Vincent Scully, ‘the most influential architecture teacher ever,’ has died at 97

Saturday, 02 December 2017, 06:33:13 AM. Vincent Scully, a renowned Yale and University of Miami architecture professor, died Nov. 30 at his home in Virginia. Miami, he noted, lacked great public spaces.

For Vincent Scully, architecture was so much more than buildings.

It was about education. History. Space.

Scully died Thursday at his home of six years in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was 97 and had Parkinson’s disease. He recently had a heart attack, his wife Catherine Lynn told The Washington Post.

Teaching at Yale University for more than six decades, beginning in 1947, and then teaching at the University of Miami School of Architecture as a distinguished visiting professor, Scully was renowned as the foremost architectural historian of his time. He proved a major influence on how the public, which included professional architects and people who just loved the art of architecture, understood the purpose of architecture.

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“Vincent Scully changed my life, and he put me on the path toward art,” Jeffrey Loria, the art dealer and former Marlins owner, told the Miami Herald in 2005. Loria had enrolled in Scully’s art history course at Yale.

Scully’s introductory art history classes at Yale proved so popular the school had to move his class to the law school’s lecture room. At the time, it was the only hall on campus large enough to hold 400 students. He insisted on including architecture as a component of art history, every bit as important as painting and sculpture.

Scully, born in New Haven, Connecticut, wasn’t a trained architect, but that didn’t faze countless architects who learned from the master. In a 1996 Herald story on Scully, one of architecture’s elder statesmen, Philip Johnson, called the educator “the most influential architecture teacher ever.”

Scully, the Post said, helped popularize the historic preservation movement and was the spiritual father of New Urbanism, a school of design that promotes architecture on a human scale.

Architectural historian and critic, Vincent Scully, at his Coral Gables home in 1996. Candace Barbot Miami Herald File

During his time in Coral Gables after joining the University of Miami in 1991, he opined often on his adopted South Florida community and how its architecture worked — and didn’t.

In the 1997 photo essay book, “Coral Gables: An American Garden City,” by editors Roberto M. Behar and Maurice G. Culot, Scully wrote some of the most pointed essays. The Gables’ Mediterranean architecture was not suited for the tropical climate of Florida, he wrote. He called city founder George Merrick, “as much huckster as utopian.”

A year earlier, in 1996, Scully drove around South Florida with a Herald reporter and lavished praise and damnation over what he saw.

He called the 20-story federal jail on Fourth Street in Miami a “tragic image of incarceration,” the elevated plaza in front of the main library “a great opportunity to create public space — missed,” and the then-rising Portofino Tower on South Pointe in South Beach, “terrible . . . of brutish proportion.”

Scully was kinder toward the Arquitectonica-designed condominiums on Brickell Avenue. “Delightful, especially the one with the hole in the middle,” he said. He noted the resemblance to Rem Koolhaas' early work.

South Beach’s Art Deco style captured his imagination. It “is wonderful for a city by the sea — it’s urban, and at the same time it says, ‘Holiday! Mediterranean fun!’”

But overall, he saw South Florida as a place resplendent with majestic homes and yards with water views but staggeringly devoid of public places where people could come together.

“What Miami lacks is a great public space. When Flagler laid out Miami there was no public space. There was just some grass around the hotels. Today, that's a real problem for Miami. When you think about Miami, you think of it from the outside, usually when you’re driving and looking back at it. But when you get inside Miami, you don’t find many places in it that you’d want to be, or which are memorable,” Scully told the Herald.

Vincent Scully, shown in 1966, began teaching at Yale University in 1947 and continued until 2009. He also was a distinguished visiting professor at University of Miami, starting in 1991. Harry Naltchayan The Washington Post

“Scully was as much critic and activist as historian, a public intellectual interested in the present as much as the past,” Keith Eggener, a University of Oregon historian of architecture, wrote in the online Places Journal in 2015. “He played a seminal role in defining the character of architectural history during the second half of the 20th Century, and ultimately had as much impact on designers as on scholars.”

Among his honors, Scully received the first award presented by the National Building Museum for outstanding achievement in architecture, architectural scholarship, historic preservation and urban design. The prize was named in his honor. He also received the National Medal of Arts in 2004 from President George W. Bush, like Scully, a Yale graduate.

Scully’s survivors include his third wife, architectural historian Catherine Lynn; his children Daniel, Stephen, John and Katherine Scully; five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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