Vincent Scully, 97, Influential Architecture Historian, Dies

His flair for the dramatic was aided by a gift for the sonorous phrase — of Mies van der Rohe, he wrote, “His architecture cried on nobody’s lapel; it made perfect, technologically appropriate cages, and limpid volumes of air, and that was all” — or the biting put-down: He once dismissed the buildings of Kevin Roche as “paramilitary dandyism.”


Professor Scully’s classic work from 1969, originally published by Praeger.

Trinity University Press

Unlike many academics, Professor Scully spoke out on issues of the day and was not afraid to change his mind. He was instrumental in promoting modernist doctrine and challenged the ossification of its legacy during the 1960s. To his chagrin, his rebellious open-mindedness became identified with postmodernism and its excesses.

“I think he probably did more than anyone else over the last 60 years to affect not just architecture but architecture culture as well,” said the former New York Times and New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, one of many former Scully students to enter the field because of him. “He showed us that architecture is not just forms in a vacuum. It’s about what kind of society you want to build.”

Professor Scully knew almost every American architect of note in his era and did not hide his enthusiasms or sugarcoat his disappointments about what they did. Philip Johnson was a close friend and frequent sparring partner. Professor Scully’s support for the underappreciated Louis Kahn in the early 1960s helped elevate his stature and acquire commissions for him to build two of his masterworks at Yale, the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art.

Writing the introduction to Robert Venturi’s incendiary 1966 book, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” Professor Scully endorsed it as “probably the most important writing on the making of architecture” since Le Corbusier’s “Towards a New Architecture.”


Professor Scully with the architect Robert A.M. Stern in 1981.

Dorothy Alexander

Both Professor Scully and Mr. Venturi argued that irony, ornament, humor, insider historical references — a “multiplicity” of styles and forms — should be allowed back into architecture….

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