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June 4, 2010
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Contributors:
Edward Acker, AIA, LEED AP
Gail and James Addiss
Carmi Bee, FAIA
Lance Jay Brown, FAIA
Susan Bogaty Dansker
Richard Dattner, FAIA
John Morris Dixon, FAIA
William Ellis
Betsey Wells Farber
Malcom Henderson
Ali Hocek, AIA
Celia Imrey, Assoc. AIA
Emad Khaja
Carol Weissman Kurth, AIA
Stephanie Smith and Ian Smith, AIA
Fran Leadon, AIA


Edward Acker, AIA, LEED AP

I graduated from The School of Architecture at Cooper Union in 1965. Norval White was my second-year architectural design teacher and fifth-year thesis advisor. His studio was always characterized by his booming voice and large physical presence, his infectious enthusiasm for architecture, and his total sense of fairness and openness to student ideas. We also shared notes and parts sources for our older Mercedes-Benz cabriolets — Norval had a 1952 220S two-seater, and I had a 1950 170S four-seater.

One day in 1963, he asked us to come to school well dressed because we might appear on television in connection with a demonstration of architects next day at Pennsylvania Station. Little did anyone know then what a milestone event in the historic preservation movement that demonstration against the destruction of Penn Station would be, and the large role Norval played in organizing the event.

During these formative years at Cooper Union, Norval was developing into the fine educator he was to become. At the same time, his ideas for the future AIA Guide to New York City were certainly germinating. I particularly enjoyed his impromptu tours of the older gritty industrial streets in the immediate neighborhood of Cooper Union.

His legacy is a whole universe of people who walk, and look at and appreciate the architecture and streets of NYC, and by extension many other world cities.

Thank you, Norval, for opening up the eyes of this kid from Brooklyn to the world of architecture.


Gail and James Addiss

All of these photos, except the last one of Norval and Jim, were taken by my husband Jim Addiss who taught with Norval for many years at City University Architecture School. They became very good friends and traveled in France and Spain together. We visited them in Connecticut every summer.

Our last conversation with Norval and Camilla was on Christmas day 2009 — the day before he died. It started out as a Christmas greeting, but quickly evolved to architecture, as conversations with Norval always did. He anticipated with great joy the new book coming out and coming to New York for the publication. We miss him so very much.

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Prior to the fourth edition of the AIA Guide, Norval and Camilla practice sunroof photography at their home in Connecticut.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval and Camilla White. The team for the fourth edition of the AIA Guide. May 1998.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval in Connecticut.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval and Camilla at their Salisbury house (under construction) May 3, 1998.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval in the court of the Hotel de Soubise, Paris.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval White at the Hotel de Cluny, Paris.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval in Paris, 2000.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval and Camilla White in the cloister of La Romieu monastery. September 26, 2001.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval White in Lialores, France, 2001.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval photographing.

Jim Addiss, courtesy Gail Addiss

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Norval and Jim Addiss. Sarlat, France, 1989.

Gail Addiss


Carmi Bee, FAIA
Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture at City College of New York

It was 1961. I had just entered the Cooper Union and it was the first day of my course in architecture. On that day I sat in anticipation of meeting my teacher when in walked a tall, distinguished looking gentleman wearing a fur-collared coat, announcing to the class, in his deep resonating voice, that he was Prof. Norval White. So started my journey in architecture and my relationship with a man who was to become my mentor and friend. I learned many things that first year but above all Norval imbued in us his understanding and love of the city.

I went on to work for Norval in his fledgling architectural office where I worked on a number of projects including Essex Terrace, which still stands as an iconic affordable housing project in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Our relationship continued at the newly founded School of Architecture at CCNY, where he served as its first department chair.

Norval is best known for having coauthored The AIA Guide to NYC, but few knew him as an architect who was a superb designer. Among his designs are the Police Headquarters in Lower Manhattan, completed while a partner at Gruzen and Partners. He was also a founding member of a group of architects who tried to stop the destruction of Penn Station, and the Architects Committee for the Renewal of Harlem (ARCH) on which he served with Max Bond, FAIA, and Don Ryder, FAIA.

Norval was bigger than life in all ways and I will forever be grateful for the inspiration he gave me, as he did for generations of City College and Cooper Union students and the citizens of the city he loved.


Lance Jay Brown, FAIA
ACSA Distinguished professor
2007 AIA/ACSA Topaz Laureate
The Spitzer School of Architecture/CCNY/CUNY

I met Norval White in 1961 when I started my second year at the Cooper Union. Larger than life, sublime, witty, talented, erudite, and generous, I was fortunate to have him as a studio instructor and not yet aware of his prowess as a historian and keeper of the flame of the architectural and cultural history of NYC. So began a history of paths crossing, meetings held, and courses shared. On the overleaf of the revised 1978 edition of the AIA Guide to NYC he penned in 1997, “I hope we can get you back in the 4th Edition” after the SoHo Charcuterie was dropped for a name change (restaurant work can be so fickle). When Norval took a sabbatical leave from CCNY I would take his course, and when he eventually decided to become a Professor Emeritus, I took over the course entirely. Even then I got him back as a guest just so new students could benefit a bit from his special magic. Norval knew New York cold. It was a delight whenever he got to talking about the city he so loved.

For the past few years I have received holiday greetings from Norval from his home in France. They went like this: “Bon Jour, Lance, We’d love to see you. Plenty of space with a garden and pool overlooking the Pyrénées. Are you driving? There is the fast train (TGV) from Paris to Agen, and airports at Toulouse and Pau. The countryside is very rural, rolling hills with Armagnac vineyards and sunflowers. On a map we are in the Gers (département), SW of Condom (sic), in the village of Roques (on D35 between Mouchan and Vic-Fezensac. Norval.” Last year the card arrived inscribed to “the last of the first.” This year ‘s card arrived reiterating the invitation. I had just opened my e-mail to confirm dates for a visit when Stephanie Smith, our mutual friend, called to say Norval had died on what turned out to be the day after he sent the card. I shall miss him.

P.S. I just returned from a show about New York in maps at the New York Public Library. Norval would have loved it. It is there until June 26.


Susan Bogaty Dansker
CCNY, BArch 1995

A Remembrance of Norval White

My best friend recently bought an apartment in the Cherokee at York and 77th Street. As a student in the architecture program at CCNY, I remember visiting the building with Norval on our housing tour of NY, along with the Williamsburg Houses, his project way out in East New York, and so many other great buildings about which he knew so much. What a wonderful tour that was. I doubt I’d ever have visited East New York, at least willingly, had it not been for that tour, as it was still a pretty dicey neighborhood. Norval brought the Williamsburg complex to life, making me see how this drab public housing project had been designed so that mothers could watch their children play from their kitchen windows.

Norval’s fourth year studio was the best studio I ever had. I blossomed in that class. I designed a school and everything just fell into place. At the review the visiting critic called it “a gem.” Norval and I connected in a way that made me comfortable expressing my particular skill — to understand the client/program and organize the space out of that understanding. Ultimately, I left architecture and developed a business in corporate communications, writing and doing graphic and web design for an architecture firm and then nonprofits. It’s been a good career and my architectural education has provided important tools with which to develop my aesthetic and technical skills.

I worked for Norval as his TA in the freshman history survey and delighted in sharing my own love for NYC with him and with the students. (I’d grown up in New York, as had my parents and several previous generations.) Next to my visits to Stephanie Smith’s office (lots of complaining and sharing of gossip, shopping, and cooking tips), I recall my time with Norval as the high point of my architectural education.

Years later — I graduated in 1995 — it was such a wonderful surprise to see him on the front of the New York Times, looking terrific and working away on the latest revision of the AIA Guide to NYC.

I share my profound sadness at Norval’s passing and offer my sincerest condolences to you, his family, friends, and colleagues. Here’s to Norval… and a life well lived!


Richard Dattner, FAIA
Principal, Dattner Architects

Norval White, an Appreciation and Some Memories
(Published in Architecture Newsletter, 01.15.10)

If Norval White has been described as a “larger than life” individual, he was also physically and acoustically larger. My first sighting, and hearing, of Norval was at Cooper Union in 1963 where I was joining him on the architectural faculty. Towering over the crowded reception in the Foundation Building, his stentorian voice commanded attention — and, ultimately, appreciation — as Norval was usually the most knowledgeable person in the room. Norval was a polymath, conversant with architecture, literature, politics, French culture, and almost everything else.

Norval White was born on June 12, 1926, a NYC native who lived first in Manhattan and then in Brooklyn Heights. Educated at MIT and at Princeton under Jean Labatut, he had a deep understanding of the history of architectural and urban design. Norval taught architectural design at Cooper, and left in 1968 with our colleague Bernard Spring, FAIA, to become founding chairman of the new City College School of Architecture (now the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture). I followed Norval, and his future AIA Guide partner Elliot Willensky, FAIA, in teaching their Urban History course at the Adult Education Cooper Union program, and later followed Norval to City College.

As planning progressed for the 1967 AIA Convention in NYC, Norval and Elliot took over space in Marcel Breuer’s office and began to work on the “original, self-published version feverishly prepared over a nine-month period” — the 464-page First Edition. The Fourth Edition (1,056 pages) of the AIA Guide to NYC credits the group of seven who assisted in this original effort (I had the honor of writing the section on Washington Heights and Inwood) and the many hundreds more who later contributed. In a typical Norval and Elliot touch: “We, whose names begin with W and are usually listed last, therefore list these individuals in reverse alphabetical order.”

In researching, writing, and editing these soon to be five editions of the Guide, Norval found the professional love of his life and his lasting legacy. Started in a time when IBM Selectric typewriters were still a novelty, the production of the early editions involved an immense effort of organization, research, and photography. Also unique for that time was the “voice” that Norval and Elliot established for their thousands of pithy, thumbnail project descriptions. I liken them to street smart Haiku’s by two hard-to-impress New Yorkers. Their directness was leavened by their enthusiasm for those projects they felt had made an original contribution, respected the neighborhood context, or overcome difficult conditions to improve the city.

A fond memory about Norval’s work on the second edition of the Guide: The CCNY Architecture faculty in the early 1970s usually frequented a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Norval joined these excursions, but sat at a table by himself, and would avoid conversation with the rest of us. Chopsticks in one hand, and a tall stack of 4-by-5 cards in the other, he methodically annotated each card with the narrative that would accompany each project. When the stack was finished, so was Norval’s lunch.

Norval and Elliot were ethnic and physical opposites but alike in their understanding of, and passion for, architecture, urban design, Brooklyn, local politics, and all things New York. When Elliot died young in 1990, Norval assumed responsibility for the entire Guide.

Norval helped found the Action Group for Better Architecture in New York (AGBANY) in the early 1960s to protest the imminent demolition of Penn Station and promote civic design. With Norval, Max Bond, FAIA, Peter Samton, FAIA, and many others, we staged picketing and marches in the ultimately fruitless effort to save that historic structure. AGBANY did manage to focus attention on our architectural heritage; it was a precursor to today’s landmark preservation movement — and the current effort to return Penn Station to the Farley Post Office.

Less well known is Norval’s work as an architect — with the firms of Levien Deliso White & Songer, and earlier, at Gruzen Samton — where his significant contribution was as project manager, with Peter Samton, for the Police Headquarters and Plaza in Lower Manhattan. In the last chapter of his architectural career he designed, with his wife Camilla Crowe, small residential projects characterized by classical simplicity and elegant detailing.

Norval White, to the end a New Yorker, continued his writing of the forthcoming Fifth Edition of the Guide, with Fran Leadon, AIA, from his home in France. He will be missed by his family, friends, and colleagues.


John Morris Dixon, FAIA

Norval White and the AIA Guide to NYC

I had the pleasure of working closely with Norval White on the original AIA Guide, and I admire the energy, dedication, and skill he brought to this publishing landmark. Yet I think his major contribution of the project — credit for which must be shared with Elliot Willensky — was to broaden the range of architecture appreciated by the profession and the public.

It’s hard to realize today how constricted the views of Modern architects were up to the early 1960s. The Modern Movement was still expected to replace the outmoded, unhealthy, and thoroughly expendable structures of the preceding 100 years. Whole neighborhoods — if not whole cities — were to be replaced by rational structures rising from salubrious open spaces, with multi-level vehicular and pedestrian circulation systems instead of old-fashioned streets. At least that was the ideal, which was realized in a piecemeal fashion during the heyday of urban renewal. By the mid-1960s this belief in Modernism’s revolutionary mission was being challenged, and the AIA Guide was one of the earlier exponents of a broader historical perspective.

My first association with the AIA Guide was as a member of the AIA New York Chapter’s publications committee, charged with coming up with a guide to be distributed at the 1967 national AIA Convention in New York. Some of the Chapter leadership thought it would be quite enough to update a 1950s guide by Huson Jackson by adding buildings completed after its publication. But the committee, White, and Willensky all recognized that attention should be paid to the city’s pre-Modern heritage. Norval had been one of the organizers of the march protesting the demolition of Penn Station, and I was among the participants. I supported Norval and Elliot’s proposal, and I helped by drafting a bar graph showing that Jackson’s guide skipped over virtually everything built between 1820 and the 1930s; no mention of Penn Station, for instance, or the New York Public Library.

The more enlightened view of New York’s architecture prevailed: Norval and Elliot’s proposal got the Chapter’s blessing — along with some modest funding from I can’t recall where. Not only did their publication embrace a broad range of styles and periods, but it extended to the farthest reaches of the outer boroughs. As they carried it out, it even made informed suggestions about where to grab a drink or snack along the tours it laid out.

For a brief period, I joined Norval and Elliot as a third editor for the guide-to-be. I sat in on meetings with the designer Herb Lubalin, whose guide format is as wonderfully effective today as it was in 1967. We adopted the tall, narrow dimension and the thin, strong paper stock of the Michelin guides, thinking ours could fit in a jacket pocket. Of course, even the first edition, with 416 pages, wouldn’t fit in a pocket — and later editions grew to over 1,000 pages.

My role as co-editor was short-lived. I was the only one of the three with a full-time day job — and a demanding one — so I reduced by participation to scouting and writing up two significant areas of the city: Midtown Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Norval and Elliot found other contributors for certain areas of the city, but they themselves may have covered more territory than all of us contributors combined. They set up a modest office and hired a bare-bones staff to compile the book. Scouts like me walked the streets, took some photos for the guide, and consulted a few references. Then Norval, Elliot, and their in-house staff researched the dates and architects, edited and assembled our texts, mapped recommended walking tours, and drew up layouts — in short, transformed our on-site input into the AIA Guide.

Publishers at the time didn’t see much of a market for the guide, so offered no real financial support. The second, 1968, printing was made possible by funding from the New York Board of Trade. Even after the guide became a well-known and perennial seller, I think it remained more a labor of love than a generator of income for the author-editors. Architecture lovers of the past 40-plus years owe a debt of gratitude to Norval and Elliot.


William Ellis
Emeritus Professor of Architecture, CCNY/CUNY, 1973-2001

My editors have argued with me on this, but I think it’s not too much to describe Norval as “patrician.” This quality must at least appear to be natural — it can’t seem acquired or achieved; it must seem always to have been there. I think Norval had it; it underlay his personality and colored much of what he thought and said. He wasn’t haughty — not with everyone, anyway. He could be jovial, and like most superior people he had about him not a whit of snobbery, what P.G. Wodehouse once referred to as “that well-bred air of deferential restraint which never left him.” He avoided extravagance in both praise and contempt, and he never, ever raised his voice. To a stranger or an antagonist this might make him seem cold or aloof, but he wasn’t — at least if he was on your side — and I’m pleased to say he was. He was chairman when I was recommended to the school — hired me really — and was always very supportive, so our association was comfortable and gratifying.

Once in the slide library before a lecture I told him a story I thought would amuse him: Years before, I had told Peter Eisenman, FAIA, about my impending tie to the school. Peter said, “Norval White is a doer”; he said nothing more. I was reminded of this years later when (the night before) my wife had shown me some letters she had written her mother just after we married. Among other things, she wrote, “Bill is a procrastinator.” Norval seemed to think this juxtaposition was appropriate enough. He smiled and also said nothing more.

So Norval was a doer, and our world knows he was. Example: On 125th Street (downhill) there stood a Sichuan restaurant to nurture this little civilization of faculty: The New Tien Tsin. There I learned the perfect accompaniment to a Chinese meal of almost any kind is a watered-down martini of Fleishman gin, announced by the ever-useful Asian phrase, “Ah, Professor,” and placed very near one’s plate. Several of us usually found our way to this inscrutable palace, and usually Norval was among us. Sometimes he would excuse himself without excusing himself to a small table in the middle of the room, and with a Manhattan and the set lunch, begin to write; a book not far behind. The one I have begun to prize from this recurring scene is a somewhat unlikely affair called The Architecture Book. I am more and more likely to pull it off my shelves, because I imagine it might be the only un-edited book on architecture since the 16th century. An architectural encyclopedia, it’s complete only in that the entries and commentary were selected and executed by Norval White — and why not? It’s hard to imagine the editors at Knopf being picky with a stream of architectural consciousness like this; rough stuff — it was done in a Chinese restaurant after all. As such, it’s full of revelations as to how he thought about architecture, what he learned about it, and what he valued about it. It has to be interpreted through your own experience, but there he is.


Betsey Wells Farber

Summer of ’04 Norval and his wife, Camilla, spent some time with us in Provence.

Here are three of the many candid photos I took that summer.

We miss him!

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Norval and Camilla at a crossword puzzle.

Betsey Wells Farber

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Norval and Camilla.

Betsey Wells Farber

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Norval in Provence.

Betsey Wells Farber


Malcom Henderson
Mestepes
32410 Bonas, France

Tribute to Norval White
Norval came into my life late autumn of 2006, when he and his wife Camilla helped Bridget and me with the complete renovation of a large “maison de maitre” in Southwest France, our chosen country following my retirement from a life as a professional viola player.

Music was my special connection with Norval. He was a man of great musical discrimination. Works for solo instruments and music for chamber ensembles were his particular passion. “Less is more, don’t you think Malcolm,” he would say often to me. His CD collection contains three or more recordings of a single opus, witness to his constant search for that magical essence lying behind the technical perfection.

His great love was live music, music of any genre, so long as it was live. He loved to hear me practice Bach or Klezmer. No matter what, it was live.

For the three consecutive summers of our acquaintance, Norval gave generously of his time and talent in assisting me in the organization of choral singing weekends: he enthusiastically participated in these weekends which were geared to “non-singers” and which were enjoyed by everyone, even if they never produced high standards of technical perfection. Nevertheless, he recognized with humility, the energy, the spirit of joy, and warmth and humor and genuine communication shared between singers and an audience.

I salute Norval as a man who brought impeccable proficiency to everything he turned his hand or mind to, but who was always searching for the spirit, the essence, that lies behind. When I play Bach, which is most days, Norval is in my music room with me still.


Ali C. Hocek, AIA

A Remembrance of Norval White
In the first or second year I started teaching at City College, maybe 15 years ago, I spent on one occasion up-close-and-personal time with Professor Norval White. It was the final review for my second year design studio students and Norval had been assigned to my review. I certainly was well aware of his towering presence in the school, as well as in our profession and city. I anticipated that our exchange, at least in this venue, would be as cordial colleagues.

The project was for a row house located in Harlem. The review was held after lunch and Norval arrived with Bill Ellis, who was also teaching at the college. An ornery pair, they began taking turns decimating each student one by one, the veins in Norval’s large pale head beginning to bulge as the reviews proceeded. After watching the slow and painful deaths of a few of my students, I stepped in to their defense in what I thought would be engaging banter.

Soon I found my two colleagues bearing down on me, with Norval in the lead. If a copy of the AIA Guide to NYC were available at that moment, he would have been brandishing it at me, I am sure. Somehow, it seemed my students and I had become culpable for all that had gone wrong with the city since the demise of Pennsylvania Station. Having completed the massacre he led, Norval left and we never spoke again.

Sometimes we passed in the hallways in Shepard Hall. He always seemed to be disgruntled, though I may have been projecting on to him the indelible image he made on me during our previous encounter. Perhaps this was evidence of a greater discontent regarding his perception of the travesty of buildings against which he launched eloquent salvos in subsequent editions of the AIA Guide. Whatever omission of compassion he had for these young students at that time, his response to them was that of a man of professional integrity who published and spoke of his views with a frightening conviction. I am delighted to have served, however momentarily, in facilitating the airing of those views for my benefit and that of my students.



Celia Imrey, Assoc. AIA

Principal, Imrey Culbert / Imrey Culbert Architects

I visited Norval White in 1989 in his Brooklyn house while I was an intern at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, prior to getting my MArch. I had been living in Berlin for two years and was discovering life in New York, at age 24, for the first time. Norval’s towering persona made a huge impression on me. Here was a distinguished, international, and broad-minded man, a reader and an intellectual, who had actually taken the time to physically walk what seemed like all of New York and its boroughs. He keyed me into the rich past of this city and especially the multiple efforts of institutions to define themselves through architecture within the urban fabric. I bought the guide and began tramping around, a bit overwhelmed, mostly at the vastness of Norval’s great research. In thinking about historic New York, I especially appreciated his love for the Brooklyn Bridge; his house held a wonderful collection of original drawings and other memorabilia, and his life seemed to be steeped in respect and admiration for the gems of whatever environment surrounded him.


Khaja Emad

Emad-NorvalWhite

Khaja Emad



Carol J. Weissman Kurth, AIA

CCNY Architecture student in Professor White’s various architectural history and theory seminars 1976-1981

Tribute to Professor Norval White, FAIA

Seminar recollections:

A giant — in his encyclopedic knowledge of architectural history,
theory , the City — and in his stature; imposing, graceful, eloquent.
Hands enormous and gestures expansive.
Voice resonating and profound, articulate and engaging.

Me — sitting amidst the architecture students in Curry Garage.
Black metal chairs, six pm, evening lecture, hungry, exhausted,
and yet — inspired… and overwhelmed.

Us, the students — a collective vessel awaiting the moment the lights go out.
The enormity of the content; the slides, the stories — hopefully many.
The details; a visual vocabulary of buildings and their parts
particular and profound, ancient and adaptable to our modern minds.
Entasis, abacus, triglyph, cyma
Doric, Ionic, Corinthian
The ‘orders’ all important – iconic

Me — doodling — sketching — observing — absorbing.
Lost in thought; dreams of travels, somewhere, anywhere
and everywhere there is architecture.
And Norval knows the details, the depths… he is with me as I travel in my mind
Beyond the gritty concrete of our classroom in Curry Garage.

Jocular, witty, engaged in a banter with himself, with the slides
and with us — the students — as he lectures.

We — his students at our history and theory seminars — absorbing and absorbed — Professor White, our mentor.

The impact of his words and wisdom imparted and imprinted in the minds
of the students at CCNY School of Architecture…in me…in us…
His legacy lives on…


Stephanie Smith and Ian Smith, AIA
Brooklyn Heights, NY

The Man of Many Homes
I first met Norval in February 1971, when he interviewed me at the newly established School of Architecture, to undertake an administrative project to be completed in five weeks. Thus began a career at City College that was to last 37 years and a friendship with a truly remarkable man, whose wit, enquiring mind, and astonishing generosity was to so enrich my own life. Our last conversation, when we exchanged Christmas greetings, was two days before he died in his beautiful house in Roques, France. It is not unusual for architects to design houses for themselves, but I can think of none for whom the search for the perfect nest was pursued with such energy and skill as Norval. His many homes serve as markers along the path of our friendship as I will recall in this tribute to Norval, the man of many homes.

At the time we met, my husband Ian and I were living, as we still do, at 2 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. The White family lived two blocks up the street at 104, in one of the finest brownstones in the city. It was here that Norval created a stunning duplex on the garden and first floor for Joyce and their three rapidly growing sons. The magnificent piano nobile often dwarfed a 10-foot Christmas tree, but never Norval. The grandly scaled room was to become an iconic element of all the houses he would later create. At this time the Whites had also acquired a de-commissioned lifeboat station on the wild southern shore of Block Island, where Norval fashioned a holiday retreat centered round the vast room that had formerly housed the lifeboat.

Norval was later to take a sabbatical year, which he spent in Paris, where he bought an apartment on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, close to La Place de la Bastille, and where he began work on his The Guide to the Architecture of Paris. Norval maintained this apartment for several years and, if no grand salon was possible here, its lack in no way diminished his generous hospitality to visiting friends, friends of friends, and even children of friends.

On June 7, 1992, Norval and Camilla were married at 104 Pierrepont Street where they settled into a second-floor apartment. It was here that they embarked on married life and founded an architectural partnership. Their architectural debut was at Robin’s Rest, an isolated one-track hamlet a mile west of Ocean Beach on Fire Island. Here they bought a house of no architectural interest and by gutting its interior to the rafters, by adding spacious decks and a tower studio (with 360-degree views from bay to ocean), transformed it into a house of idiosyncratic distinction.

Following Norval’s retirement from City College and after selling both 104 Pierrepont and Robin’s Rest, he and Camilla moved to Lakeville, in the north-west corner of Connecticut, where they bought a remarkably well-preserved Victorian house with steep roofs and deep wrap-around porches. The attics were gutted and amalgamated into one great space for a studio and library. The garden was tamed, a pool was built. It was a great house for entertaining and I have a vivid remembrance of a very big party in celebration of Norval’s 70th birthday. However, those who thought that this beautiful house would be a place to enjoy a relaxed retirement underestimated Norval’s nomadic urges.

A mile up Route 44 from Lakevillle, where the road descends to the Post-Modern Town Hall in Salisbury, Norval and Camilla spotted a generous piece of land that promised views across a wide valley and — because of its elevation above the road — seemed to offer quiet and privacy. Beguiled by these prospects, and totally unable to resist so urgent of a temptation, work was soon begun on the White House. The design of this truly spectacular house was based on an indigenous New England farmhouse vernacular stiffened by a strong Shaker, hands-to-work, hearts-to-God sort of beautifully detailed austerity.

From the beginning of their re-move to Connecticut (and being devoted Francophiles), Norval and Camilla had been holidaying in France, renting houses with friends. Their favorite part of France was the Gers, an area in southwest France known as Gascony. This is beautiful rolling country of wheat, corn, sunflowers, and vineyards in view of the Pyrenees. Renting gave way to building, this time with the added spice of dealing with French contractors. Their first house, named Herion, was surrounded by fields and approached by a farm track. It was incredibly peaceful. Their second house, Chicot, was somewhat larger but equally isolated, equally tranquil, and no more than three miles from Herion.

Inevitably a new challenge would arise, and, inevitably, would be found irresistible. Roques is a small hilltop village of great charm. The approach road is steep and gives one the initial impression of being the driveway to a ducal chateau. It passes between high retaining walls before leveling off and passing into the village grande place. Directly opposite one is the Marie and the school house; to the left is the church; and, filling the right-hand side, is a grand stone house seven windows wide, under a red tiled roof, and all behind a stone enclosing wall. This was the house that, after extensive renovation, Norval and Camilla moved into on June 14, 2005. This house is commodious with well-proportioned rooms and an attached lofty barn which was to become Norval and Camilla’s studio and library. The garden, atop a precipitous slope to the valley below, was developed to include a swimming pool, and an al-fresco dining area shaded by a magnificent horse chestnut tree. The magnificent view to the south extends to the Pyrenees, which, in the right conditions, exert a formidable presence. The interiors are elegant, bathed in light from many tall windows, and convey a sense of tranquility and a spirit of happiness. Norval and Camilla were home at last.

Norval was the epitome of what used to be called “a man of parts.” He was a fine architect, a cogent writer, an influential educator, a brilliantly perceptive photographer, and supremely competent executor of all he undertook. As a person he had a talent for friendship, an instinct for kindness, and an overwhelming spirit of generosity.

He touched and influenced our own lives in many ways, not in the least in the generous support and advice he gave us when we bought our own house in Montagnac-sur-Auvignon.

We will forever be grateful for his friendship and will miss him always.


Fran Leadon, AIA
Architect and professor at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York.
Co-author with Norval White, FAIA, and Elliot Willensky, FAIA, of the fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City

Norval White, 1926-2009
First published in the 01.12.10 issue of e-Oculus.

Norval-photo

Norval White in France, 2008.

Fran Leadon

The manuscript for the fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City was completed on December 15, 2009. Two weeks later Norval White, FAIA, was suddenly gone. He died of a heart attack at his home in Roques, France, on December 26. Of the previous four editions of the guide (1968, 1978, 1988, and 2000), the first three were co-authored with the indefatigable Elliot Willensky, FAIA, who passed away in 1990. The two made quite a pair, by all accounts (White, taciturn and tall; Willensky, loquacious and mutton-chopped). I never had the pleasure of meeting Willensky (I was still in college when he died), but I have had the great honor of knowing Norval as collaborator, friend, and mentor.

Norval was a practicing architect and well-known professor (at Cooper Union and City College) in addition to his work as a writer and historian. He maintained his own practice, and for years was a design partner at Gruzen Samton (he was the lead architect on such notable projects as Essex Terrace in East New York, Brooklyn, and 1 Police Plaza on Park Row, at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge). A New Yorker through and through, he was born and raised on the Upper East Side but lived in later years on Pierrepont Street, in Brooklyn Heights. He was a leader in the unsuccessful but influential fight to save the original Penn Station (he picketed alongside Willensky), and while he was a staunch preservationist, he was admirably open to new ideas (and a fan of the firms Herzog & deMeuron and SHoP in recent years).

Norval “retired” to France in 2005, but remained more up-to-date on the architectural goings-on in NYC than just about anyone I know. He daily perused the postings on Curbed and Brownstoner, and devoured The Architect’s Newspaper, compiling meticulous lists of buildings in progress. In January 2009, he flew across the Atlantic and spent a month touring the city, joining me for madcap, careering drives through the five boroughs (one pell-mell dash around Brooklyn featured Connie Rosenblum of the New York Times riding shotgun, furiously scribbling away, trying to keep up with Norval’s one-liners). During one drive through Lower Manhattan, every street corner and building seemed to prompt a memory for him (“I went to a party there, on the third floor, in 1954”), and he would grill me whenever he saw a new building under construction: who designed it, when would it be finished, what did it replace? Full of curiosity and energy, he insisted we cover everything from Battery Park to Chelsea in one day. Exhausted, I finally convinced him to break for lunch at the NoHo Star, where he continued to snap photos at our table: the staff, the food, the light fixtures. There was simply no stopping him. When I told him some months later that my students and I had finally completed all the photographs for Manhattan, his response was, “What about Brooklyn?”

Norval constantly told me to stop what I was doing and “Go out! Go out!” He didn’t like it when I was editing photos at home, or doing research on the Internet. The AIA Guide has always been first person, fly-on-the-faç ade research, conducted on-site by hiking through neighborhoods like old-time newspaper reporters on the beat (like Joseph Mitchell with an architecture license). Architectural research is always the most accurate, and the most fun, when it is conducted at stoop level, looking hard at the city from its sidewalks, up close. Norval didn’t want the Guide’s readers sitting at home. He wanted them to explore the city, to walk New York’s streets, and to ramble through its parks.

To read the New York Times tribute to Norval White, FAIA, see “Norval White, of AIA Guide, Dies at 83,” by David W, Dunlop, 12.30.09.

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