By Benjamin Clavan, Ph.D., Architect
Program and Content Coordinator
I knew and worked with Ray Lifchez for a half-century, first as a professor/student mentor/Ph.D. advisor, then as sort of an informal boss, and finally as both a friend and colleague. In all of these arenas, Ray played an instrumental role in my life as I developed both as an individual and as a practitioner in the world of architecture. I could not have had a better role model.
Ray was born into a life of privilege and maintained that status throughout his nine decades. He was also born as somewhat of an outsider. He came from an observant Jewish family who lived in the southern region of the United States in some isolation from the broader Jewish community elsewhere in the country. Both these antecedents contributed to the way he approached his life and its challenges. As one person once said to me, “Ray is incredibly generous and cordial to a fault, but ultimately it is Ray’s way or no way.” To Ray, this was the only way to achieve his vision and give back to a wide community. And achieve and give back he did.
Ray’s ground-breaking work in the field whose title he adopted, the social art of architecture, is well-documented. I believe Ray was determined to make his most lasting legacy the work he did to make disabled access a major part of architectural curricula worldwide. His vision for this has found resonance across the world. I can reference one example of many to illustrate this point: the general discussion and policy commitment to do better for those with special needs by any number of local, state, and national building authorities and officials in the United States that has occurred over the last decades.
As Ray liked to remind everyone, a vast majority of all of us will be “disabled” at some point in our life. This can range from paralysis to a broken leg to a recurring back ailment or to any of the numerous issues which limit our mobility or our five senses for some pronounced length of time. Navigating a built landscape which has ignored these needs has long been a major issue. Slowly but surely, in myriad ways across the world, the acknowledgment of the rights of people with disabilities are resulting in positive developments. Ray’s work was instrumental in inspiring many others who have helped make it happen.
This remarkable accomplishment led to other work, which I believe even surpasses his formal academic and teaching contributions. The 25 years Ray spent creating and leading the international Berkeley Undergraduate Prize in Architectural Design Excellence have left an indelible impact on countless young architects. This was the project I joined at its inception and for which I eventually became the Coordinator. Through the Prize, which is endorsed by U.C. Berkeley but is a completely independent program, generations of participating students worldwide have been introduced to subject matter not only outside of most academic architecture programs but also outside of the often hermetically sealed academic architecture studios.
Most importantly, students have been required to undertake on-site research and to interact with the local inhabitants, those in need, and others who are and will be affected by whatever building project is contemplated or imagined. They then assemble their findings and the design ideas they conjure in articles that are widely read across the architecture community worldwide. This shared learning and elevated interest has been - and will continue to be - integrated into the work of both these and other young outstanding architects as they create their own new architecture. We all benefit from these new approaches to design inspired by Ray and his leadership.
It was Ray’s philanthropy that made it all possible. It was his vision and much hard work by many highly motivated people that made the Prize a reality. As one example, over the years we assembled a Prize “Committee,” consisting of between 60-65 architects, architectural academics, and interested and accomplished people from a number of related fields in the social sciences. As the years passed, the Committee has been broadened even further to include more international scholars and practitioners, and some remarkable past student winners. Every year these volunteers read and re-review hundreds of written submissions. This is both a professional task and a labor of love for all those involved. In this, I include myself.
As a teacher and scholar, Ray helped motivate all of us to do better. He leaves us a rich legacy which will continue to inspire and motivate. This is an achievement that we all can – and must – try to emulate for the future of our world.
Rather than include a list of Ray’s awards and attainments in the body of my tribute, I thought it best to provide a highlight of them below. They are many, varied, and truly outstanding. We have so much for which to thank him.
Professor Emeritus of Architecture and City & Regional Planning
U.C. Berkeley College of Environmental Design
Master of City Planning, University of California, Berkeley
M.S. Architecture, Columbia University
M.A. Art History, Columbia University
B.Arch., University of Florida
In 1976 he received the University's Distinguished Teaching Award; in 2002, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Distinguished Professor Award,; in 2008, the Berkeley Citation; and in 2018, the Ed Roberts Award from the Center for Independent Living, Berkeley, California, for accessible design leadership.
The International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence. A yearly Internet essay and travel fellowship competition devoted to the proposition that architecture is a social art. The project was founded in 1998-99. During its twenty-five year history, the Prize has received 2985 Essay, Travel, and other Fellowship proposals from 3785 individual students representing dozens of schools of architecture in 88 countries. The Prize has responded by making 188 cash awards to 225 individual students (some working in teams of two). The Prize was the recipient of the American Institute of Architects Collaborative Design Award in 2009.
The Judith Lee Stronach Memorial Lectures on the Teaching of Poetry.* (U.C. Berkeley) Since 2003, an annual event with lectures by renowned poets. The lectures are published by the U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library in conjunction with the University of California Press.
The Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize. (U.C. Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science) The Prize supports intellectual and creative pursuits that heighten awareness of issues of social consciousness and contribute to the public good. The award gives motivated students the opportunity to extend and reflect upon their undergraduate work at Berkeley by undertaking a special months-long project after their graduation.
The Judith Lee Stronach Undergraduate Summer Scholarships. (U.C. Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.) Open to undergraduates in all departments at the College of Environmental Design (CED) and is meant to encourage the study of new places, cultures, and people, as well as a commitment to social responsibility. All travel should have a service-learning focus, combining educational goals and community service in a way that enhances student growth as well as the common good. Service-learning travel experiences can be in the context of volunteer work, a structured study-abroad program, self-directed senior thesis research, or independent research. Prize is awarded to 4–6 students, each, during each award cycle.
The Percival and Naomi Goodman Fellowship (Buell Center for American Studies, Columbia University, New York, New York) The purpose of the Fellowship is to enable the recipient to carry out a project of social significance related to the interests of the renowned urban theorist and architect, Percival Goodman. “Projects should be strongly humanist and be committed to the possibility that lives can be changed for the better.”
The Berkeley Seminars in Modern Jewish Culture (Program in Jewish Studies with the Center for Jewish Studies, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California)
The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey, University of California Press (1992)
Rethinking Architecture, University of California Press (1987). Community Service Citation from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association
Design for Independent Living, University of California Press (1979). American Book Award Nomination
A number of periodical articles on accessible design, the social history of architecture, and architectural design pedagogy.
(*Judith Lee Stronach (1943-2002), Ray’s wife, was a poet and patron of the arts and education who devoted enormous time and energy to numerous charitable organizations. The prizes in her name commemorate her lifelong commitment to intellectual and creative growth and her mission to effect social change through the arts.)
Special thanks to Thea Chroman, long-time Administrator for the Berkeley Prize and Jessie Canon, the Prize’s long-time Internet Technology and Website Design consultant, both of whom contributed to this In Memoriam document.