In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Gary Scott Danford

By Lisa Gagnon

Published December 9, 2015

Gary Scott Danford, PhD, one of the first faculty members of the School of Architecture and Planning and an integral member of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), has passed away at the age of 68. He is remembered for his groundbreaking research in environmental design as well as an impassioned commitment to teaching, challenging, and mentoring students.

"Our thoughts are with Scott's family as we hold him in the light and celebrate his continuing legacy here," says Robert Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. "I often meet with alumni who share wonderful stories of his humor and how much they learned from working with him. Scott lives on in all of us."

Gary Scott Danford, PhD, professor emeritus of architecture who joined the school in 1973, will be remembered for his innovative research in environmental design for all populations and for his dedicated service to students. He was 68.

An applied behavioral scientist, Danford grew up in Texas City, Texas, and received advanced degrees in psychology from the University of Houston before joining UB’s “School of Architecture and Environmental Design” in 1973 as associate professor of environmental psychology. He retired in 2011 after 38 years of service.

Danford's research at UB focused on environmental design as enabling technology for special populations. His projects ranged from the organizational design of ambulatory health care delivery systems, for which he received a First Award for Applied Research from Progressive Architecture, to the planning, programming, design and management of person-behavior-environmental transactions for an aging society.

Danford was also interested in psycho-social and organizational factors and their relationship to human productivity, particularly for the long-term habitation of space. He received faculty fellowships for this work from both NASA and the American Society for Engineering Education and spent the summer of 1984 at NASA conducting design research on its proposed International Space Station. 

Danford was best known among students for his theatrical large-lecture course, "Environment, Behavior and Design." In it, he assumed the role of his alter ego "Dr. Kyle Reardon" and challenged students to take on the task of designing for survival in extreme environments. His book, Nike Jesus, even has a cult following among some former students, recalls Beth Tauke, associate professor of architecture.

Some of his projects were certainly "out of this world." In 1997, two teams of UB students were among 13 finalists selected in a competition conducted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture to design "Hotels of the Future." The teams proposed a modular hotel in orbit 200-250 miles above the planet, and a hotel constructed in the interior of a "captured" asteroid.

Of the "Hotels of the Future" project, he said it "forced the students to recognize that all traditional architectural forms were irrelevant and to start from scratch without assumptions," and taught them the importance of documenting, communicating and justifying their design decisions.

At the IDeA Center, Danford led research that generated post-occupancy evaluation methods and new scales for measuring barriers and facilitators to environmental usability. Most recently, he conducted online survey research to assess priorities for universal design, a program of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design and the Built Environment at the IDeA Center, funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

"He was an innovative thinker who found unique and interesting angles to any research problem," says Edward Steinfeld, ArchD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Architecture and director of the IDeA Center. "My colleagues and I greatly miss his intelligence, humor, commitment to making a better world, and concern for others."

Danford’s service to the school and university extended well beyond the classroom. Among the administrative capacities in which he served are director of undergraduate studies in the school’s former Department of Environmental Design & Planning, acting chairman of that same department, acting assistant dean of the School of Architecture and Environmental Design, and assistant vice president for university services.

He touched hundreds of students as a dedicated mentor in architecture and in life. Among these is Danise Levine, a 1996 graduate of the MArch program and now assistant director of the IDeA Center. "My greatest memory of him is how passionate he was in everything he did, whether it was the class he was teaching, the research he was conducting, or the way he burst with pride over his children and grandchildren."

Gary Scott Danford passed away in North Carolina, where he was living, and is survived by his wife, Sandy, their children Kris [Sam] and Chad [Virginia], and four grandchildren.