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Bill N. Lacy, FAIA

Obituary for Bill N. Lacy, FAIA

April 16, 1933 - August 25, 2020
San Antonio, Texas | Age 87

Obituary

In a remarkable fifty-year career ascending through the ranks of leadership, Bill N. Lacy, FAIA, who died August 25, 2020, became an international ambassador for design. Trained as an architect, Lacy achieved top positions in academia, government, non-profits, and as a corporate advisor in architecture and planning, constantly promoting the inherent values of planning, the graphic arts, and architecture. An architectural enthusiast, Lacy continually brought people and projects together. His unparalleled network of clients and colleagues, including the J. Paul Getty Trust, Novartis International, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the General Services Administration, trusted this approachable man to embark on major developments, some of which rank among the most important structures and places in the 20th century.

The academy wove a strong cord throughout his career. From his initial post as Assistant Dean at Houston's Rice University under the legendary William Caudill, FAIA, Lacy went on to become founding dean of the nascent architecture school at the University of Tennessee from 1965-1969. In 1977, he became president and professor fine arts at the prestigious American Academy at Rome, when he made the leap from Texas to New York and beyond. His network, and his rolodex, increased.

In 1980, as the newly minted president of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Lacy found the tuition-free institution languishing. He revivified Cooper by hiring a female dean of engineering, Eleanor Baum, PhD., as well as instituting the American jazz Orchestra in 1986, subsequently housed at Lincoln Center, and inviting prominent intellectuals like the poet W. S. Merwin to the school.

While in New York, Lacy collaborated for the first time with former New York Times architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable, serving on a jury as the city of San Francisco was selecting an architect for a major new downtown library. Their work would prove prescient, as Lacy worked with Huxtable again and inaugurated his own consultancy in 1988, advising major clients such as museums (the addition to the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, or the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri), universities (Harvard, the University of California), government (the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Boston) on large-scale change or individual buildings. As executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize for fifteen years, from 1988-2005, Lacy oversaw the rise in prestige and purpose of the major international award for architecture.

His academic capstone (1992-2002) found Lacy as president of one of the nation's best-known school of the arts and liberal arts at Purchase College, the State University of New York. While leading the school, established famously under former governor Nelson Rockefeller, enrollment increased, the endowment swelled, and its image improved.

Lacy furthered the arts in government. As Director of Architecture and Design at the National Endowment for the Arts under Nancy Hanks in the 1970s, he built on the design guidelines of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and helped develop the Federal Design Improvement Program, an effort that elevated the design quality of courthouses and border crossings. He also helped preserve major architectural works, including the Old Post Office (currently the Trump Hotel) in Washington, DC, and the National Pension Building, currently serving as the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

Born to modest circumstances near rural Kingston, Oklahoma, to Eunice and Leon Lacy on April 16, 1933, few would have predicted the architect's rise as a confidante within corporate boardrooms or befriending Pritzker chairman Lord Jacob Rothschild. Educated in the public schools at remote Broken Bow, Oklahoma, he longed to become a basketball player at Oklahoma State. After realizing his future lay in studies, not sports, he graduated with a B.A. in Architecture. Army service, much of it in Europe, widened his perspective and assisted him when he returned to acquire his master's in architecture in 1958.

Bill moved to San Antonio in 2003 as the consulting architect for the McNay Art Museum, advising the Board of Trustees and William J. Chiego, Director, in choosing the design architect for the Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions. Jean-Paul Viguer was chosen for the project which opened in 2008.

He is survived by five children (Jan Annette Lacy, Katherine Marie Lacy Lewis, Shawn Lacy Bullen, Ross M. Lacy, and Jessica Wagner Lacy Sanata), numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife, Jane Stieren Lacy also survives him.

Memorials may be made to "Diversity Advancement Scholarship", The AIA Foundation; 1735 New York Avenue, NW; Washington, DC. To donate online: architectsfoundation.org.

Robert Ivy, FAIA

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