Internationally acclaimed architecture professor and architectural historian Vincent Scully, 2003 recipient of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, died November 30 at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was 97.
Scully, a longtime Yale University professor who championed architecture as a humanizing force, taught several generations of architects, urban planners, art historians, and developers throughout his distinguished career, which spanned more than 60 years. He was once described by renowned architect Philip Johnson as “the most influential architecture teacher, ever.”
Scully focused on the role that architecture and design play in creating a strong sense of place, which he referred to as the “architecture of community.” He described this movement in a foreword he wrote in 2000 for ULI’s publication Density by Design. “Americans today seem to feel that a sense of community is exactly what needs to be revived in this country, and many apparently want exactly that for themselves and their families,” he wrote. “It is therefore no great wonder that they are choosing to live in the kind of integrated architectural groupings that are suggestive of the towns in which they grew up, or about which they have always dreamed.”
Scully enrolled in Yale as a 16-year-old freshman on a full scholarship, leading to his tenure at the university, which lasted from 1947 through 1991. (He continued his career at the University of Miami after leaving Yale.) A strong believer in the power of images, he became widely known for turning off the lights in the classroom and urging students to absorb his slides, rather than trying to jot down his every word. His standing-room-only lectures, among the most popular classes at Yale, were given in the law school, which had the only hall large enough to hold 500 students—among them widely known architects Maya Lin; Robert A.M. Stern; Andrés Duany; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk; and David Childs; as well as ULI trustee and developer Daniel Rose, chairman of Rose Associates Inc.; and architecture critic Paul Goldberger.
ULI trustee and former global chairman Peter S. Rummell, now chairman of RummellMunz Partners, chaired the Nichols Prize jury that selected Scully to receive the prize in 2003. “Nobody has thought about the community design in a richer way than Vincent Scully,” Rummell said at the time. “The people he has taught have had an enormous influence on urban planning and design. They understand that architecture is but one piece of what you do, and that only when planning is done in the whole that a sense of place is achieved.”
James A. Ratner, a ULI trustee who served on the jury with Rummell, spoke at the time about Scully’s strong influence on the development community. “Vincent Scully is sensitive to context, to development patterns, and to the fact that the success of development depends on having livable communities,” said Ratner, who now serves as chairman of the board of Forest City Realty Trust. “Without question, our communities would look different without him, because the people he has influenced have, over time, influenced the built environment.”
Scully defined architecture as a “continuing dialogue between generations that creates an environment across time.” His numerous books, including Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade; American Architecture and Urbanism; The Shingle Style and the Stick Style; The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture; and Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance, made remarkable contributions to the history of modern architecture, featuring his studies of the American Shingle Style, Louis Sullivan’s humanism, Frank Lloyd Wright’s symbolism, and the iconographic power of the landscape, from classical Greece to the pre-Colonial American Southwest. He retired from teaching in 2008.