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RISD honors architect Friedrich St. Florian

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Friedrich St. Florian at the RISD Museum of Art drawing show with former Architectural Association colleague Dennis Crompton. Crompton was one of the founding members of the radical British urban design group, Archigram.

By William Morgan

Architect Friedrich St. Florian, the Graz, Austria, native, who has been associated with the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) since 1963, serving as Dean of Architecture and Provost, but more importantly as an inspiring teacher, shaping several generations of architects, was honored this year by the RISD Museum Associates at its annual Spring Gala Fundraiser.


“It is with deep respect and admiration that we honor Friedrich St. Florian at this year’s RISD Museum Associates’ gala,” said Elizabeth Lane, event co-chair. “His contributions to the world of architecture and higher education are an example of the powerful connection RISD has across the globe.”
Called a “visionary” for his futuristic drawings and theoretical structures, St. Florian was among the constellation of forward-thinking architects who, in the 1970s, were brought to London’s Architectural Association under the leadership of longtime chairman, the late Alvin Boyarsky. St. Florian spoke about his experience teaching at the AA, the United Kingdom’s oldest independent architectural school, during a time that is regarded as a key moment in architectural history.
The event capped a joint Brown University/Rhode Island School of Design conference, Architecture/Urbanism/Humanities: Intersecting Pedagogies. The keynote speaker was Parisian architect Bernard Tschumi, leading Deconstructivist and designer of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. Other speakers included the deans of architecture at Columbia and Princeton universities, Amale Andraos and Stan Allen, as well as Neder Tehrani from MIT, along with noted practitioners from Berlin, London, and St Louis.
Concurrent with the conference, the RISD Museum of Art opened an exhibition of architectural drawings collected by Boyarsky. (Two of Boyarsky’s children and two A.A. colleagues, Michael Webb and Dennis Crompton took part in the Providence conclave.) Drawing Ambience: Alvin Boyarsky and the Architectural Association is a remarkable tribute to the importance of drawing as representational tool and as works of art in their own right. Boyarsky collected imaginative pencil and ink works from his students and friends, including Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Tschumi, and St. Florian.

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Summer House, Island of Elba is one of the drawings in Drawing Ambience exhibition.
St. Florian may be best known as the designer of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He is especially proud of that noble classical composition, although its eight-year gestation and realization was not without difficulty. Yet, as the art in Drawing Ambience reminds us, St. Florian was famous for his utopian drawings when he was a member of an avant-garde group of revolutionary urban thinkers.

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St. Florian, hologram of the Statue of Liberty, for South Africa during apartheid.
St. Florian has designed a number of unapologetically modern houses in New England (one graced the cover of Design New England, March/April 2010), as well as the delightful yellow Sky Bridge, which crosses to the Providence Place Mall, a very civic project of which he was head designer. Aside from his role as teacher and practitioner, too few people remember that this urban planner had much to do with the renaissance of his adopted city. During a brainstorming session at the Blue Point Oyster Bar on March 19, 1981, St. Florian, along with William Warner and Irving Haynes, came up with the idea of opening up the Providence River and thus dramatically reshaping the face of downtown Providence.
The celebration in the Grand Gallery, with its tiers of old paintings, was a glorious occasion for acknowledging the life and work of a man who has done so much for RISD, Providence, and the architectural profession.

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Dinner in the RISD Museum’s Grand Gallery.
Great design is always at your fingertips! Read Design New England’s May/June 2015 issue online!

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