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Remembering Ted Lownie, architect, teacher, community-builder

Published March 24, 2017

Ted Lownie, beloved founding faculty member of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, passed away unexpectedly in a car accident early this year at the age of 80. Here we remember Ted for his work at UB and his commitment to and impact on the Buffalo architectural community.

Ted Lownie was a leading architect committed to the Buffalo community and the preservation of its historic architecture. He served as a clinical faculty member with UB for more than 20 years.

Born in Buffalo and raised in Kenmore, Lownie received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University before forming his own firm, Hamilton Houston Lownie (HHL) Architects, in Allentown, in 1963. Since then, Lownie and the firm have worked on renovation and restoration projects including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Common Council Chamber in Buffalo City Hall, Theatre Place, the Roycroft Inn and Kleinhan’s Music Hall.

Lownie is perhaps best known for his role as principal architect for the restoration of the Darwin D. Martin House Complex. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907, the property was abandoned after Martin’s death and three backyard buildings, a conservatory, pergola and carriage house, were bulldozed. HHL has taken commissions on the complex since 1992, searching for and replicating the dimensions, materials and furniture of the buildings. The entire restoration project is currently in its fifth phase.

During his extensive career, Lownie also worked as a staff architect for Roswell Park Cancer Institute and served on the New York State Board for Interior Design. He also served on the Buffalo Preservation Board and the Scajaquada Pathway Steerng Committee, and was a grant evaluator for the New York State Council on the Arts.

UB's School of Architecture and Planning was founded in 1968, as an experimental, systems-based approach to design education. Lownie was among the regional practitioners recruited to the faculty by the school's first dean, John P. Eberhard. Lownie saw this as an opportunity to make education more accessible for students who could not afford to attend schools like Columbia and New York University, and at the same time improve the quality of architecture in the region.

“There is far greater interest in architecture in Buffalo because of the school. No question about it,” said Lownie in a recent interview with the school as part of its 50th Anniversary monograph project. "Architecture is practiced at a higher level than before.”

Lownie taught architecture design studios and practicums at UB from 1984 to 2000 and returned as an adjunct instructor for the fall 2007 semester.

“I loved it,” said Lownie. “It made me a better architect than I would have been. You can’t help but learn if you are paying attention. It was always a dialogue.”

As a clinical faculty member, Ted influenced hundreds of students through his teachings of core courses such as Archicture Design Studio and Architecture Design Practicum. After retiring from teaching, Ted remained engaged with the school, through shared interest in projects in the community and as a familiar face - always in the front rows - of the school's lecture series. His firm employs several alumni of the school. 

Colleagues and friends of Lownie remember his integrity and humor in addition to his excellence as an architect:

Gerald Strickland, Jr. (MArch '87) princpal, HHL Architects:

"To know Ted Lownie is to understand his faith, his love of family, his commitment to the community and his love for this profession of architecture. He held to the highest possible level what it means to be an architect. His teachings touched many individuals, influenced many communities and inspired many generations to follow in the path of idealism and humility."

Urban planning professor Alfred Price shares an anecdote from his collaboration with Ted more than 20 years ago in planning the adaptive reuse of a historic church on Buffalo's East Side.

"The setting was HHL’s Allen Street offices in Buffalo. It was a chilly spring Saturday morning some twenty+ years ago. Ted Lownie had invited several of us to gather to discuss bidding a professional job together, and this was the pre-interview strategy session. We planned to meet at 9:00 AM and talk for an hour and a half, before the 11:00 am in-person interview at the downtown law offices of Hiscock and Barclay. The job involved the adaptive re-use of a significant religious structure on Buffalo’s east side, the then-vacant St. Mary of Sorrow’s RC Church building on Genesee Street, located roughly two blocks south of the Buffalo Museum of Science. The building was at that time being proposed for use as the M. L. King Urban Life Center. Ted had assembled an integrated planning and design team whose credentials matched the unique demands of the job, among them Al Price, who would serve as urban planner for the job. 

"We believed we had some good initial ideas about how to save various aspects of the original architecture (such as the stained glass windows), while thoroughly changing and modernizing the interior and preserving the exterior. Our Saturday morning formal interview was to take place before the Trustees of the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, whose Secretary, Bob Kresse, was known personally by several of us. We knew him to be interested in historic preservation. But Ted had done some additional homework, and found out that in Kresse’s growing up years, St. Mary of Sorrow’s was his very own parish church. This knowledge informed our approach to restoration of the facades and exterior, and the—we thought—unique idea of building a new building within the existing soaring, arched former sanctuary. We poured over details of which of us would say what at the interview, and actually timed our oral presentations to respect the time limits we had been given, hoping to allow time for Q & A, and some dialogue with the Trustees.   

When Ted called time out, insisting that we pack up for the trip downtown, he said the funniest thing I’d ever heard in such a prep session. As we rose from the conference table, Ted barked like an Army drill sergeant, “OK, men. Ten hut! Ties straight! Zippers up!” We all laughed, as this bit of silliness broke the seriousness of the mood, and put us all in a happier frame of mind before heading downtown. And we did get the initial commission for the project."

From Edward Steinfeld, architecture professor and director of the school's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access:

"As a professional, Ted was a very good architect who contributed greatly to improving the quality of the built environment in Western New York. As a person, I remember his sense of humor and particularly his dry wit. He could joke about anything. Only a few weeks before he died, I ran into him and he confided that he had undergone open heart surgery. He did it with a smile and joked about the 'zipper' he now had across his chest."

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Professor, friend, and passionate practitioner, Ted Lownie was a beloved member of the School of Architecture and Planning community. Let us know how he touched your life. Share your remembrances on Facebook.