Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Allen Eskew, FAIA

David Armentor

Jan 2, 2014

It was with great sadness that we learned of Allen Eskew’s passing on December 10, 2013.  I had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know Allen quite well over the last five and a half years.  He was a long-time friend of the School and member of our Board of Advisors.  When I would introduce Allen to friends from out of town, I would frequently refer to him as the “Dean of Architects” in our community.  He was passionate about architecture, dedicated to humane urbanism, gracious, generous, warm, and open to new ideas and opportunities that could advance the School of Architecture and his beloved adopted city of New Orleans. As Robert Ivy, FAIA, (TSA ’76) Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects has written:

“Allen Eskew represented the best of architects and architecture.  His life was marked by a passion and drive toward excellence that touched all who knew him or visited the places and spaces he created throughout his lifetime. Working in collaboration with other talented architects and planners, he created a body of enviable work, from master planning the New Orleans World's Fair to individual buildings ranging from civic enrichment to university research. Allen's infectious joy and his serious efforts made the world a better place.”

Allen earned a Master of Architecture degree from the University of California Berkeley following a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Louisiana State University, where he served on their Advisory Board for many years. He moved to New Orleans and after a number of professional affiliations, he led the creation of the firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR).  The firm has received local, state and national recognition for its design excellence and consistent community orientation.  A fundamental part of Allen’s vision for community engagement included the Tulane School of Architecture.  Not only did Allen teach a highly successful course himself on New Orleans Urbanism, he also supported the involvement of numerous staff architects and partners in their own teaching roles.  I have vivid memories of Allen on reviews himself – one in particular with my wife, Judith Kinnard FAIA in an option studio led by Lee Ledbetter AIA and Tara Cotterman AIA a few years ago (see the picture below).

Allen Eskew FAIA, Doug Meffert, Ph.D., Tara Cotterman AIA, Steven Harris AIA, Judith Kinnard FAIA, Lee Ledbetter AIA

 

Contributions to the School
A number of years ago, Allen established the Eskew+Dumez+Ripple Lecture Series at the School. Through his firm’s generous support we have been able to attract many notable architects such as Rafael Moneo Intl. Hon. FAIA, Thom Mayne FAIA, James Timberlake FAIA, and many others who have lectured at the School. 

There are many things I could offer by way of commentary about the design excellence of Allen’s firm.  Suffice is to say that he had an uncanny ability to lead and collaborate with others, both within and beyond the firm, to achieve a high level of accomplishment across a wide variety of projects, from installations to major urban plans.  Before I came to Tulane I knew about Allen through WG Clark, one of my former colleagues at the University of Virginia.  WG is exacting in his standards and careful with his praise.  When I was headed to New Orleans, he told me to get to know Allen – he said that in all of the years he had known Allen, he never heard a negative word about anyone.  WG said that he understood design like few others and that he would be a crucial person for me to get to know in my new city.  The EDR firm's recognition through the AIA National Firm of the Year Award, bestowed two days after Allen’s passing, is a tribute to Allen and the many architects who have worked with the firm over the years, to their clients and the community that embraced Allen’s commitment to regionally grounded modernism.  The award, given annually, is the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm, and recognizes a practice that has consistently produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years. It is first time a New Orleans firm has won this national honor.  This tremendous honor would have not happened were it not for the vision and persistence of the firm’s leader, Allen Eskew FAIA.

Beyond the obvious importance of design excellence to all of us, I want to highlight one other crucial aspect of Allen’s values – his commitment for diversity in our profession.  Anyone who knew Allen well knew that he was quietly yet consistently committed to this issue.  From my earliest months in New Orleans we started our discussion around these issues.  Over the ensuing five years, he was well aware of my own commitment to building diversity at the Tulane School of Architecture among the faculty, students and the Advisory Board itself.  He was tremendously helpful with a number of my faculty recruits along the way.  Along with fellow Board members and friends Ray Manning FAIA, Marcel Wisznia AIA, and Irvin Mayfield and from Mayor Landrieu’s office Bill Gilchrist FAIA, Allen was central to our successful effort in recruiting Maurice Cox to Tulane.  Allen didn’t stop there.  In many ways, he became a kind of local guide to Maurice with his immersion into the urban condition of New Orleans upon his arrival in August of 2012.  It is little known, but he was involved in conversations with Judith Kinnard going back more than four years about women in the profession and ways in which he could use his position to advance their cause.   As recently as October of 2013, he served on a panel that was moderated by Judith as part of the Women In Architecture Symposium co-sponsored by the School and the New Orleans Chapter of AIA.  Allen was responsible for introducing me to two amazingly talented women from the firm, Cynthia Dubberly AIA and Jenny Pelc AIA both of whom I have brought into key roles within our teaching mission at the School.

A memorial tribute is being planned to honor Allen’s life and legacy after the New Year.  In addition, a memorial fund is being established to honor Allen’s legacy.  Details will be made available in the coming weeks through the Eskew+Dumez+Ripple website:  (http://www.eskewdumezripple.com)

I want to close with a happy moment from the past year or so.  Allen visited Errol Barron FAIA while he was teaching in our Rome program (October, 2012).  Someone snapped this photo in the studio after Allen participated in reviews and the two Alexandria, Louisiana natives were clearly having a great time.  Allen had sponsored Errol in his nomination for the Louisiana Medal in Architecture.  Errol won that tremendous honor in October, and Allen presented on behalf of Errol at the Louisiana State AIA Convention.  Errol’s son Eliot accepted the Medal since Errol and his wife were still in Rome.  I will always remember the pride that Allen showed in Errol’s achievement and perhaps some personal joy in the role that he played in helping to make that well-deserved recognition come to pass.


Allen Eskew FAIA, Errol Barron FAIA

 


Kenneth Schwartz, FAIA
Favrot Professor and Dean
Tulane School of Architecture
January 2, 2014

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