by AIA New York
AIA New York and the Center for Architecture are deeply saddened by the loss of Eric Adam Salitsky, an architectural designer at ESKW/Architects and 2018 recipient of our Stewardson Keefe LeBrun Travel Grant. On May 5, Eric was tragically killed while cycling near his home in Brooklyn.
We invite you to explore the culmination of the research Eric conducted through our grant, our digital exhibition The Global Phenomenon of Multifaith Worship Spaces, which focused on the architectural implications of these spaces and their complex programs. Through the grant, Eric traveled across Europe and North America documenting the design and history of multifaith worship spaces in places like airports, hospitals, universities, and other public institutions. Eric believed that multifaith spaces could serve as rebuttals to tribalism and divisiveness, showing how people of diverse beliefs can successfully worship in the same space without conflict and recognize each other’s humanity. Following his research, Eric went on to lead a workshop for university chaplains, consulted on the complex typology to design firms, participated in design competitions, and continued to research and write on the subject, including a paper he planned to present this month at the Architecture Culture and Spirituality Forum.
Eric was born in Worcester, MA in 1987. After high school he spent a formative year studying and volunteering in Israel, where he met his future wife, Tamara Cohen. He went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010 with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Religious Studies and served as an interfaith fellow at the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions. After graduation, Eric returned to Israel to pursue a career in interfaith dialogue, an experience that opened his eyes to how spatial opportunities can create and facilitate effective dialogue and encounter. Upon returning to the United States, he decided to pursue a Master of Architecture at the Pratt Institute, graduating in 2017. At ESKW/Architects, he specialized in transitional and supportive housing and education projects.
“Eric joined ESKW/A in 2019 in the early days of the pandemic,” says a statement from the firm. “Regardless of remote work, Eric was easy to get to know and connect with. Over these past years at the office, he worked on a multitude of affordable and supportive housing projects including an extensive study and plan for transitional housing for Providence House, renovation of congregate housing at 700 Bay Street, new affordable housing at 454 West 35th Street, and the user-informed design of a new high school for Beginning with Children.”
Memorial contributions can be made in Eric’s memory to Designing Justice/Designing Spaces. “I’m a big fan of Designing Justice/Designing Spaces,” said Eric. “They use architecture, planning and development to fight mass incarceration through community programs, advocacy and policy.”
Eric will be remembered as a deeply compassionate, engaging and thoughtful person, who was gifted in making others feel comfortable and accepted in his presence. Below is a selection of tributes from his friends and colleagues that show how much he will be fervently missed.
“We met Eric in 2005 on Year Course, kept in touch through the years, and were able to have adventures together in places like Northern California and Jerusalem before we all settled in New York. In Brooklyn, we remember countless Shabbat dinners and a memorable Christmas where we made a whole kosher Peking duck that Eric somehow found.
Eric was the best. Kind, funny, deeply loyal and loving. He truly loved life, lived in the moment, and was a joy to be around. He is sorely missed, and his strong and kind spirit will continue to inspire us.”
—David “Dudu” Alper and Naama Wrightman
“I loved sharing random things with Eric. A relatively routine punch list in Staten Island ended with an amazing lunch at a Sri Lankan restaurant he had discovered. Made every day interesting!”
—Jon Mark Bagnall
“There’s a story about Hillel the elder that appears in the Babylonian Talmud. Every day, he would earn, by chopping wood and carrying water, two kopecks. Half would go to his family, while he would use the other half to enter the Beit Midrash, or study hall. One day he didn’t have the money to enter the study hall, so in order to not miss the lesson, he climbed on the roof to listen from above. That night it snowed, covering Hillel, until the Rabbis saw him, took him inside, and started a fire, despite the fact that this went against the prohibition of building fires on Shabbat. But the Rabbis declared: this man deserves the Sabbath to be profaned on his behalf. Eric was Hillel—wise, thoughtful, and, when he wanted to learn something, truly unstoppable.
The first time I ever taught a Talmud class, only Eric and Tammy showed up. I suspect going was mostly Eric’s initiative. Years later, upon seeing me teach Talmud again, Eric told me that I had really grown into being a great teacher, that I used to be doing mostly stand-up comedy but now I was bringing people real spiritual nourishment and wisdom. Laughter and spirituality. Insight and hope. Vision and commitment. He had it all. This man deserved that the Sabbath be profaned on his behalf.”
“I am lucky enough to have had many memorable experiences with Eric. As a brother-in-law, he was unmatched. While he and Tammy were more observant of Shabbat and many Jewish holidays that we preferred to keep short and sweet, he always went out of his way to make sure we would enjoy ourselves. Passover 2019 was particularly special. Eric and Tammy put together Haggadahs for everyone there from scratch, having printed out funny pictures of family members that we would find along our way through the Seder. They also bought fun masks of the plagues and taught us a silly tradition of hitting the person next to us with scallions. We all had the best time. Eric, Tammy, Ryan and I also went on great trip, from Israel, Colombia with my parents, to upstate New York, and we had plans for many more. Eric will be loved beyond words and missed beyond measure always.”
“Aside from the fact that Eric married my best friend from childhood, my friendship with Eric came naturally (although I’ve come to understand a lot of people felt this way about Eric and I’m actually not special). He was such a smart and kind person with an eclectic array of interests that allowed him to connect with anyone. Our connection (aside from Tammy) was our love for anything that was childish and competitive. If there was a game to be played, he was down and zoned in for the win. If there was karaoke to be sung, he had the mic. If I wanted to be in my late 20s and have a birthday party at Dave and Busters, I knew I could count him in. Similarly, I jumped at the opportunity to catch our own fish for his birthday dinner in Midtown Manhattan. So it makes perfect sense that Eric took part in so many joyous pleasures with my firstborn son, Benji. He was there for Benji’s first trip to the zoo, Benji’s second birthday (it should be noted that Eric spent more time playing with Benji’s present than Benji himself), and of course, Benji’s first Szechuan dinner. As I write this, sitting in my living room under the beautiful Ketubah that Eric designed for my husband and I (one of his first, and yes, I’m bragging!), I am grateful that there will always be a little piece of him in my home.”
“I met Eric in 2005 on Young Judaea’s Year Course program in Israel, the same time Tammy met him! He had dreadlocks, which was obviously very cool to us. When Tammy and Eric started dating, I couldn’t have been happier because Eric was the type of guy who always included everyone, and we had many fun adventures together as a group. When we returned to the States we would always hang out over winter break and catch up. I visited Tammy and Eric in 2012 when they were living in Tel Aviv, and I remember one day Tammy had to work, so Eric and I went to Jerusalem for the day. He humored me by doing all the touristy things.
Eric had a way of showing everyone that they were important to him. He always prioritized time spent together. I truly feel honored to have known such an amazing human. He was so loved, and I think about him every day.”
—Sarah Halley, a.k.a “Peanut”
“Eric was one of the first friends I made at Pratt. While there, we shared our first three studios, played on a skeeball team, celebrated a million Jewish holidays, and designed a cafe in the Bronx! Working on the cafe was a huge milestone for both of us since it was our first project out on our own. He was the perfect partner; collaborative, hardworking and deeply engaged. I’m not sure I ever fully expressed to him how important that project was to building my professional and personal self-confidence. Still, I am forever grateful that he put his trust in me to share that experience.
Beyond work and the classroom, Eric was also perhaps the greatest source of Jewish learning I have had in my adult life. Whipping each other with green onions is now a much beloved Passover tradition in my family. The pandemic years, unfortunately, saw us grow apart somewhat, but I knew in my heart that no matter how much time passed, we would always be in each other’s lives and the things that I learned from him about design, Judaism, and living life passionately will stay with me forever.”
“Even though I never worked directly with Eric on a project, his energy and presence were always felt around the office—virtually and in person! He was always happy and positive and brought that to his work and how he carried himself. He was a kind and gentle soul.
A great memory I have is when Eric, Sarah Holtzer, and I participated in the Five Boro Bike Tour this past May 1st, on the ‘ESKW Riders’ team. During the ride, Eric did not bring a water bottle that was easy to access while riding. We had to stop for him each time he needed to drink because it was a screw-top bottle. It was pretty funny, but it made us stop and appreciate our time talking together because we would not have done that much talking if we were just focused on riding the entire time! We had a blast during the bike tour, and Sarah and our fellow office colleagues look forward to riding in the future in Eric’s honor.”
“Eric and I worked together for our client, Providence House, a non-profit advocating for formerly incarcerated women reconnecting with their families by providing them with housing and supportive services. A beautiful moment I remember with Eric happened during a visit to an occupied building where a tenant, who had been abused, requested no male presence. Eric heard this and, with such grace and haste, ran outside with so much love in his eyes for her. It was such a gentle, split-second moment where I saw a man whose life purpose was to spread love and who knew exactly how to respond.
He was filled with so much pride doing this type of work, and you could see that this was where he was supposed to be. Non-for-profit work is done by those who care immensely about people, and that’s Eric, a man so effusive and beaming with love.”
“I did a little photoshoot with Eric, Tammy and Pecueca in 2015. <3”
“From my limited observation: when Eric started a new endeavor, he threw himself fully into the process. Whether learning Revit, researching project clients, or starting fly fishing (as conveyed by his phenomenal Pecha Kucha), he was an outstanding student that hoped to gain proficiency in any given challenge. Beyond his enthusiasm for acquiring new skills and talents, his passion for architecture and its transcendental possibilities exhibited his profound sensitivity towards and hope for our society.”
“While I only worked with Eric for a short time, it was evident that he was a thoughtful designer interested in creating a more just and kind built environment for everyone. From trying to give eighth-grade students a voice in the design of their future school to discussing with ESKW’s JEDI group how to create a more open and inclusive office environment, Eric had an insightful perspective I appreciated and will miss.”
“Eric was a neo-chassid. He was a man of design. An aesthete extraordinaire. A man who, much like me, sought out the inner hemishkeit of the Yiddishe oilam…not in order to restrict himself, but as a deep manifestation of who he wanted to be while remaining committed to the pursuit of the broad, the exotic, the open-minded, and the lifelong exploration of the new and the enriching. Eric loved interfaith sacred spaces because he was a man of sanctity in his own faith.
Baruch HaShem…what a mensch. So beyond what so many people could fathom.”
“I met Eric and Tammy when they moved to Brooklyn. We began attending the same Shabbat meals and pretty soon became friends. There are a number of moments that stand out from our friendship:
The time I joined them for their annual Tisha B’Av movie marathon. The time we went to dinner at a kosher steakhouse and to the ballet, immediately after which I fell down a flight of stairs in the subway and broke my elbow; he and Tammy took me to the hospital and were so kind. The time when they came to the Hamptons for my thirtieth birthday weekend and we stopped at a kosher Persian restaurant on the way back. The time I was crashing at their place and he took me to a Russian bath on the Lower East Side (we saw Jake Gyllenhaal in the street on the way there!). Most of what I remember, though, is a sensibility or, for lack of a better word, a “vibe”: I think of Eric’s warm smile, kind heart, and genuine interest in other human beings and the world at large. I see him sitting around a table with friends, enjoying lively conversation over a delicious meal and clearly loving every minute.”
“I worked with Eric at ICRAVE, and while we never worked on a design project together, we worked on The Chop (ICRAVE’s editorial/blog at the time) together. His emails and writing style were kind, with a slight hint of sarcasm and wit.”
“I met Eric in December 2004 when he visited his brother Ira, who was on Year Course with me, but it wasn’t until he and Tammy moved to Brooklyn, almost a decade later, that we became friends. Eric was so genuine in his care for the people around him. Once while hanging out, I made a thoughtless comment, and, without missing a beat, he admonished me. He didn’t try to make me feel bad for my words; he just wanted to stand up for what was right. So when I apologized, that was the end of it, and we went back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Eric made everyone feel welcome and part of what was going on. I think the most common refrain I’ve heard in retrospect is that people aspired to be close with him; he attracted friendship.”
“Eric will forever remain an inspiration….a reminder to stay inspired in all we do.”
“I’m really lucky to have spent so many wonderful meals, holidays, and Sunset Park picnics with Eric (and, by extension, Tammy) over the past several years. Eric always had quite the food spread for picnics. He built a beautiful sukkah each year and I enjoyed getting to spend time there. There isn’t one prevailing thought or memory, but I was always especially appreciative of how welcoming he was—always making sure I never felt like a third wheel. This isn’t always true when you spend time with other couples, but Eric (and Tammy) did this very well.
I always learned something new or thought of something from a different perspective after spending time with Eric. He was a real mensch and just the kindest, best person there was.”
“Eric was a good soul. He and I worked closely together at ICRAVE. He used to joke about trying to get me fired so he could steal the eric@icrave email. He was extremely sharp and had great ideas. We were both fans of talkitechture, and I really enjoyed pushing him to translate those ideas into equally compelling physical designs. One of the most important things in life is to be sincere in your words and actions, and he was always that.”
“I did not get to work with Eric on any projects while at ESKW, but I did get to work out with him over zoom during our Workout Wednesdays throughout the pandemic. He would always be there with his dog, who would be tripping him or jumping on the couch. It was a great glimpse into Eric’s life. He was always making us laugh and was genuinely nice. I will miss him and his presence in the office.”
“I met Eric at grad school at Pratt. I was amazed and impressed by how he knows so much of the world yet still wants to learn more. He always made you feel that he is interested in you—where you come from, who you are, what you do—and is willing to experience what you are willing to share. I will definitely miss Eric’s kind, gentle soul, and it was an honor to have known him.”
“I had the pleasure of knowing Eric at Pratt, where he was my first studio neighbor. I remember him staying late nights so invested in his project, and I used to admire his resolution and courage to go into a different field with such fervor and competence. We also had many insightful conversations over the years about cultures and interfaith dialogue, which left a profound impact on me. Our interactions helped widen my perspective. Eric was truly a gentle, wise soul with so much passion and compassion. May he rest in eternal peace.”