This month, the New York architectural community lost an inspirational architect who elevated New York City’s pride and place through the reclamation its architectural heritage. John Belle, FAIA, was founding principal of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners. He directed the planning, reuse, and restoration of landmarks including the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, Grand Central Terminal, and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden, as well as other significant buildings in the US and abroad.
Belle was a long-time member of AIA New York, serving as the Chapter’s president from 1980 to1981. For more than 50 years, Belle shared his voice through his teaching, books, articles, and lectures, and his role in civic offices such as the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the NYC Landmarks Conservancy, and as representative of the USIA on a tour of Eastern Europe as an emissary of architecture and historic preservation. Maxinne Leighton, Assoc. AIA, co-author of Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives, said: “John never lost sight of his humanitarianism. It came through in his passion for preservation, cities, and his words upon the page.” Throughout his life, Belle elevated the stature of and respect for historic preservation and public architecture.
In addition, Belle imparted to his young colleagues a love and respect for the architecture, preservation, and planning professions. Allen Swerdlowe, FAIA, to whom Belle was a mentor, recollected, “He solved complex problems with clarity. But, I remember him most for his interpersonal skills and ability to bring clients and stakeholders with divergent opinions into agreement – more often than not the difference between failed and successful projects.”
In John Belle’s own words: “Public architecture provides an architect with the unique opportunity to shape our cities. Today, more than ever, it is important that our profession’s leaders use their many skills to create and preserve great public architecture as a catalyst for revitalization and environmental stewardship.”