Remembrances of Vincent Scully
Members of the Yale community and beyond share their memories of renowned art historian and beloved teacher Vincent Scully, who died on Nov. 30, 2017. To submit your own remembrance, send an email to [email protected].
There will be a memorial service for the Yale scholar on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 1 p.m. in Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets. A reception will follow at the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St. The service will be livestreamed here.
I arrived at Yale in 1973 from the Midwest having had absolutely no exposure to art or architecture. Taking Vincent Scully’s class changed my life profoundly, perhaps more than any other single class at Yale. Scully’s lectures were like getting a view of a secret world, one full of beauty and passion, where both large statements and the smallest detail came together to create a whole. From that point on, I simply looked at the world differently — more carefully, more thoughtfully, with more curiosity. I became a great admirer of magnificent architecture and a fan of modern art. Thank you, Professor Scully, for adding such depth to my life. — Donna Dubinsky ’77 B.A., Senior Trustee
Thank you to Professor Scully for inspiring my own lecture ‘style.’ I’ve discovered this 20 years later, when I started ‘lecturing’ on design. During the week before his passing, I told my class the story of how Professor Scully used to get insanely cross when a lecture slide got stuck in the projector. He’d shout up at the T.A. in the slide booth (so glad that was not me). Students loved his sensational mannerisms. I hope I can be a female version of even a ‘cubic inch’ of his inspiration. — Courtney Miller Bellairs '96 M. Arch.
I will always consider Vince a powerful and empathetic spirit that swept us up in his wake, connecting us to a long-forgotten contact with the earth itself, and all the forces imbedded in the natural world. He was like an intellectual hedonist!
“The looseness, naturalness, and informality of its organization reminds us of Emerson who renounced rule, embraced nature, and had a vision of a free society.” Here with the broad sweep of his typical eloquence Scully invokes Emerson in support of his own interpretation of the fluidity of late 19th century American domestic architecture which he had named “Shingle Style” (the subject of his graduate thesis and title of his first published book). This elasticity in spatial thinking I found forever both liberating and inspiring.
For me, Scully’s passionate descriptions of buildings and landscapes were so incredibly compelling and influential. In another of his early books, “The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods,” he makes that relationship reflect the ‘psyche’ of a civilization and its changing relationship to nature as that civilization it evolves. I was especially mesmerized by his description of the palace of Knossos in the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete. There, at least as I remember it, a ceremony ensued where the king sat on a throne ornamented with bull horns at the end of a long rectangular court sunken into the landscape; a faraway double-peaked mountain reflected the form of the horns of the bull. The drama began as actual bulls rushed down the court, on axis with the distant mountain, toward the king on his throne. Simultaneously, acrobats somersaulted over the onrushing bulls. The king, and the civilization over which he presided, absorbed and was enriched by this manic reception of nature’s geological and biological force. With so many of my buildings I have scanned the horizon, hoping to find some, if only vague equivalences, to the Horns of Hymettus.
In this book Scully goes on to describe the later Greek civilization where the buildings emerge from this receptive relationship with nature, to rise up, and with typical classical Greek ‘hubris,’ challenge the gods themselves.
And then he resurrected from obscurity the mighty hedonistic force that Frank Furness (godson of R.W. Emerson) unleashed in the city of Philadelphia in the later 19th century. And he was instrumental in bringing to light Robert Venturi’s “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.”
And on it went. — Turner Brooks
I have many vivid memories of Vince, perhaps none more familiar than the sight of him in the old, long gone, slide library in Street Hall, his green room, locked in mortal struggle with a light table full of lantern slides, forcing them to reveal, under pain of violent breakage, their stories, which would then be the stuff of that day’s lecture at the other end of High Street in the Law School auditorium. Vince would mostly talk to, argue with, and cajole the slides themselves, ignoring others in the room, but occasionally he would call for assistance from the indispensable Helen Chillman, the slide librarian and fierce, intensely loyal guardian of Vince’s slides.
Then, of course, there was Vince on stage, where the slides would sometimes be his friends, brought to incomparable life not only by his resonant voice, but also by his whole body, ultimately concentrated into the tip of his long bamboo pointer, a wizard’s wand that coaxed, or jolted, the slides into their appointed roles. But sometimes the slides, and the unfortunate projectionist, would betray him — misbehave, go off script — and the storm clouds would gather. Once, on a particularly bad slide day, I remember Vince paralyzed with despair in the middle of the stage, looking heavenward, and bleating piteously, “Helen! Help me!”
Mercifully, I was never that projectionist, but I do recall — and still tremble at the memory — Vince losing his temper volcanically, and thundering at me, in his Modern Architecture seminar, when I had the sophomoric temerity and freshman poor judgment to dispute a point of aesthetic theory with him. (He more or less apologized after class, not for the content, but the tone of his outburst.) In later years, when I returned to Yale as a member of the faculty, he would often ask me, sarcastically mostly, when we crossed paths on campus, “Well Alan, how is theory doing?” But I like to think that there was a twinkle in his eye as well.
I know that there was a twinkle some years later still when we were crossing Beinecke Plaza (Hewitt Quadrangle) together and I ventured the observation that when I was a student he had nothing good to say about Gordon Bunshaft’s sparkling white jewel box of a rare book library. After a well-timed pause, Vince replied, “Perhaps I was a bit hard on it” (emphasis on “a bit”).
But finally, and fondly, I will always remember long autumn afternoons at the Yale Bowl. Sitting next to Vince and Tappy, and usually Penny Laurens as well, when, in the lengthening shadows and falling temperatures, Vince’s commentary and body language charted not the rise and fall of modern architecture, but Yale’s fortunes on the field. Football was I think for Vince, like architecture and life in general, a Manichean contest, not just a game. But in the midst of that contest of good (Yale) vs. evil (everyone else), Vince was always unfailingly kind and avuncular to my children, and, I like to believe, ultimately to me as well — the wayward pupil, who had wandered far from the fold, to other Ivy League schools and their wrong-headed “theories” of architecture, but must after all be almost OK, since there we were, both rooting for Yale.
As a callow undergraduate I never, for all my arrogance, dared to imagine that I would one day have the honor and privilege to lecture on some of the same stages that Vince commanded, and hopefully with at least a few ideas of my own which would have elicited his stern approval, but also with suitable humility. Since none of us could, or will ever, bend his great Homeric bow. — Alan J. Plattus, ‘76 B.A., professor of architecture and urbanism, Yale School of Architecture
Professor Scully had a huge influence on my learning to appreciate architecture and architectural history, and in a circuitous way, it was his telling me not to major in Architecture that led me to broaden my studies. While I ended up back in school with an Architecture and Urban Studies major, the combination of all of that set me on a path through environmental advocacy (including around urban planning and urban sprawl, and a stint protecting Oregon's land use planning and urban growth boundaries from assault by property-rights activists) and ultimately to my job working for a Senator from Oregon. I still think of all of it, going back to the time I tracked Professor Scully down, in the midst of a crisis of indecision about my major! — Jeremiah Baumann ‘98
As a student I showed slides for Vince Scully's lectures. He was incredibly demanding, requiring one to use six different projectors rapidly and fluidly, almost like showing a movie! I would go with him to his out-of-town engagements, and spent hours driving around Connecticut and New York with him. He got me into the Yale School of Architecture, and affected my life profoundly, including how I design buildings today. He was a lovely, passionate, and committed human being. Such a loss! RIP. — Andre Ptaszynski ’67, ’71 M.Arch.
I use what I learned from Professor Scully every single day. No, I am not an architect; I am just one inhabitant of a world filled with buildings and public spaces. Professor Scully gave me the eyesight and ability to translate the gigantic and previously invisible library that is sitting right in front of me. Ave etque vale, wise and funny man. Thank you. — Philip Bowles ’73
I only met Vincent Scully once. It was in 2008, at the Paul Rudolph event organized by Bob Stern at Yale. Alex had been invited to give a lecture about his research collaboration with Serge Chermayeff preceding their “Shape of Community” during the early 1960s and, as I recall, I was tagging along. At the very big dinner following the event, I found myself placed next to Vincent Scully. One of the first things I asked him was “What is your favorite building?” Without a second's hesitation, he said “the Karl Marx Hof, and the Viennese Gemeindebau tradition in general.” The Karl Marx Hof is on the cover of his “Modern Architecture” and takes up a particularly ingenious part of the book. Still this came as a surprise. He then proceeded to explain why. He was absolutely spellbinding. Everyone within hearing distance just went silent to listen to what he was saying — and then joined in. I had just signed the contract for a book on Vienna, and so it was especially thrilling for me. What remains of that evening is the indelible memory of his electrifying intellectual passion and generosity, along with one of the most rousing arguments in favor of social housing I have ever heard. I am grateful to Bob Stern for placing me there. — Liane Lefaivre
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Vincent Scully. Despite his unparalleled fame and his knowledge and his genius, Vince was – at his core – a scrappy, proud, erudite young (yes always young!) man from New Haven.
Gone now forever is his patrician voice for the sublime beauty of the world of art and architecture. But he lives on, and he always will, in his family, in his beloved, and in the countless legions of his students. Projector off. Lights up. Off we go…
Frank B. Ryan, Jr. AIA LEED AP BD+C
M. Arch 1987 MPPM 1987 Head Teaching Assistant 1986 I am deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Vincent Scully. Despite his unparalleled fame and his knowledge and his genius, Vince was — at his core — a scrappy, proud, erudite, young (yes always young!) man from New Haven. Gone now forever is his patrician voice for the sublime beauty of the world of art and architecture. But he lives on, and he always will, in his family, in his beloved, and in the countless legions of his students. Projector off. Lights up. Off we go … — Frank B. Ryan Jr. ’87 M.Arch, ’87 M.P.P.M.
In 1974 my mother and I would sneak into the auditorium (skipping school) when I was 9 years old to listen to Scully. His views opened the eyes of a young man to the relationships of Art, Architecture and Nature. — Chuck Goodman
Vincent Scully’s lectures were nothing if not impassioned. His voice rose in crescendos and fell in rumblings, a sort of musical score emphasizing his observations. When even greater emphasis was required, he'd SLAM the projection screen with his long pointer stick. During one lecture, the stick went SLAM and broke in two. Another stick was found, to enable the lecture to continue with its customary fury. I imagine Vincent Scully broke many sticks, but this was the only time I witnessed it. — Diane Blitzer ’73 M. Arch
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Vincent Scully. Despite his unparalleled fame and his knowledge and his genius, Vince was – at his core – a scrappy, proud, erudite young (yes always young!) man from New Haven.
Gone now forever is his patrician voice for the sublime beauty of the world of art and architecture. But he lives on, and he always will, in his family, in his beloved, and in the countless legions of his students. Projector off. Lights up. Off we go…
Frank B. Ryan, Jr. AIA LEED AP BD+C
M. Arch 1987 MPPM 1987 Head Teaching Assistant 1986
Vincent Scully was my thesis adviser in the Master of Environmental Design program. I have always admired how he had time for each student’s questions and how he was genuinely interested in the topics of their papers.
I was a student in his “Modern Architecture” class in the spring of 1980, and the following year was a TA in the same course. Each year, Scully was able to create the same sense of drama, dimming the lights at the right time as his voice cracked with emotion during a lecture about the memorial to Robert Gould Shaw in Boston. Once he created a new drama about the Chicago Tribune Tower competition, and how Eliel Saarinen’s entry arrived late, this “northern cathedral” from the wild forests of Finland. At the end of the lecture the lights went up and Sully declared, “here in the auditorium sits Saarinen’s relative from Finland.” (I’m not a Saarinen relative, but I am at least from Finland.) That capped a magnificent story.
Years later when I was visiting New Haven from home in Finland, I bumped into him as he was coming from his lecture in the law school, looking the same as ever, young and vigorous. He remembered me, the Saarinen “relative.” — Pirkko-Liisa Schulman, née Louhenjoki ’81 MED
I was lucky enough to be a teaching assistant for Vincent Scully in 2000 and 2001, and an East Rock neighbor in the following years. When we were able to walk together on the sidewalk, he often brought his attention to the sun. “Just look at that sun!” How it shines and casts light on his beloved New Haven buildings, but also the orb itself.
And now, Mr. Scully, one last thank you for your energy, wisdom, and enthusiasm, which I now try to channel to my own students. I will think of you forever belonging to the sun. — Jody McGuire ’02 M.Arch
I will forever remember the roar of his voice in the dark law school auditorium, where I took Professor Scully’s “Architectural History” class in the fall of 1988. It prevented any inadvertent napping (from sleepless nights in studio) and made the 15 minute walk through the cold, wet New England weather bearable (for this Southern girl). Living in East Rock for years thereafter allowed me to enjoy his company as a neighbor, humanizing this legend of a man. May he rest in peace and live in the hearts and minds of all he taught and touched. — Cherie Santos-Wuest
I was finishing my second year of architecture school and went to see fourth-year students present their final projects in the spring of 1970. It had been a year of political turmoil in New Haven, and several students wrote in to say that they could not present in good conscience because they saw corruption and prejudice in institutions like Yale. It was clear that Vince sided with the students in condemnation of American racism, but I saw him silently crying as he heard the letter being read. He was clearly upset that students were abandoning architecture. I realized then that his belief in the potential for architecture to express everyone’s common humanity was so strong, it overrode his political beliefs. It was one of the most powerful lessons of my life. — Mark Simon
I was a teaching assistant for Vincent Scully while attending the Yale Graduate School of Architecture in 1976-1979.
When I arrived in New Haven a few weeks before the start of the semester, I decided to kill a few hours and checked out the Yale Art Gallery. I had been interested in furniture-making and headed for the early American furniture collection gallery. I discovered an interesting chair and wanted to see how the joints were designed, so I got down on the floor to slide underneath and look. Suddenly someone kicked my foot and asked for an explanation. Totally embarrassed, I got up to my feet and found myself standing across from an annoyed but dapper gentleman dressed in tweed.
While explaining the chair joint details, we began a conversation about art, design, architecture, philosophy, and life that lasted for three years. The privilege of having this relationship with Professor Scully is something I will always cherish. Thank you, Yale! — Stuart Rosenberg
I never took one of Vince’s courses, but I went to many of his lectures in between the grueling hours I spent in the YSOA design studios in the late ‘70s. I had never heard such a passionate and articulate champion for architecture and its potential and critical value as expression and commentary on civilized society.
Ever hopeful and positive, Vince made us keenly aware of architectural history, and made it seem contemporary, vital, and key to its time with regard to culture, politics, and society.
His books, particularly “The Shingle Style and the Stick Style” were, for me, inspiring and revelatory as a young designer who saw only boredom and a lack of invention in much of the architecture of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
We were lucky to have him in our midst and are fortunate for what he left us. It will always be fresh and spirited. — Mac Ball
As a graduate student in the Yale Program in City Planning and a Yale City Planning Fellow, I was required to take Scully’s course in the spring of 1959. As many contributors will note, he opened my eyes to the built environment and to the important aspects of how architecture affected our experience. But I have a special story that speaks directly to his scholarship.
Christopher Tunnard, Director of the Yale Program in City Planning, arranged a lecture by Scully on Greek architecture for the ten students enrolled in the program in my year. We climbed the stairs in the Art Library to his office, which looked like a factory with books. For three hours and without notes Professor Scully flipped hundreds of slides and drew us a picture of Greek architecture. It was a tour de force, much like a high wire artist walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in a strong wind.
Aside from the fact, then recognized, that he was an intellectual icon at Yale, his course and most of the courses I took to fulfill my degree imparted the idea of a very special and unique learning community that Yale was then and is now, a gift that has kept giving me since the first time I stepped onto the Yale Campus in the Fall of 1968. — Konrad J. Perlman ’60 MCP
I arrived at Yale in 1950 with no conscious recognition that architecture, as such, existed. Until then, it was just stuff that was there, like a tree or a mountain.
Vincent Scully changed all that, as he probably did for many. Largely because of him, I graduated with an undergraduate major in Architecture. After several years in the Navy I returned for a graduate degree to the Yale School of Architecture from 1958 to 1961. Fortunately, during those years, Vincent Scully was still going strong, perhaps even at his peak. I’ll never forget a glorious evening at a pub where several of us got to listen while Paul Rudolf, Phillip Johnson, and Mies van der Rohe gathered 'round Scully to get his take on contemporary architecture.
Best years of my life, architecturally speaking. And no, I don’t remember anything that was said, except for Mies deriding “function” in architecture, saying that he prepared his meals in the kitchen, then walked the full length of his apartment carrying his food, until he came to a window in a bedroom where he had the best view. — Bradford Shaw ’54 B.A., ’61 M.Arch
I was all set to see him on Monday night, got my tickets for the Log magazine event in New York City, told my friends the teacher that made me decide to major in architecture was going to be in town. I had signed up for “Scully” (how we referred to his modern architecture history course) to fulfill my distribution requirements during the spring semester of my freshman year, but after I saw him wheeling around the stage while gesturing wildly and saying things like “Furness, thrusting into the ground,” I was hooked on architecture.
He was in a wheelchair after hurting his foot during an expedition to East Rock, but that didn't stop him from darting back and forth in front each new slide on his stage — and it was a stage, wasn't it, the raised platform from which he lectured? I was fresh out of a performing arts high school and all set to pursue my thespian leanings in college, but nothing in the theater department was as exciting as this. I must have learned my lesson well, since later an architecture school classmate accusingly asked me, “Do you always have to be so theatrical?” (This after, at a review, unrolling a 12” roll of trace paper across the length of the wall because that was the paper size my drawing needed.) Yes and yes, architecture is that theatrical.
I went to architecture school, served my time in architecture firms, earned the R.A. after my name. Then I got back into academia as soon as I could so I could do my part in defining the discipline above and beyond the tectonics of the artifact or the duty to serve the client. I love all sorts of architecture now, both Mies and Venturi, both old and new. I teach architecture studio and architecture history seminars and if I use Scully's “Modern Architecture” book at all I do so with some crucial caveats. My intellectual repertoire has greatly expanded since I was a naive student in his famous lecture course, but what hasn't changed is my core understanding of architecture as a thing of power — that I owe to Vincent Scully. — Maria Siera
What I learned at the YSOA was substantially framed by what I learned from Vincent Scully. Although I was truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for his undergraduate “Introduction to Architecture” course, it was as an active participant in his graduate seminar for architects and art historians that I appreciated how expansively he tackled the humanistic issues of our field. Always inquisitive about the role of architecture in diverse settings, cultures and timeframes, his unique take on history allowed for the possibility of unforeseen dialogue. Frequently tangential group conversations would develop into explorations of substance, for Vince welcomed the unexpected question, relished the back and forth, and encouraged thoughtful opposition. No idea was too farfetched as long as it could be logically defended. He taught us, by implication and example that our mission as architects was to investigate the challenges of the perimeter and to tackle the future with a calculated sense of risk. For this experience, I am eternally grateful. — Louise Braverman M.Arch
I had the honor of running the slides for Vincent Scully’s architecture history class. I watched him meticulously choose his images before handing me two carousels! A great responsibility. I held my breath during the entire lecture for fear a slide would get jammed or mysteriously be upside down. I admired his passion for architecture and his dedication to teaching it to us all. Thank you, Scully. — Jackie Leger ‘76
I remember distinctly, as one only could, taking his art history course at some point during my Yale years, 1960-1964. I still have those images of both Vincent Scully and the art that he taught me to appreciate. That memory lives with my dear wife Kathy and I to this day, as we appreciate our own art and that of the many galleries that we visit.
A wonderful man and teacher will live on. To put this into a family context, our daughter, Caitlin ’93, showed the slides for his lectures and, as an eminent cultural geography professor in the U.K., speaks fondly of the experience, the challenge, and of occasionally throwing in a slide that was not on the “program.” — Dennis DeSilvey
I had the honor of serving as T.A. to Professor Scully for one semester in 1987-1988. I loved the way he used images to teach and to ignite a passion for architecture in all who sat in that auditorium. Using pairs of images side by side, he would add his very personal poetic reading of what was on the screen and let your mind fill in the rest. Pure brilliance. R.I.P. Vincent Scully! — Roberto de Alba
When I arrived at Yale in 1971 as a freshman from a public high school in Seattle, I wanted to be a politician like Bobby Kennedy. When I left in 1975 I wanted to be an architect who could inspire the praise of Vince Scully. I think of him in everything I write and design. When I protest the destruction of historic buildings I think of his courage. When I write about architecture I strive to get even a hint of his voice. No one spoke or wrote about architecture as forcefully as Scully. I doubt we will ever see his equal as a lecturer, though every time I speak I try to channel his energy.
My first indelible memories of Vince were in the law school auditorium, listening raptly to his resonant baritone voice. I took the “Modern Architecture” course in anticipation of being an architecture major. Once I left, proud of my A in the class, I knew I would be a historian in his image, of American architecture. I have stayed the course for 40 years, writing six books and many articles, none as good as his. I remember the first assignment: walk to the top of East Rock and draw a panorama of the city of New Haven. Memorize the nine-square plan and mark all the buildings. When I returned from the trip, my hands nearly frostbitten, I knew more about New Haven than any freshman in my class.
My most intimate memory came when I visited Morse College to sing a concert with a quartet of musicians from several classes who wanted to do early American choral music. He attended the performance and listened intently. “My mother was an opera singer,” he told me afterwards. “That’s where I get my theatrical delivery.” I later asked him to advise me on my undergraduate thesis on Alvar Aalto. He was equally gracious. Those sparkling blue eyes were mesmerizing.
Later in graduate school I attended several lectures, each bringing me back to the old law school auditorium and the huge lantern slides. I heard similar phrases and tropes, but each recitation was like a new telling of “The Odyssey,” or an Irish legend, or a recitation of Dante. When I recounted the eccentricities — the sweeping of the bamboo pointer, crossing the stage like Groucho Marx, losing track of a thought, then swerving onto another topic — it was like a high wire act, riffs and improvisations with each flip or grasp.
I hope this gives a small hint of his genius. — Mark Hewitt ‘75
His teaching and passion for architecture and history inspired me for a lifetime, and I followed his call to action by embracing the opportunity to serve as Chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission during the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration. His
teachings and voice continued to inform and inspire as I led the City’s efforts to preserve and protect New York’s architecture and history.
He will live on in so many ways. — Robert B. Tierney ‘65
I arrived at Yale when I was 17 years old. I was born and raised in a small blue collar industrial town, Henderson, NV. I had no exposure to art, architecture, or for that matter, any cultural experiences. Like thousands of students at Yale and elsewhere, Professor Scully had a profound impact on the way I viewed my surroundings and environment. The privilege of attending Professor Scully’s lectures on art and architecture during my junior year gave me an appreciation of art and architecture that I never would have had otherwise. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to travel throughout Europe many times. I always review my class notes and books before I leave so that I can visit various art museums and architectural structures he described so well.
I will never forget his lecture on World Wars I and II memorials and resting places for soldiers of all nationalities. His lecture was so emotional and passionate, there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. I was blessed 20 years later at my class reunion to attend one of his lectures given to attendees and their families. I took my wife, and before arriving at the lecture hall, I described my experiences in his class, how he had created a lifelong appreciation of art and architecture for me, and specifically, his final lecture on the war memorials where I couldn’t hold back the tears. As good fortune would have it, the lecture we attended was the one on war memorials. My wife experienced the same emotions I did 20 years earlier and instantly understood why I believed he was not only the greatest lecturer, but someone though his ability to communicate his passions for art and architecture, could so inspired young students.
Thank you, Professor Scully, for enriching my life. — Frank A. Schreck
Enthusiasm, energy, insight, and striding, slapping the screen with his enormous pointer; certainly, the most memorable course I took at Yale in the late ‘50s. Wow.
Ave atque vale. — Edward Steele
Even though I majored in psychology, I was told by my older brother, Philip Garvin ’69, not to miss the Scully lecture experience. I will never forget sitting in on a few of his classes, as he used his pointer to smash the screen with gusto. — Marina London ‘77
I count myself as fortunate enough to have been among Professor Scully’s teaching assistants during the spring semesters of 1974 and 1975.
By the time I arrived at Yale I had read all of his published books, a practice I continued to the last.
(Repeating that course was clearly a personal bonus.)
He would treat us all every Friday to lunch at Morse College, where he was Master, and would bring along, from his personal reserves, sufficient wine for all of us. Aside from the anecdotes, he regaled us all with his wisdom and wit, which constituted an even greater bonus.
He was not only a New Haven native, but a dyed-in-the-cotton Yalie, through and through. From his pulpit, and through all his endeavors, Professor Vincent Scully gave identity and direction to those fibers of the tapestry of culture that define and depict architecture.
Perhaps these words we all write are seen by some as part of a tribute. Vincent Scully, Jr. was far above and beyond these, our modest exegeses. — Hervin A. R. Romney ’75 M. Env. Des.
While an architecture student at Columbia GSAPP, with Bob Stern as our studio critic, I traveled to New Haven every other Friday afternoon and sat in on Vincent Scully’s architecture lectures in the law school auditorium. One day I summoned the courage to ask Professor Scully's advice about an idea I had of researching the triple-decker vernacular shingle-style houses in New Haven’s Edgewood Avenue district, thinking that he might dismiss the topic as unworthy. To the contrary, he was thrilled and surprised that a Columbia student would value such architecture. I later realized that the greatest gift he had given us was the ability to recognize the common thread of beauty and humanity in the architecture of communities.— Linda Yowell
I never took a class with Vincent Scully but I remember very well, soon after I arrived at Yale in the fall of 1969 with the first group of women, walking back from the anthropology department which was at the top of Hillhouse Ave. I got to Woolsey Hall and encountered any number of students walking across the street, through the building, out the other side, and then turning around and walking back through Woolsey and across the street again. All the time they were looking around them, up, down, left, right. I finally stopped one of them and asked what he was doing. He said he was in a class with Professor Scully and their assignment was to feel the space and feel the architecture in the space. That was my introduction to Vincent Scully, whose reputation on campus was unparalleled. He taught generations of Yale students to appreciate the built environment. — Caroline Bieler Brettell
I forget so much now, but Vince was good teacher. I was in his first class — that is, as I remember it, he taught C.L.V. Meeks’ class certain days, as he was just starting. I think he was one of my two professors who fell off the stage in the fine arts auditorium, during slide-showing. — William Huff
I came to Yale with an interest in architecture and art history, so I already knew Vincent Scully was a “big deal.” Yet, I remember being awestruck by the masses of people pouring into the lecture hall on his first day of class — all these people here for an art history lecture? And then he walked in, tweeded, hair pushed around by a trowel. Voices hushed, lights dimmed, and he jumped right into it, waving his giant pointing stick and growling at us. He was both soothing and ferocious, inducing a state of intellectual intoxication as he coaxed us semi-consciously into epiphany. It was miraculous.
Professor Scully was exactly what one came to Yale for. Here was perhaps the most famous art historian alive, whose influence brought other great thinkers in by gravitational pull, whose ideas literally rewrote art history, yet whose ultimate passion was teaching students how to see the beauty of the world around them.
Though I only took one Scully class for credit, I audited a Scully class all four years. Whenever my family visited, I tried my best to get them to a Scully lecture, just so they could have that ineffable experience for themselves.
I was at Yale on September 11, 2001. After an hour of watching the news in shock and disbelief, I walked out into the clear morning and straight to the YUAG lecture hall and Scully’s lecture. Though I was only auditing his course, I was drawn to go, desperate for him to tell us what it meant, to remind us of our place in the world. I was not alone. Despite the circumstances, there were more than a hundred of us there. I remember that he commended us for coming — for persevering and staying the course — because what we were doing was important and we should not be dissuaded by violence and terror.
I only talked to Professor Scully once. Waiting to pick up a friend at Union Station, I saw the great man, alone, carrying his own bag, walking toward the exits. Seizing my chance, I approached him and clumsily tried to tell him how much his class had impacted me. He graciously smiled, thanked me. We talked a bit about the interstate system then he offered to share a cab ride. Still awaiting my friend, I told him I couldn’t. We shook hands and he left. Though half my life has passed since then, I still fantasize what we might have talked about during that ride.
Thank you, Vincent Scully. — Stan Mathis
I was a Yale architecture undergrad from 1975 to 1979. I don't remember what year I took Mr. Scully's architectural history class, but it was fabulous. Definitely one of the handful of best classes I had in my four years at Yale.
One day, Mr. Scully was in front of the lecture hall showing slides and talking, and someone came in dressed in a gorilla suit. He came down the aisle, went up on the stage and romped around, then went down the aisle and left. Mr. Scully lost his train of thought and had a hard time finishing the lecture. It was pretty wild to see him rattled. I'd be interested in hearing whether anyone else remembers that day!
He was truly one of the greats! — Becky Roberts ‘79
I’m an architect here in New Haven who is a faculty member at the School of Architecture. I took three courses from Professor Scully while at Yale College, and continued to follow him while I was a grad student here. When I was fresh off the boat from North Carolina in 1975 (my freshman year) I took Vince’s “Modern Architecture” class, which set the stage for my entire education as an architect. Last term of senior year I took a seminar where my assigned paper topic was the work of James Gamble Rogers at Yale, and even after four years on campus I was able to see our buildings with a fresh eye and an appreciation that survives to this day. Scully taught my dad (YLS ’57) who audited his survey course in the Auditorium, my wife (Nancy Alexander TD ’79 SOM ’84) and my daughter (Alyssa Bernstein TD ’10). For my entire time as a student he taught the most popular courses on campus, bar none — the year after his sabbatical there was talk of teaching his art history survey talk in Yale Bowl as six hundred folks wanted to take the class. Scully was probably the most important non-architect in the modern age of architecture. — Phil Bernstein ’79 T.D., ’83 M.Arch
Vincent Scully tolerated, perhaps tacitly encouraged, his slide projector operators' occasional insertion of gag images into his lectures, such as this image of a gingerbread model of Frank Lloyd Wright's “Fallingwater.” When confronted with the visual joke, Professor Scully would launch into a demonstrative rage, exclaiming, “No, that's not right, please put up the correct slide,” while his undergraduate audience wailed with laughter. — Brian Hammerstein ‘85
I remember the day I introduced myself to him in 1998 or 1989, he was openly excited to hear my first name and this encouraged me to feel welcome. Highly affectionate, very polite and well mannered, he immediately started recalling his dedicated visits to remote yet majestic archaeological sites and particularly emphasized his traumatic encounters with shepherd dogs of the Greek countryside that he luckily survived.
He described to me boldly and passionately something that struck me like a lightning bolt, something that I had never heard before, and never encountered thereafter in my discussions with historians: his theorem that on the Acropolis of Athens, in between the two main monuments, the Erechtheion and the Parthenon, the mountain ridge portion that is framed, the blueish outlines dimly recognized in purview, is what he called the “horns” of Hymettus, referring to pagan symbolism and sacred “loci” in the landscape, precisely shaped mildly as two horns in perspective. I did not know much of him back then and I sincerely thought he was nuts, but well-informed indeed.
He had thus walked not only the established archeological excavation sites but also the surrounding — often inapproachable — regions, identifying relationships between the built temples and specific visual links deep in the horizon. These perspectival connections between places had to be mapped and identified by him and often were more than several miles apart, amidst a wilderness of often steep, rocky topography. All this drew me to his spirited book: “The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture,” where he documents such vistas, journeys and territories. The book is indeed a masterpiece that is yet to be discovered by the contemporary architecture theory frontier — referring here to a media-controlling front-line that instead insists on misreading and even scorning some so-called “presence” of the classical monuments. “The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture” is to me not simply an architecture history work, but a landscape theory manifesto that deserves to be deemed eventually as a foundation reading or indeed as the “Holy Bible” of landscape architecture — a field that is actually only now “constructing” its bibliography.
Few have ever had the insight and strength to propose or perhaps re-discover such theorems, such a loving and elaborate relation to nature. And I tend to think that he had not enough chances to find an audience, even at Yale, responsive to his deep passion and attention for what he very carefully (avoiding stylistic designations) called “Greek Sacred Architecture” and extended to our relation to the world around us. I strongly identified with his perhaps less read texts and positions ever since, and I tend to believe that his impact on architectural thought is yet to be experienced. Surely his approaches were much more progressive and groundbreaking than most tend to think but in many occasions had to be scaled down to the receptiveness of the audience. I find it imperative to attempt to recover as much material as possible from his lectures, in the form of videos, recordings or notes. — Aristotelis Dimitrakopoulos
I was in Scully's courses in the early ‘60s. I was an undergraduate architecture major, which at that time did not include any architecture except for Scully, who transformed my appreciation of modern design, art and life.
Scully (he wasn't called anything else by students) was 52 or 53 and a very dynamic performer. Slapping the screen with his long pointer, his large loud clicker signaling for the next slide, while climbing on a chair to reach some detail he wanted to emphasize. Though the room was dark, no one fell asleep.
He did at least one lecture on Alvar Aalto, the little known but great Finnish architect who was still working at the time. Scully admitted that he had not been to see his work but was impressed with his use of diverse materials and his very project and site specific, informal but warm and beautiful designs.
Scully always was looking for emotional content in buildings and in art. What a legacy. Today's architects could still learn from him. — Neil Hoffman ‘64
As an international student from China and an architecture major, I took Professor Scully's HSAR112 Introduction to Art History, and it changed my life. He opened the door of Western art to me.
I can still remember his slides, his passionate voice, and his huge stick.
R.I.P., Professor Scully. — Yuan Ren
I grew up in North Haven, and attended Yale 1968-1970 (class of ’71, Morse) for my sophomore and junior years; I was privileged to take Vincent Scully’s “History of Art” in the fall semester of 1968 — we mostly met in the law school auditorium. I can see him clearly in memory whacking the projection screen with a 5-foot stick to underline some important point he was making. I still have the Yale University notebook with my notes and all of the course reading, lecture schedule, and tests. It was the peak of my educational experience — as I have told countless friends and acquaintances since — and no doubt contributed to my eventual career as a preservation architect in Vermont and the Northeast. The course was challenging, but fun and always interesting — not a class I ever skipped, in spite of the many distractions those years provided. Scully demonstrated for me, an inexperienced kid, what real passion for a career and a subject matter was, and he opened up a vision of the world and the record of human culture that continues to resonate 50 years later. He exemplified the very best in teaching; that learning experience, along with classes with Sidney Mintz and William Wimsatt, were, for me, the soul of what a great education can be.
I knew Vincent in passing as the Master of my residential college, but his greatest strength was in the lecture hall; I did not know at the time that I would become an architect specializing in historic preservation, but the world he opened to us was relevant no matter what the future held. My experience as a student of his is the best thing Yale did for me. — Tom Keefe ‘71
I got the news of Vincent Scully’s death (in an email from architecture Dean Deborah Berke) just moments after finishing my last class of the semester. As Deborah noted in her email to architecture school alumni (I graduated with an architecture major in 1995, and took not one but two lecture courses taught by Scully), his influence diffused through his teaching not only into architecture practice, but into generations of the larger public.
But even though I am an architect by training and practice, my own experience of Scully’s influence has been much more direct, as I think about him at least a dozen times each fall while teaching a large, undergraduate course on architecture and architectural history to several hundred Berkeley freshmen and sophomores. I don’t make the mistake of trying to imitate Scully's singular style or vision — and the wooden pointer in my auditorium has survived un-broken through six semesters of the course. But as a teacher of the theater of knowledge, Scully was second-to none; his total commitment to presence in the classroom, and his ambitious, generous demands on the intellect and eyes of his students provide a model not just for the classroom, but for life. — Nicholas de Monchaux ‘95
I became an architectural historian because of Vincent Scully. As an undergraduate, I took every class Scully offered. More than his legendary lecturing style, I was impressed by his great love for all aspects of architecture and cities, not only the extraordinary. Under his tutelage, I grew to appreciate that every environment has meaning and beauty that can be discovered if you look carefully, even post-industrial New Haven. This inclusive attitude has influenced my career, first as an architect, now as an architectural historian and editor of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. As a teacher, I aspire to bring my students to see the world around them differently, just as Scully opened my eyes to the richness of the built environment. For that gift, I will always be grateful to him. — Patricia Morton '78
The connections that you made in that darkened hall often teetered on the brink of a kind of willful madness, leaping beyond reason to reveal a different, deeper logic that exists in the world of visual and spatial experience. By thinking so boldly, you risked ridicule to reveal great things about humanity and the nature of human endeavor. It was heroic, I would say; I am taking one of your favorite adjectives and throwing it right back at you, where it belongs. … I see now that it was the profound humanity of what you taught that constituted its greatest lesson. Your entire oeuvre amounts to a celebration of humanity — of human artistry and achievement, and of human connection and continuity. The world needs that lesson now more than ever it did. — Ronald Berlin '76 (from a letter to Professor Scully)
I was in Professor Scully’s “Introduction to the History of Art” in the fall of 1975, my freshman year at Yale. I am forever grateful to Yale for many things, most of all to the faculty whose warmth and commitment to thoughtful exploration of literature, art, and the world I treasured. But there is no teacher who changed me more than Professor Scully. Sitting, in the almost cocoon-like cavernous lecture hall, and watching slide after slide and listening to Professor Scully, we were transported, transfixed, and transformed.
He had a humane and generous way of looking at the world and of respecting the individual and history. And a spirit of wonder to go with it all.
(And how reassuring to hear the click of the slide projector in the videotape of his last lecture at Yale. No PowerPoint!) — Jeanne Frazier Price '78
After receiving a well-deserved “F” in my freshman computer science class I determined that I needed a more balanced Yale education. I had heard about Scully's intro history of art class, but was too late to get into it. However, his more advanced history of architecture class had some openings. Looking back, with Scully teaching in his rhapsodic way it could have been any subject! His sermons were entrancing and beguiling. I was hooked and channeled all my courses into an architecture major.
What was most telling about his classes (and I did later take both sections of his history of art) was not what I learned academically, but what I learned about myself. In the most literal sense, I discovered I was a visual learner (I actually memorized 800 facades, plans, sections, and elevations). I realized that architecture was not as much about design as it was an amalgam of thought, almost philosophical. This became more pointed when I saw that I was not a very good designer, but could still use architecture as a melting pot for discovery. My senior paper (as I recall, I was the only architecture major who did not do a design project) — “The Intermediation of Public and Private Space: The Front Porch” — was directly derived from Scully's humanizing approach to architecture.
Fast forward, Scully's “philosophy classes” greatly contributed to my communitarian ethos and occasional “channelings” of Henry Demarest Lloyd. I probably would not have been inclined to live in “Wayside” or engaged in any of the community boards and activities that I have found so fulfilling without his influence. — Brad McLane '78
Vince Scully taught me that “architecture is the art form that influences human beings the most and about which they know the least.” Since the day I heard that in class, I have looked at all buildings differently. He told us that when you walk up to any building it makes you feel a certain way, and that feeling is automatic. When you enter the building, the feeling increases and perhaps changes.
Great teachers change your life, and Scully changed mine. — David Honneus '62
Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice. Christopher Wren’s famous epitaph is perhaps even more suited to Vincent Scully. For the students who became architects due to him. For the students who became art historians due to him. For the students who became urban planners due to him. For the students who volunteer on planning boards due to him, as this one does. For the students who commission buildings and take his lessons with them. For the students of those students. And for all they have done, and built, to make our cities and buildings more beautiful, more livable, and more humane. Ave atque vale, and thank you. — James Ewing '99
I was a Master's Aide in Morse in 1970-1972, and played varsity football. Mr. Scully always called me into his office on Mondays to discuss the previous game, and his recollections of the past glories he witnessed growing up in New Haven. My fiancee, now wife, Joyce joined me in New Haven senior year, and Scully offered to drive her to New York to the Columbia game. They drove done the Merritt Parkway (Scully hated the Conn. Turnpike), and Joyce said she's never been so scared in all her life, as he pointed out all the interesting architectural features of the various bridges and abutments on the roadway, looking back over his shoulder to describe what they had passed, all the while speeding down the Parkway in his VW. They made it to NYC safely, and as the game concluded (sadly for the Eli), a fight broke out on the field. As Joyce turned to Scully to remark as to how ridiculous the fighting was, he had disappeared. She looked down on the the field, and there he was, in the middle of the action. His passion for all things Yale extended well beyond the classroom, and he remains one of the highlights of my Yale experience. — Terry Kessler '72
I took both semesters of Professor Scully’s history of art survey courses in 1978-1979; they were affectionately known as “Darkness at Noon.” By far the most enjoyable and enlightening classes in all of my four years at Yale! — Thomas Cohn '82
Serving as Vince Scully's TA, and then head TA, was among the high points of my years at Yale. I took over a tiny garret apartment in Paris that he had used while on sabbatical for my pre-doc research, and imagined that I was absorbing remnants of his genius. As an adviser on my Ph.D. dissertation, Vince's observations scrawled in the margins were both challenging and inspiring.
His words, lectures, and zest for life mobilized countless people to care deeply about art and architecture and make the world a better place, and even in absentia will continue to do so as long as his books are in print, YouTube lives, and his disciples procreate. — Susan Ball
My father had known Scully when they were both scholarship students studying English, and when he spent a sabbatical year in New Haven in 1968-1969 he took me along on a tour Scully gave of Morse and Stiles; so there was no doubt that as an art history major I would take one of his courses once I arrived at Yale in the fall of 1978. I skipped the legendary survey class, as I had AP credit in art history, waiting for the Modern Architecture survey which I took in my sophomore year. It quite literally changed my life. There had been little question that I would be an art historian, but I had always imagined a museum career working with old master paintings. A single semester of Scully converted me to architectural history. I did not always agree with him — I have retained an affection for modern architecture to this day — but he convinced me that architecture mattered, not least because it was the most public of arts.
Scully was most famous for his lectures, about which there will be plenty in other reminiscences, but I also benefited enormously from taking his seminar in junior year, even though I was still an undergraduate, and writing my Bachelor's thesis under his supervision as a senior. One of my classmates in the seminar was Maya Lin, who has featured too little in Scully obituaries. To me his greatest achievement as a teacher was brooking what began, to some degree, as her dissent from his statement that modernism had failed in part because it had not produced any memorials as effective as Lutyens's Thiepval Memorial and championing it. Certainly it followed as well from his early espousal of Aldo Rossi's focus on collective memory, to which Yale students were exposed years before Rossi's work appeared in translation in English.
In-person during office hours, Scully was shy, always calling me Miss James. But in this context, too, he was transformative. He insisted that I review two decades and more of the pages of Harper's Magazine, American Architect, and Building News for my thesis on the Boston Public Library, so that I would understand the cultural as well as architectural context that had shaped its design. Over the course of my career I have derived enormous insight for continuing to couple an awareness of more popular sources with the professional literature. I only got a B+ for the result, but Scully also assured me repeatedly that despite the desperate job market for academics in the early 1980s that I would be good enough to pull this off. I do not lecture in his inimitable style, and I do not repeat many of his opinions, but I always point out his impact.
Many years after we had last met, I was deeply honored to be the only Scully student thus far to be the Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the Yale School of Architecture. In January, we here in Dublin will have some kind of event to mark the passing of Irish America's greatest architectural historian and one of its most cherished teachers and intellectuals. I will read, as I heard him do at the end of his lecture on Louis Sullivan, from the final pages of Finnegan's Wake, and conclude with Dylan Thomas' “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.” — Kathleen James-Chakraborty '82
My freshman year at Yale (1976-1977) happened to be a year Scully was on sabbatical. The “Introduction to the History of Art” course, which I discovered by accident in the Blue Book, was taught instead by many faculty members of the Art History department, each introducing her or his own topical area. I was hooked on the subject, which led to taking more and more courses in the department, until I finally added the major to my other one (Architecture) in junior year.
So I didn’t encounter or meet Vince in the typical way; at the beginning, he was more of an abstract presence hovering outside my sphere.
Sophomore year, I took George Kubler’s “Art and Architecture of Ancient Mesoamerica,” and did a term paper about the influence of motifs from those cultures in modern architecture. Kubler passed my paper to Scully for his critique before returning it to me, which led to a proud first encounter in which Vince wrote, in his large handwriting, many positive comments including, “Your analysis of the Richland frieze was, I thought, masterful.” The master thought it was masterful! I still have the paper.
I took a senior seminar with Vince, which provided a small-group setting for feisty arguments orbiting his theme of that decade: semiotics. I would say “classical semiotics,” meaning the original Venturi/Scott-Brown thesis of “Learning from Las Vegas.” Architecture was just tilting toward post-modernism, so Vince was keen to draw distinctions between what he saw as meaningful and pointless semiotics. Because I was also in the Architecture major, studying under Kent Bloomer and others, I was on a completely different wavelength, though. I saw (still do) semiotics as a basis for over-intellectual, ironic, and cynical architecture but not one that makes us feel anything intrinsically. To me, haptic responses mattered way more, so Vince and I agreed many times to disagree.
I decided to try to convince him via my senior essay, a full-blown analysis of dozens of building around the Yale campus — traditional and modern — in terms of haptic experience. While Vince still disagreed with my view that the haptic mattered more than the semiotic, and couldn’t quite fully embrace my reasoned plea, as my advisor he (fortunately) accepted my thesis anyway!
I entered the Yale School of Architecture because I wasn’t ready to leave Yale upon graduation from the college. That led inevitably to my being a T.A. for Vince’s flagship course. Somehow I got Section 13, which developed a reputation over those three years for proving that art history was not a “gut” course. I used to warn the first class of the semester that they had one week to change sections if they didn’t want rigor.
Vince was a great mentor in tolerance, perhaps surprisingly. In my final year as a T.A. for him, a star on the hockey team turned in a term paper that was obviously plagiarized — as though someone trained in art history couldn’t tell instantly by stylistic analysis. I was determined to flunk him, but when I consulted with Vince, he directed me to give the kid a second chance: one week to write a real paper. It was a bad paper, but at least it was clearly his.
Now, 35 years later, as a space architect and program manager at NASA, and with my own reputation as a motivational presenter, I realize how much I learned from the major (i.e., about how to use slides effectively, and how to detect patterns and references) but especially how much I learned from Vince: that effective communication is maybe 20% content and 80% passion; how permanent works inevitably embody the milieu and humanity of those who make them; and how we may derive deep meaning from form and image.
Thanks, Vince. — Brent Sherwood '80, '83 M.Arch.
As all things change to fire
and fire exhausted
falls back into things,
the crops are sold
for money spent on food.
The earth is melted
into the sea
by that same reckoning
whereby the sea
sinks into the earth.
Air dies giving birth
to fire. Fire dies
giving birth to air. Water
thus, is born of dying
earth, and earth of water.
What was scattered
What was gathered
where you set
your foot just now
is gone —
giving way to this,
Just as the river where I step
is not the same, and is,
so I am as I am not.
The cosmos works
by harmony of tensions
like the lyre and the bow.
- Heraclitus (c. 500 BC, Ephesus) — Jeremy Scott Wood, '64 B.A., '70 M.Arch.
Like everyone at Yale, I was spellbound by Vincent Scully’s lecturing style and awed by the insights in his writings. And as his and Tappy’s friend and neighbor, I knew Vincent Scully, the “regular guy,” who enjoyed football, ice cream, his dog, and his hometown. My favorite memory of him is from Halloween many years ago. Children from surrounding areas visited the Orange Street neighborhood for trick-or-treating. As a regular visitor of the Scully-Lynn household, I knew Tappy did all the grocery shopping. Shortly before Halloween, without time to prepare for trick-or-treaters, she was called out of town. I stopped by after work to ask Vince if he needed anything, particularly groceries, as I knew he wasn’t familiar with the local markets. He seemed a bit worried when he opened the door, led me into the kitchen, and asked, “will this be enough?” as he looked towards a mountain of bagged Halloween candy on the kitchen table. At that moment, the Parthenon, Fallingwater, and everything before, after, and in between, were less important than not disappointing a single child on Halloween. I admired Vincent Scully the Art and Architectural Historian, and adored Vincent Scully the man. — Diane Torre