The Architect was born almost a century ago at the confluence of three rivers in Washington State, where nature carved a perfect spot for trout. “Not so good for humans, though,” he told me, because the land is hard and isolated. Four distinct trails led Native Americans to and from the fresh water and food there, but over the centuries only a handful of people ever put down roots. His family left quickly, as well, following his physician father to Spokane, where a hospital had been built for homeless patients, the aged, and orphan children. The building was a Beaux Arts castle, with tall ceilings and big windows that invited light and air into lives that had known little of either. “I saw the gift that order can bring to chaos,” he told me.
The Architect came east to study art and planning, convinced that thoughtful design could improve people’s lives. Years later he wrote a letter of thanks to his alma mater. “We have been given more than we have paid, regardless of who took care of the bills: ourselves, our parents, some scholarship fund.” We owe our school a debt of thanks, he said. We owe thanks to the people and places that raised us. “As Americans, too, we have been given more than we paid… As humans, same picture. We have been given a magnificent world, for which we paid nothing,” a gift “we hold in trust for future generations.”
He and his young wife moved to Baltimore in 1952, excited by the energy of the city and the opportunity to shape spaces of healing and hope. Over the next half century he designed psychiatry units, radiation clinics, cardiology suites, children’s surgery centers, and entire buildings for three Baltimore hospitals. In every one he wondered, “Will the space I draw help people feel better?” Even small decisions were rooted in this vision: “what facilities are needed on a particular floor and where are they best placed, are the closets sized for a child or an adult, is the wall color what I would pick for my home, and how do I get heating and cooling to the nurses’ station?” We are trustees of the times in which we live and of the places where that living takes place, he said. “How can we make the most of it?”
From our first meeting, the Architect called me Boss. “Good morning, Boss,” he’d say as he walked into church, or “That was a humdinger, Boss,” after a service that particularly moved him. When we met for lunch, he’d say to the waitress, “The Boss and I would like to sit near the window,” and when his wife of 60 years was failing, he would whisper in her ear, “The Boss has come to pray with us.”
One day I asked him about the title he had given me. He said, “The best architects figure out that they are servants—to their clients, certainly, but more than that, to the spirit of an organization and to the work their physical structures are meant to enable and support. We are paid to solve problems,” he told me, “and I hope I have done that by listening and looking for the order and beauty that come out of a messy situation naturally, rather than imposing my own design on it. The Spirit will reveal the most elegant solution, I believe, if we pay close attention.” He grew quiet, and then looked up from his soup. “All I’m building now is a way to heaven, Boss, so I am bringing my design questions to you.”
Sometimes he wrote out what he was thinking. “This is a worrisome time in which we live, but it is also an exciting time. If you think back into history, I am sure that the Renaissance was a warlike and worrisome time to the people living then, and look what they produced! I don’t presume to understand humanity, but one thing seems clear: adversity invites us to rise.”
The Architect rose himself, on a summer day two years ago. A week before that, he said he was looking forward to his new address. “Tough as it is for so many folks in Baltimore, I know Jesus spends a lot of time here. I’m hoping he feels like an old friend.”