, Homsey practiced architecture with EHDD for nearly 50 years before parting ways with the firm in 2000 to run his own practice. During Homsey’s storied career, he worked with some of the greats of late-20th-century Northern California architecture, including business partner Joseph Esherick, and collaborators Charles Moore and William Turnbull. Together with these architects, Homsey helped bring to life Sea Ranch, the iconic shingled housing development situated on the rugged California coast north of San Francisco, as well as many delightful and contemplative private residences, schools, and public buildings. Homsey was regarded as the diligent and strong-willed counterpart to Esherick at EHDD, and helped to animate Esherick’s conceptually-driven works with a sensitivity to light, composition, and pragmatic materiality that made Homsey one of the fathers of what some called the “Third Bay Tradition,” a vernacular style of architecture that channeled and updated the Bay Area’s woodsy architectural and environmental influences for a new generation. Homsey, for example, was one of the chief designers of the hedgerow homes at Sea Ranch, a series of shed-roofed and wood-clad abodes that simultaneously struck out from and blended into the site’s scrubby terrain. Born in 1926 in San Francisco’s Western Addition, Homsey grew up in a typical San Francisco duplex where the modest units were separated by a pragmatic light well. The son of an auto mechanic, Homsey trained to become a naval aviator to serve in the military, but the war ended before he could take flight. With this training in hand, Homsey set out to study architecture at the City College of San Francisco and at the University of California, Berkeley. He joined Esherick’s fledgling firm in 1952 and made partner 20 years later. Homsey would go on to create the design guidelines for Yosemite National Park as well as comprehensive designs for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit stations. He was awarded the Maybeck Award for lifetime achievement in architectural design by the American Institute of Architects, California Council in 2006 for his work.
The death of architect Kevin Roche on March 1 at 96 marked the end of an era—the midcentury modern era that the work of his mentor, Eero Saarinen, came to symbolize. Roche and his late partner, John Dinkeloo, founded the successor firm that finished a number of the projects that remained incomplete when Saarinen died in 1961 at 51. Roche, Dinkeloo, and their partners then went on to build impressive high modern buildings of their own. Roche, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, studied architecture at the National University there, and received his first commission even before he graduated. It was from his father, Eamonn Roche, for a piggery in County Cork that housed 1,000 animals. After completing his degree in 1945, he became an apprentice to Ireland’s most important modern architect, Michael Scott, and worked on the Busáras bus station, Dublin’s first significant modern building. Then he moved to London to work for Maxwell Fry, where he read an article in The Architectural Review about Mies van der Rohe, who “was not as well known as Le Corbusier at the time,” and decided to come to America to study with him at the Illinois Institute of Technology. That venture, in 1948, was short-lived, as Roche was short on funds and found the experience disappointing. So he moved to New York to join the officially international team designing the United Nations headquarters under Wallace Harrison, before moving to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to join an unintentionally international team in the office of Eero Saarinen. It was the place to be at that moment in time, with people from all over the world in the office, including Chuck Bassett, Gunnar Birkerts, Edmund Bacon, Kent Cooper, Niels Diffrient, Ulrich Franzen, Olav Hammarström, Hugh Hardy, Nobuo Hozumi, Mark Jaroszewicz, Louis Kahn, Paul Kennon, Joe Lacy, Anthony Lumsden, Leonard Parker, Glen Paulsen, Cesar Pelli, David Powrie, Harold Roth, Robert Venturi, and Lebbeus Woods. “And everyone was designing,” as Venturi once told me. “It was not like today when half the people would be doing public relations or something.” Roche, who arrived in the office as it was beginning to grow from 10 to over 100, soon became Saarinen’s right-hand man. “He liked the way I organized a job,” Roche told me. The way things were done there was that every day a number of the young architects would be asked to work on a building or a part of a building, to sketch and develop ideas. Then Roche would collect the sketches and hang them up for Saarinen to examine. Eero would come in later and pick the most interesting ones and ask the person who had created it to develop it further. It was a devastating experience for some, like Venturi, whose sketches were never chosen, and a high for those, like Pelli, who were asked to develop designs further and put in charge of important projects. After Saarinen died, the firm moved to New Haven as previously planned. Some then drifted off. Pelli, for example, left after completing the TWA Terminal (formally the TWA Flight Center) and the Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale. Roche remained in Connecticut and, along with technologically gifted John Dinkeloo and some other talented young architects, founded Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Partners. They completed Saarinen’s Corten-steel-faced John Deere & Company headquarters in Moline, Illinois (1964), the mirrored glass Bell Telephone Corporation Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey (1962), the iconic North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana (1964), and the dignified Columbia Broadcasting System Headquarters in New York City (1965). Roche Dinkeloo then went on to design numerous distinctive buildings, such as the dark metal and glass Ford Foundation headquarters in Manhattan with its central, enclosed garden (1967); the Oakland Museum of California (1969), with a 5-acre terraced roof (designed by Dan Kiley) that functions as a public park; and the rather funereal but original Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Connecticut (1973). There were corporate headquarters—a sprawling white-walled palazzo for General Foods in Rye Brook, New York (1982); a futuristic, low-lying structure for Union Carbide in Danbury, Connecticut, that houses cars as comfortably as workers (also 1982); and a columnar skyscraper on Wall Street for J. P. Morgan (1990)—among the practice’s 50 or more projects. Over the years, Roche Dinkeloo designed and renovated galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the dramatic pavilion for the Temple of Dendur; the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue; and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. Although his firm did buildings all over the world, Roche’s last major one was a conference center in Dublin, where he had been born in 1922. Roche’s close relationship with Saarinen defined much of his career, though. He met his wife, Jane Clair Tuohy, at Saarinen’s office. They were planning to marry a few weeks after Eero died but waited until 1963. His wife, five children, and 15 grandchildren survive him. Roche was a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 1982 and the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 1993. He will be remembered as a major figure of his time.
Los Angeles–based architect Francois Perrin has passed away. Perrin was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer in January, 2019, and passed away on April 1, 2019, in Ventura County, California. Born in Paris, France, Perrin would eventually settle in Los Angeles, where his design practice, Air Architecture, was well known for creating materially inventive spaces filled with ethereal physical qualities that transcended everyday experiences. Perrin’s architectural projects were widely published; his Venice Air House from 2006, an addition to a single-family home that used trapped air visible through clear polycarbonate siding as a form of insulation, was well known. Perrin’s Hollywood Hills House from 2012 was designed as a series of terraces that simultaneously disappeared into and were hung off of a steeply-sloped site. In the past, Perrin has organized several exhibitions including "Dialogues" and "Yves Klein-Air Architecture" at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture and "Architectones" in several locations around the world. In 2004, Perrin’s The Weather Garden transformed the courtyard of Materials & Applications in Los Angeles using netting, a wooden platform, and palm tree saplings. In 2016, Perrin and French Canadian architect Francois Dallegret organized a retrospective of Dallegret’s early works at WUHO Gallery in Hollywood. In 2017, Perrin’s Air Houses brought a series of tent-like shelters to the Palm House at the Garfield Park Conservatory for the Chicago Architecture Biennale. A joint project between Perrin and Dallegret was scheduled to go on view earlier this year at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles as part of the Shelter or Playground exhibition, but Perrin’s work on the exhibition was cut short by his illness. Perrin was decorated with the Chevalier de l'Art et des Lettres in June, 2018, at the Residence de France in Los Angeles. On top of everything, Perrin was an avid big-wave surfer and an artist, pursuits that earned him the love of a wide community of artists and architects around the world. As the shocking news of Perrin’s illness spread among his friends last week, several organizations and institutions rallied to his family’s support. Perrin is survived by his partner Eviana Hartman and their 16-month-old daughter. A fund has been set up to help the family navigate this difficult time.
Aleksandra Kasuba, a Lithuanian-born environmental artist and designer responsible for numerous public art commissions in the 1970s and 1980s as well as pioneering environments made of tensile fabrics, died on March 5 in New Mexico. Kasuba originally intended to be an architect, but with the University of Kaunas closed by the occupying Nazi regime, she enrolled in art school until that too was shuttered. Fleeing with her art teacher and future husband, sculptor Vytautas Kašuba, she wound up in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Germany until they were allowed to emigrate to the United States in 1947. Possessed with a restless curiosity, Kasuba sought out every opportunity to learn more about visual art, attending the famous Four O’clock Forums held by Louise Nevelson while developing a practice in mosaic and tile to supplement her husband’s income. At a show of hers in the Waddell Gallery in 1965, Edward Larrabee Barnes approached her and asked if she would work in brick. Seizing the opportunity, she deduced how to represent the invisible forces of structure in brick wall relief and launched a successful line of large-scale works, such as the wall at Barnes’s 1971 Dining Hall at Rochester Institute of Technology, a brick relief at 560 Lexington Avenue for the Eggers Group, and a wall at 7 World Trade Center which was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. At the same time, Kasuba continued her experimentation with materials, shaping light and shadow with lucite for the seminal Experiments in Art and Technology exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1968 and the Art and Technology program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A breakthrough came when she found she could make tensile structures out of synthetic fabrics. Just as she sought to represent the structural forces in her brick walls, she made visible the forces flowing through the fabric. Among her noted achievements with fabric were her 1971 Live-In Environment, in which she erased any traces of 90-degree angles in a floor of her West 90th Street townhouse, creating a space for contemplation and creativity. In 1973, she was commissioned by the Carborundum Museum of Ceramics in Niagara Falls to build an environment for the display of ceramics. In 1975, she realized The Spectral Passage at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, composed of seven structures, relating form to color. Inspired by this show, she devised Spectrum, An Afterthought, which would be revisited at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius in 2014 (a retrospective of her will open there in 2020). Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Kasuba continued research with curvilinear walls, experimenting with how tensile membranes might be made rigid and self-supporting. After the death of her husband, she moved to New Mexico where she built a traditionally framed house in the desert together with two prototype shell structures. In these, she stretched wire between wooden frames as a base that she covered with building materials and aluminum surfacing. Kasuba was also a prolific author, producing a series of books on her life, utopian communities, and reflections on creativity. She is survived by her daughter, two grandsons, sixteen great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson. Her archive is at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Roche, the Irish-born American architect responsible for the design of over 200 modernist buildings around the world, died at age 96 last Friday at his home in Guilford, Connecticut. His namesake firm, Roche-Dinkeloo, released a statement immediately following his passing. Roche had a major impact on American architecture. After moving to the United States from Dublin in 1948, Roche studied under Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe, another noteworthy European emigrant and pioneer of modernist architecture. Two years later, Roche joined the firm of Eero Saarinen, a revolutionary architect known for his sculptural and futuristic buildings. As Saarinen’s principal design associate, Roche adopted his employer's expressionistic style and his belief that architecture serves a higher purpose by uniting people and promoting social and cultural growth among various communities. After Saarinen’s death in 1961, Roche and his colleague formed their own architectural firm, Roche-Dinkeloo, in Hamden, Connecticut. Their joint mission was to revolutionize and beautify large spaces and museums in order to attract the masses and bring people together who share common goals and interests. The New York Times reported that Roche was often described as a trusted, modest, and soft-spoken individual, yet, his buildings were far from subtle. His conspicuous and often dramatic projects symbolized his love for glass technology, strong and memorable forms, as well as expressionist and modernist sculpting. Roche’s forward-thinking philosophies enabled him to adapt his designs to any situation where they proved to be flexible, versatile, and efficient. His works include the iconic TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, designed under Saarinen's direction, as well as the historic Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, and the Oakland Museum of California. Roche was considered "the favored architect" of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to the NYT, where he designed each wing of the museum’s expansion, including the sun-lit Lehman Pavilion in 1975 and the massive glass pavilion enclosing the Temple of Dendur. He also completed the 1970s masterplan of United Nations Plaza, which included the build-out of three buildings, one of which is now a city landmark. As Roche’s projects flourished—he received the Pritzker Prize in 1982 and an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1993—he became the go-to designer of major arts centers, corporate campuses, and federal sites. He designed the stark-white, geometric headquarters of General Foods in Rye Brook, New York, and the statuesque offices of J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street. Roche continued practicing architecture in his final years and didn’t slow down his work until his 95th birthday. Today he is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Jane Tuohy Roche, his five children, and 15 grandchildren.
John Andrews, an English architect and educator, died at his home in London on February 15. Andrews was enormously influential as a teacher and his work—drawings, exhibitions, installations, and design—should be better known. He created a website last year that highlights his work of 40-plus years. Andrews graduated from Chelsea Art School and the Architectural Association and was very keen to bring together the two disciplines, and this website was meant to be, in Andrews's words, a “testimony to this commitment and a desire in a subtle way, to move forwards and backwards between action and reflection, between practice and academia. I believe that the idea of architecture is not limited to the domain of building; it is essentially about the structure of space. A recurrent question which surfaces throughout the quintet of titles in this site is the role of space-space as thought, perception, memory, interiority, and drama.” We asked colleagues of Andrews for comments, and Nigel Coates sent this touching reminiscence and we publish it here in its entirety as a fitting tribute to the architect:
John joined Bernard Tschumi’s unit at the AA the year it began; he graduated a year after me, in 1975. We were all obsessed with Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and John’s diploma project was called Fendora, an exploration of one of Marco Polo’s fables as told to Kubla Khan. John’s Situationist style, of fleeting moments, hidden stairs, doors ajar was already fully formed. He lived, like his family, in what was then a working class part of Islington at the beginning of the Essex Road. He was born there and carried on living there after his parents had gone, proud of his earthy connection with the eccentricities of Islington. He cut a snappy figure, the Tommy Steele of Architecture, a sharp suited lad with a heart of gold. Younger students thought he was the epitome of cool. He was. There was always something of the arty maverick too. The dreamy drawings would capture "atmosphere," which is, I guess, what lead him to embrace the interior as a medium in its own right. That specialty took him to Melbourne and to Brighton University, where his indefatigable enthusiasm would push generations of students to look for more than decor in a room.
Warren Gran, a New York City architect, died Sunday at age 85 in Los Angeles. Gran practiced in New York City for over 45 years and was known for his commitment to making social change through architecture. Gran specialized in public and non-profit projects with an emphasis on affordable housing, sustainability, and social responsibility, including supportive housing for the homeless and those suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems. He worked on many projects with the New York Public Schools, producing innovative spaces to help children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Prominent projects include: PS/IS 395, PS/IS 78Q Robert F. Wagner School in Long Island City, PS/IS 109 in Brooklyn, multiple projects for the Bank Street College of Education, and Brooklyn Family Court. His renovation of and addition to PS 14 won an AIA New York Design Award. Gran was also awarded the Boston Society of Architects/AIA Award for his work on the Lighthouse Charter School in the Bronx. One of his most visible projects was the conversion of a large Brooklyn courthouse on Adams Street into two high schools. A rooftop addition provided gyms and a signature look with red cylinders facing the street. On Morris Avenue in the Bronx, his 1974 housing development built with then-partner Irv Weiner, Melrose D-1 (a.k.a. the Michelangelo Apartments), has been described as an overlooked, pioneering, humane answer to housing problems that still plague the city today. “Why look at Melrose D-1 today? Because it acknowledges housing as a banal, repetitive, highly cost-driven design problem, and makes a virtue out of it,” wrote Susanne Schindler in The Avery Review in 2012. The complex is praised for its innovative floor plan, with access to three courtyards landscaped by Henry Arnold. Gran also worked in historic preservation. Among the prominent projects he worked on were the renovation of the dome at Manhattan Surrogate Court, the Manhattan Appellate Court, Queens Supreme Court, and a restoration of the Pratt Institute Library in collaboration with Giorgio Cavaglieri. Gran also worked as a residential architect designing homes in New Jersey, Connecticut, the Hamptons, and upstate New York that were often inspired by vernacular rural architecture, and balanced humanism and modernist ideals. These include the Weininger Residence in the Hudson Valley and his own weekend home in Ghent, New York, where he and his wife Suzanne vacationed. Gran’s career started while working in the office of the great Edward Larrabee Barnes. From 1967 to 2003 he taught architecture and urban design at Pratt Institute, also serving as the chairperson of the graduate program in urban design, the acting dean of the school of architecture, and teaching seminars at Yale, CUNY, Cooper Union, and NYU. He earned his Bachelor of Architecture at Penn State and his Masters in Planning from Pratt. Students have always said he was incredibly tough—but that they appreciated that toughness, and what he taught them launched their careers. He was a member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Urban Design Committee of AIA’s New York chapter. Gran was an officer in the navy in the late ‘50s, on the aircraft carrier the USS Ticonderoga. During these years he kept an apartment on Fillmore Street in San Francisco that was memorialized in Herb Caen’s San Francisco Chronicle column: Apparently, Gran and his Navy buddies’ parties were so loud the nightclub downstairs had to complain. Suzanne of Kansas City, Missouri, worked at The New Yorker magazine throughout the 1960s. Suzanne died in July of 2017. They are survived by two daughters, designer Eliza Gran and novelist Sara Gran, who went to Saint Ann’s and now live in Los Angeles. Warren is also survived by three grandchildren, Violet Phillips, 19, Ruby Phillips, 17, and Charles Wolf Phillips, 14.
The distinguished British educator and architectural critic David Dunster died in London on January 11, 2019, after a brief illness. He was 73 years old. Dunster led three of his country’s leading architectural schools during a fifty-year teaching career, influencing countless students and changing the tenor of architectural practice from that of an exclusive club to one open to new ideas and responsive to changing social norms. His approach was broadly humanistic, inclusive and always sensitive to the life experiences of his students. As the architect Farshid Moussavi remembered: “He treated everyone equally and with great generosity—if you had an idea he would reach out and encourage you.” David Dunster was born in Kent in 1945 and attended the Gillingham School before pursuing an architecture degree in the Bartlett School, at University College, London. Always a vagabond, with wide-eyed curiosity for different cultures and locales, he went to Chicago in his early twenties to work for Bertrand Goldberg. While there he witnessed first-hand the fateful year of 1968, with its two assassinations and tumultuous Democratic convention, and developed a love for the city and its culture. It was there that he met his wife, Charlotte Myhrum, a Chicago native. Returning to the Bartlett, he received his diploma and worked briefly for James Gowan before taking a teaching position at South Bank’s architecture school. He was a visiting critic at Rice University in the early 1980s, and returned to take a full-time position at the Bartlett School in 1983. It was there that he made his greatest mark, writing, researching and eventually heading the program after Robert Maxwell’s departure for Princeton. A devoted Italophile, he would often lead summer trips for students to various Italian cities, camping in Caravans, and visiting the piazzas, gardens, and buildings he loved. Equally versed in the contemporary buildings of Carlo Scarpa and the baroque masterpieces of Borromini, David’s enthusiasm for history left students with a deep respect for the past as they embarked on their design careers. While in London Dunster was active as a writer, editor, and publisher. He edited a number of Architectural Design monographs for Andreas Papadakis, including influential volumes on the work of John Soane and Edwin Lutyens. He wrote articles in leading periodicals, many on contemporary British architecture, and maintained his ties with U.S. firms as well. His gregarious personality and sharp wit made an impression on everyone he met in the far corners of the globe. He taught in Melbourne, Australia, and was a visiting fellow at the Architectural League of New York, expanding his connections and friendships. Though always ready with a biting quip or incisive comment on things he found petty, ugly, or unjust, he was warm and loyal to friends. He briefly headed the diploma program at Kingston Polytechnic, and wrote a monograph on key twentieth-century houses that became a best seller. Following his departure from the Bartlett in 1995, he became Roscoe Professor at Liverpool’s school of architecture, retiring in 2010 and returning with his family to London. Always active in education, he was an external examiner for several UK universities in his later years. With fewer responsibilities, he found time to continue his architectural history writing and research. David was an architect in the tradition of the Renaissance uomo universale—well-read, curious, practical, politically astute, and steeped in the culture of not only his own time but that of past epochs. He approached his work with skepticism and tolerance in equal measure. Most important, he saw design as a means to social amelioration and the advancement of humanistic values, not as technology, theory, or narrowing aesthetic conceptualism. As a colleague at Liverpool remembered: “David was one of the last of his kind—incredibly knowledgeable on all things architectural and cultural.”
Los Angeles architect Sarah Ann Dennison has passed away. A The Los Angeles Times obituary describes the architect as “a biologist, a photographer and a feminist” who started out with a degree in biology from Wells College before attending the University of Southern California in 1976. Dennison graduated alongside her husband and classmate Greg in 1980 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree. Dennison graduated first in her class at USC and earned an AIA|LA Academic Medal for her stellar credentials as a student. Dennison joined architects Anshen+Allen in Los Angeles in 1987, a firm that specialized in healthcare and laboratory building projects. She would eventually become a founding member of CO Architects, a firm she helped lead until her retirement in 2008. While at CO Architects, Dennison worked on many healthcare and university buildings. After retirement, Dennison worked with the Venice Land Use and Planning Committee as well as on issues relating to global warming and the environment. In 2010, she was awarded a Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects for her “immersive involvement in shaping architecture with clients leads to the creations of engaging and transformative environments that celebrate scientific discovery. Her buildings stimulate hands-on learning and foster delight in the wonder of science.” Dennison also co-chaired the AIA|LA Fellows Nominating and Mentoring Committee and as a result, helped many distinguished candidates achieve Fellowship. A celebration of her life will be held at USC’s Harris Hall at 2:00 pm on Saturday, January 19, 2019.
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.