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Foster and Rogers pay tribute to Vincent Scully: 'A force of nature'

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Norman Foster and Richard Rogers have paid tribute to eminent Yale professor Vincent Scully, who died last month 

The American architecture historian – who counted Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Robert AM Stern and Maya Lin among his former students – died of complications of Parkinson’s disease on 30 November at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was 97 years old. 

Born in 1920, Scully had taught architecture, art history, painting and sculpture at Yale for more than 60 years. He was well known for his powerful and dramatic lectures. 

Foster said Scully, whose official post at Yale was Sterling Professor Emeritus of the History of the Arts, made an ’immense contribution to architectural scholarship’, adding that he was ‘forever grateful’ to have been taught by him.

’I am deeply saddened by the death of Vincent Scully – a mentor who played a crucial role in my formative experiences at Yale,’ said Foster (see full tribute below).

’I remember vividly, being transfixed by his theatrical lectures – popularly dubbed ‘Darkness at Noon’ – which began promptly at midday, with the lights lowered and the simultaneous use of multiple projectors.’

Foster continued: ’He would put into a historical context, something that was completely fresh to me – linking together what was on at the cinema down the road last night and James Joyce, to the Parthenon and the locally based officer of Eero Saarinen, through a variety of influences and reference points – that was inimitably Scully.’

He added: ’My work as an architect, which extends out through our practice, is anchored in a historical past, with an awareness of the present but pointing to an anticipation of the future. This is my debt to Vincent Scully – he opened my eyes and my mind.’

He opened my eyes and my mind

Rogers described Scully, who was raised in New Haven, Connecticut, as a ‘force of nature’. As well as teaching at Yale, Scully, who wasn’t a qualified architect, studied there for his BA, MA and PhD. 

’The dynamism of his lectures when I arrived at Yale after the Architectural Association, contrasted with the more cool and intellectual style of British exposition,’ said Rogers.

’His lectures opened the eyes of students like Norman Foster and me to new ways of seeing, to the spaces of the USA, to the character and experience of buildings.

’He explained movement, analysed served and servant spaces, and brought Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings to life in the hot, vivid language of the new world. The lessons I learnt have influenced my architecture ever since, and he remained a close friend who I would visit whenever I returned to Yale.

Tribute by Norman Foster

I am deeply saddened by the death of Vincent Scully – a mentor who played a crucial role in my formative experiences at Yale. I remember vividly, being transfixed by his theatrical lectures – popularly dubbed ‘Darkness at Noon’ – which began promptly at midday, with the lights lowered and the simultaneous use of multiple projectors. Through several of those inspirational performances, he introduced me to the idea of history as a continuum and opened my eyes to the work of the Chicago School, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn. He would put into a historical context, something that was completely fresh to me – linking together what was on at the cinema down the road last night and James Joyce, to the Parthenon and the locally based officer of Eero Saarinen, through a variety of influences and reference points – that was inimitably Scully.

His scholarship knew no bounds – he was equally comfortable discussing the architecture of Greek temples, as he was expounding on New England town squares, or Native American dwellings. An ardent exponent of Modern Architecture during his early years, he was not afraid to change his views in the face of compelling reason, as he did when he became disillusioned with the lack of humanist qualities in the Modernist era. He also continually argued against urban sprawl and the growing dependence on the automobile in the West, a cause that I have great sympathy with. His immense contribution to architectural scholarship is not only celebrated by the numerous awards in his name, but also in the enduring legacy of his talks, lectures and treatises. Vincent Scully – you will be missed.

My work as an architect, which extends out through our practice, is anchored in a historical past, with an awareness of the present but pointing to an anticipation of the future. This is my debt to Vincent Scully – he opened my eyes and my mind. I am forever grateful.

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