Eugene “Gene” Cizek FAIA, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus
Remarks — Kenneth Schwartz FAIA
Tulane School of Architecture Homecoming Reception
November 6, 2015
Welcome to all alumni, faculty, students, parents, friends — Homecoming, Reunions and Family Weekend have become bigger and bigger each year; a wonderful opportunity for alumni to reconnect with one another and with the school and for family members to reconnect with their students here. We are delighted to have all of you here and hope you will come back many more times in the future. We host a reception every Friday of Homecoming and Parent’s Weekend, and it is such a pleasure to see both groups at the school for these occasions and to see others as well.
But this weekend is by far the biggest we’ve had — at least the largest since I came in the fall of 2008. And I am pretty sure it’s not for the football game tomorrow.
This evening’s event in honor of Gene Cizek is joyful yet also bittersweet.
We are honoring a major force in the school’s history for the last forty-five years — and a major force in the fields of architecture, planning, and civic engagement and advocacy around preservation issues within New Orleans, Louisiana and beyond for all of these years.
I will be offering a few remarks and a few remarks on behalf of President Fitts and the university as a whole. Up until this morning our Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Michael Bernstein intended to be here to say a few words as well, but he lost his voice entirely and is bedridden with a nasty cold. He expresses his regret that he can’t be here, but the good news is that Michael and I spent a good deal of time together on Monday talking about our respective remarks, so, in my comments, I will do my very best to channel him.
I will be talking about Gene’s enormous academic impact and accomplishments as an engaged scholar and the unique background that blended with the unique conditions at Tulane throughout his career — a career that doesn’t stop at this point, it is simply going through a transition. Gene will continue to teach at the School in coordination with our Director of the Preservation Program John Stubbs, focusing on specific preservation issues and the course enrichment opportunities for which Gene is famous. And he is working on several projects and will certainly continue to be a part of the life of the school for many more years to come.
For my remarks, I want to highlight an interesting and poignant convergence between a central agenda that our new President has articulated as a key to the future of Tulane University’s academic trajectory and how Gene’s entire belief system, his enthusiasm, and his practice as a teacher, architect, writer, advocate and activist have embodied these principles throughout his entire career. In many ways, Gene has been ahead of his time — and those of you who have been lucky enough to study with him or work with him as colleagues know this first hand.
President Fitts has identified “Crossing Boundaries” as a galvanizing theme for us as we think about the future of our institution and as we build on our unique strengths. Gene has been walking this talk for a half-century. I won’t go through his entire curriculum vitae, but suffice it to say that his impact has been extraordinary, in large part, owing to the new ways that he has framed preservation as a pressing issue for society. For those who know Gene well, you know that his interests are wide-ranging, and his instincts about where to explore an issue never end in the accepted boundaries. Gene had been “breaking down silos” in the academy and community long before people even started to use that expression in the past several decades.
His curriculum vitae is amazing and in many ways unique:
1964 Louisiana State University Bachelor of Architecture
1966 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Master of City Planning
and Master in Urban Design as an M.I.T. Fellow and Sears Fellow
1968 Delft Institute of Technology - Doctor of Engineering in City Planning
as a Fulbright Scholar
1978 Tulane University Interdisciplinary Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental
1967 Instructor and Assistant Professor of Architecture, Louisiana State University
1970 Visiting Professor of Architecture, Tulane University
1972 Assistant Professor of Architecture, Tulane University
1974 Associate Professor of Architecture, Tulane University
1977 Co-Founder/Director, Education Through Historic Preservation Program, Tulane University
1978 Professor of Architecture, Tulane University
1980 Director, Bayou River Road Survey
1985 Faculty, Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies
1997 Founding Director, Preservation Studies Program
1997 Richard Koch Chair in Architecture, Tulane University
2002 Co-Director, Interdisciplinary Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program in
Historic Preservation with the Department of History
HONORS, AWARDS, PUBLICATIONS AND TRAVEL…
Founder and President, Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association
Founding Board Member, The New Orleans Preservation Resource Center
Founder and Member, New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission
College of Fellows, American Institute of Architecture
Honor Award National Trust for Historic Preservation, Freedom Foundation Medal
Hartnett T. Kane Award Louisiana Landmarks Society
Preservationist of the Year, Foundation for Historic Louisiana and Louisiana
Member, many other conservation groups
Mayor’s Golden Hammer Award for Preservationists of the Year
Many, many activities and engagements in the post-Katrina era in New Orleans as well
Mostly, I want to thank Gene for all he has done throughout his amazing career. One of the great pleasures of serving as dean is that I get to meet so many alumni. With this evening’s event, I estimate that I will have met over 1,600 of the school’s 2,800 alumni. I often ask — who was your most influential professor and why? You won’t be surprised that Gene’s name comes up all the time — and all across the country. I don’t see this as a competition, but if it were, Gene would certainly win! Even more important than the number of alumni alone are the reasons: in various words, alumni almost always talk about the way that Gene’s teaching inspired them and gave them the confidence to explore preservation, study abroad, or to look at the traditional practice of architecture and design in new ways. He gave so many of you — and so many of his faculty colleagues — the inspiration to both understand history as alive and preservation as both an ethical obligation for the profession and as a way to build a better and more sustainable future for society. To a person, they point out that he made the educational experience intellectually stimulating and fun. As one of many examples — in looking at Gene’s CV — I noted that he has traveled with students and alumni and friends to more than 30 countries during the course of his time at Tulane!
I know that many of you have vivid and wonderful memories of your time with Gene — as well as with his late partner Lloyd Sensat — and the way this profoundly enriched your own experience while at Tulane. For this we are all tremendously grateful. I have a few words from past students themselves based on some digging that we’ve done:
- Originally, Gene was an elementary school teacher
- He won multiple educational awards: He and his partner Lloyd created a children’s house coloring book, which was a great way to bring young and old into a greater awareness of the built environment
- He was a very encouraging person
- He pushed students to dream big and then established connections to help them achieve their goals
- He never said that it “wasn’t possible”
- He truly cared and was deeply involved in saving so much of the state's rich architectural history
- Even after he left as director, he was still a mentor and teacher for students
- Whenever you speak to past students about Gene, they still get “starry-eyed”
- He motivated students to help make things happen, establishing connections and opportunities
- His architecture background bridged the gap between preservation and architecture
- He helped countless students win awards for research
- His connections beyond NOLA: South America, Cuba, Caribbean, Europe
- He lead spring break trips to see how preservation played out in other cultures.
And finally, a quote from Casey Stuart — a former student of Gene’s and longtime friend:
“Gene and I had become acquainted through mutual friend who had done the program. After discussing my interests, and finding out that I had done extensive archival research, and had an all-consuming interest in New Orleans architecture and history, he invited me to join the program. Thanks to the skills I acquired while earning my MPS, I now lecture extensively on New Orleans history and architecture and I am carrying on Gene and Lloyd’s work of educating the public about our fascinating history and architecture.
I have also served on the Board of Trustees of both Save Our Cemeteries and also Louisiana Landmarks Society, most recently serving as President of the latter. All of this because of the passion that Gene ignited in me — a passion to preserve.
The thing I remember most about Gene is our foreign travel in which he used the world to teach us principles of preservation.
Because of Gene Cizek, I now have a rich and fulfilling life after retirement from my first career.”
At this point, I want to invite all of our full professors up to join me in presenting Gene with a gift on behalf of the faculty at the School of Architecture.
When I was thinking about what to get Gene, I immediately thought of a beautiful photograph I had seen — of the Mississippi River in the fog, evoking the mystery and poetry of our landscape and history. There is a beauty and serenity to this picture of our landscape, ambiguous as to the line between water and land, evocative of the humidity and elegance of our southern Louisiana landscape. This photograph is of course by our very own Errol Barron, himself an extraordinary colleague with a long and distinguished career as an architect and educator at Tulane. It seems to me fitting to present a gift that represents the creativity of all faculty as embodied in the work of one of Gene’s long-time colleagues on this faculty.
And I have asked Gene to share some words with all of us as well.
Please join me in recognizing Gene Cizek and thanking him for all he has done for the Tulane School of Architecture and the New Orleans community.