January 26, 2022
by AIA New York
Photo of Herbert Oppenheimer holding a mike at the Center for Architecture.
Herbert Oppenheimer, FAIA, speaking at the 2017 Ratensky Lecture. Photo: Center for Architecture.

Herbert Oppenheimer, FAIA, former president of AIA New York and an active member of the NYC architecture community, passed away on December 29, 2021, in New York City. Oppenheimer earned a Purple Heart for his military service during World War II and later graduated from Columbia University with a degree in architecture. Before opening his own firm with John Brady and Tom Lehrecke in 1959, he worked for the firms of Richard Stein and Partners and Philip Johnson.

An active member of the AIANY Housing Committee, Oppenheimer was committed to the development of affordable housing in the city. In 2017, the committee invited him to present his distinguished work as the chapter’s annual Ratensky Lecture Honoree. Some of his most notable projects include the Amsterdam Houses Addition on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; the Independence Plaza development in Lower Manhattan; the Porter Residence in Sharon, CT, which won a National AlA Award; and a Jersey City Public Housing Restoration, which was named a ULI Finalist.

Beyond housing, Oppenheimer also played an instrumental role in the campaign to save Pennsylvania Station in the 1960s. In 2003, he was interviewed by the New York Preservation Archive Project as part of the organization’s “Remembering Pennsylvania Station” initiative. Oppenheimer took office in 1976 as president of AIA New York.

“Herb was a giant, not only in the housing community but at the chapter and the NYC architecture community at large. Through all my interactions with him, I always appreciated his generous spirit, his dedication to our community, and his tenacity. Herb was tireless in his advocacy and he also had some incredible stories about Philip Johnson and other legends! One of the last times I sat with him at the Center for Architecture, he told me about his WWII service and being in Paris for the liberation. It was a privilege to hear this first-hand and an honor to have known Herb!”
– Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIANY | Center for Architecture

“With the loss of Herb Oppenheimer, New York City and its architectural community has lost an inspiring voice in advocating for socially responsive and well-designed housing. I will miss him as a friend and colleague.”
– Carmi Bee, FAIA, President, RKTB

“Herb was just a terrific person. He will be missed. I look forward to a celebration of his life and a sharing of remembrances. Thank you to all who have already shared their thoughts. I am so glad that the AIANY Housing Committee conferred upon him the Ratensky Award and that his Ratensky talk remains available. Herb leaves a large legacy.”
– Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA, President, Consortium for Sustainable Development

“Herb was friendly with my parents. He was always supportive of my career but also pushed me to be a better architect and person. I, along with the rest of us, will miss him.”
– Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEED AP, Partner, Curtis + Ginsberg Architects

“He was a great friend to Jim and me. And, we will miss Herb’s presence among us.  Through Jim and the Housing Committee, we got to know, respect and admire Herb as a friend and colleague.”
– Eric Goshow, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, ENV SP, Partner, Goshow Architects

“In packing for a recent move, I came across Herb’s sponsor letter for my Fellowship submission many years ago and realized what an influence he has been not only in my career but for many others. He was an elder statesman in our chapter and housing community we all looked up to for inspiration. In his remarkable Ratensky Lecture I was impressed at his modesty in subordinating his own considerable body of work to invite others to share his lifelong advocacy for affordable housing. Herb truly cared. He was a great friend we will all miss.”
– James McCullar, FAIA, 2008 President, AIANY

“Herb Oppenheimer warmly welcomed me when I first joined the AIANY Housing Committee almost 20 years ago.  When I served with the NYC Housing Authority, I learned about his innovative housing design, including the Amsterdam Houses Addition.  Contemporaneous with its opening, a New York Times article entitled “Housing Projects Break Mold” described Herb’s design this way: “Most floors in the building have seven apartments—three units for the elderly in the center and two larger units at either end.  Because of the bay windows, most apartments have views in several directions.  The Architect, Herbert Oppenheimer, said that the bay windows had added between 2 and 3 per cent to the building’s cost.”  Collaborating alongside Bruce Eisenberg, FAIA, we were planning to upgrade his design as part of a larger initiative promoting aging in place, and Herb was always most generous in offering his time and expertise in support of our work.”
– Mary Elizabeth Rusz, FAIA, Planning & Design Consultant, STUDIO MER

“It was an honor to get to know Herb through the housing committee. It was really interesting to hear the perspective of an “old guard” housing maven. More than that, Herb was a lot of fun (he taught my wife Jada the pleasures of the Negroni) and a real inspiration in terms of aging gracefully and staying engaged. We will miss him.”
– David West, FAIA, Partner, Hill West Architects

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