Ralph Lerner

Obituary of Ralph Lerner

Ralph Lerner, recent dean of the Faculty of Architecture at Hong Kong University and former dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University, died in Princeton on May 7th 2011, after a battle with brain cancer. Lerner received his Bachelor of Architecture from The Cooper Union and his Master of Architecture from Harvard University. He worked for Haus- Rücker Architects, Richard Meier, and Ulrich Franzen, before opening his own practice in Charlottesville, VA, and then in partnership with Richard Reid in London, England 1980 - 1984, until establishing the firm Ralph Lerner Architect PC in 1984. He taught at the University of Virginia, The Polytechnic of Central London, Harvard, and Princeton, where he was named dean in 1989 and then the George Dutton '27 Professor of Architecture in 1994. In 2006, he resigned from Princeton, as Professor Emeritus, to become dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, a position he left April 2011 for health reasons. He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. In addition to contributing to numerous publications, Lerner was a frequent lecturer, moderator, advisor, and juror at universities as well as professional architectural design commissions. His own practice achieved international prominence with his 1986 first-prize win, designed with his wife; architect Lisa Fischetti, in the competition to build the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, India. His firm continued to do award winning projects both local and abroad. Ralph Lerner Architect PC most recent work includes the award-winning Louise Nevelson Plaza (in conjunction with Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects) in downtown Manhattan, the Lower School Building at the Princeton Charter School. However, Lerner made his biggest mark as an educator. Under his tenure, Princeton became arguably the preeminent school of architecture in the United States. Many of the most important young practitioners were hired by Lerner, including Elizabeth Diller (Diller+Scofidio Renfro), Jesser Reiser (Reiser Umemoto RUR), and Paul Lewis (Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis) and many notable architectural scholars, historians, and theorists either taught at the school or were educated there in the thirteen years he was dean. Lerner contributed to, or was the subject of, more than one hundred publications; his work was shown in dozens of exhibitions. "Ralph very much put Princeton at the center of the architectural map, both through the faculty and students he attracted, the programs, exhibitions, and publications he sponsored, as well as by the sheer force of his personality," said Princeton Architectural Press publisher Kevin Lippert, a 1983 graduate of the School of Architecture. At Hong Kong University, Lerner saw an opportunity to create a great international school of architecture - located in Asia, but closely connected to Europe and America as well. This became his ambition. During his tenure, he developed an exceptional, highly motivated young faculty, created joint Studio Programs with the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, among other institutions and established a branch of the Hong Kong University School of Architecture in Shanghai. The HKU School of Architecture was at the beginning of a coming of age when he died. He will be remembered for his visionary leadership, his dedicated, thoughtful mentoring, his extraordinary, often ironic, sense of humor and for his generosity of spirit. Lerner is survived by his wife, Lisa D. Fischetti, as well as a son, Sigmund M. Lerner, 25, and a daughter Esther D. Lerner, 21, all of Princeton, NJ, a sister Judith Lerner Brice and two brothers Marc Lerner and Alan Lerner. A graveside service was held May 9th at 2:00 at the Princeton Cemetery, and a memorial service will be held on Friday, June 3rd at 10:00 am at the Princeton Chapel. Funds in Ralph Lerner's honor will be established at both the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York and at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. For information on how to contribute to these funds, please contact Dean Anthony Vidler at vidler@cooper.edu or Lernerfund@gsd.harvard.edu.
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