In Memoriam: Diane Lewis, AIA

In Memoriam by • 05/04

The architectural community mourns the loss of Diane Lewis, AIA. One of the youngest recipients of the Rome Architecture Prize in Architecture, Professor Lewis was the first woman architect to be appointed to the full-time faculty at The Cooper Union. She taught countless architects with a career spanning more than thirty years. Below are words of remembrance from those who were touched by Diane’s passion, intellect, and empathy. Please share your own reflections on Diane in our comment section below.

“Diane’s precise language and unrelenting pursuit of the critical demanded that we engage the world as it should be. She lived her life in accord with the intensity of her architectural work. Her gravitational field pulled together artists, scholars, writers, architects, poets, and the unexpected who traveled in and out of her sphere.”
— Emma Fuller, Lead Designer, Diane Lewis Architect

“Diane Lewis was one of the giants in the world of architectural thought, practice, and pedagogy. She had a deep and formidable intellect, and was a dedicated educator who influenced generations of students. We have lost an important voice.”
— Gina Pollara, Senior Advisor, ReThinkNYC

“Diane Lewis: an architect, an intellectual and a provocateur. A stimulating, nurturing, yet appropriately critical educator, she was never afraid to call a student or colleague to task. Diane was as loved as she was controversial. Over the years, I got to know Diane through her smart and outspoken comments at several public events I organized in various institutions. She was a steadfast supporter of AIANY and was especially active during the establishment of the Center for Architecture. She personally called me last year to welcome me to the New York chapter and described, with her signature fervor, the many projects she had in mind for us to collaborate on. Her great enthusiasm, erudition, and tremendous sense of style will be dearly missed!”
— Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIA New York / Center for Architecture

“It was always such a treat to bump into Diane at the Center for Architecture—we always laughed, I always learned.”
— Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA,

“Diane was a singular intellect–equal parts imagination and rigor. She was as generous as she was fierce. As an educator, her impact cannot be overstated. She gave her students everything she had–and she had a lot. Diane fought to maintain a space for genuine inquiry in architecture and, for this, so many of us owe her so much.”
— Bradley Samuels, Partner, Situ Studio

“I had the honor and pleasure of teaching with Diane for 15 years. Early on, I appreciated Diane’s powerful ability to inspire students to believe in themselves as artists and architects. Her supreme command of literature, architectural history, and art was part of an existential view on the making of civilization—where all is interconnected in an ongoing battle for civic purpose and artistic freedom. ”
— Peter Schubert, FAIA, Partner, Ennead Architects

I had the privilege to teach for roughly a decade with Diane Lewis at Cooper as a critic and architectural historian in the fourth-year studio. Diane was, in all likelihood, the most dedicated teacher I have ever known, and was extremely passionate about architecture. She lived, breathed, ate, and slept architecture; it is no exaggeration to say she was a living embodiment of architectural thought. Often, she would stay deep into the night during reviews that had started in the morning. For her, architecture was an “infinitely unfolding discipline,” to cite her own words, echoed by one of her students at Cooper during her eulogy, which was attended by the entire school on May 2, the day she died. She touched the lives of generations of Cooper students, practitioners, and protagonists of theory and practice. She did not divide modern from ancient architectural “styles”, but moved beyond the rigid and ideologically compromised notion of an applied style, seeking out a deeper continuum of memory, of experience, and imagination that tie all epochs of architecture together, both explicitly and implicitly. In this respect, she was deeply connected both to her teacher John Hejduk and to the thought of Ernesto Nathan Rogers, as well as to her other mentor, Raimund Abraham, and was part of an extended genealogy that began with Le Corbusier. She had a open, generous, ethically, and imaginatively powerful reading of modern architecture, both in its relation to its underlying tenets and their historical development; she was equally cognizant of the wider implications of the complex dialogue between modernity and tradition, which she refined as she taught tirelessly the principles of a free plan and of a structurally oriented and urbanistically responsive practice. Hers is a unique voice that cannot be replaced and will be sorely missed; she is the last of the great line of teachers, critics, thinkers and artist/architects who made Cooper Union one of the most admired architectural schools in the world in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and which, in her studio and seminars, continued until her untimely death, which she fought to the end. It was a privilege to teach with her and to know her; she was a great friend.

— Daniel Sherer, Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture, Columbia GSAPP

Diane Agonistes

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Today, you and I, and a much larger world, lost Diane Lewis—a huge force of creative intelligence, pedagogical care, challenging honesty, honorable challenges, and tenacious personal loyalty. I cannot account for the many and varied ways she engaged you. You knew her individually, whether independently or not. I am confident she would like this: you knew her in your own existential way.

I will, however, say for the record she was indefatigable—except in her wrestling match with death.

She drew like an angel.
She taught superlatively.
She thought and talked from encyclopedic knowledge.
She raconteured magnificently and often hilariously.
She cared for ideas and thinking—small and large.
She cared for you.

She was fearless.
She was positive.

She is gone.


— William M. Singer, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Chief Plan Examiner, Borough of Brooklyn, NYC Department of Buildings

“Diane was loved by many and respected by all. She was fiercely loyal to her students, and she made no secret of her advocacy of the many friends she held dear in both personal and intellectual complicity. To that end, I can only see that this loss is shared far and wide by many.”
—Nader Tehrani, Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture (see full remembrance here)


One Response to In Memoriam: Diane Lewis, AIA

  1. Yuri Birchwood-Fuentes says:

    I would not be an architect if not for Professor Lewis. I will miss her dearly.

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