Pittsburgh Architect, Urban Designer & Preservationist. 1922 - 2020
David Lewis, an architect, professor, and pioneering urban designer, who championed community-based planning in thinking about historic preservation and the built environment, died on June 29. He was 98.
Most prominently known for starting Urban Design Associates, a studio of architects and designers that celebrates the process of listening to community voices as a key component of design and placemaking, Mr. Lewis’s legacy thrives at the Remaking Cities Institute, an urban design and research center he started at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, where he taught for many years, and continued as Professor Emeritus until his death.
The institute was named after a conference he hosted in Pittsburgh in 1988, that famously featured Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, as a keynote speaker on the resilience of historic post-industrial cities in America and Europe.
“David was a rare and very talented person in so many cultivated ways. He was an architect, an urban planner, a poet, a painter, a writer, and a pioneer in preservation,” said Arthur Ziegler, president and co-founder of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
Mr. Ziegler recalls that he first met Mr. Lewis not long after his arrival in Pittsburgh as the Andrew Mellon Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the then Carnegie Institute of Technology. Born in South Africa, Mr. Lewis left his native Cape Town after World War II, worked and studied in the United Kingdom, and arrived in Pittsburgh in 1962. “We were just getting started [with PHLF, which was founded in 1964], and I called him up to talk about what we were doing, walking the streets of Manchester on Pittsburgh’s North Side and thinking of how to combat urban renewal,” Mr. Ziegler said. “He became extremely important in helping us think through learning from the grassroots and not top-down planning.” He would serve as one of the founding Trustees of PHLF, and was a steadfast supporter and advocate of the organization in its preservation ventures in Pittsburgh and across the country. His firm, Urban Design Associates, was intricately involved in the overall planning of Station Square, when PHLF acquired and started redeveloping the 51-acre railroad yard on the South Side of Pittsburgh.
Louise Sturgess, PHLF’s former longtime executive director, remembers Mr. Lewis for his steadfast support of the organization’s educational programs, particularly the Architecture Apprenticeship Program, which is designed to inspire high school students to think creatively about the built environment.
“He met nearly every year with our high school students. With great wisdom and good humor, he shared his love of architecture and discussed the challenges of community development with them,” Ms. Sturgess said. “He listened closely to the students as they presented their ideas for designing a new building on a vacant lot in Homestead. David always offered constructive comments and encouraged the high school students to become involved in their communities and to appreciate the charm and character of historic main streets.”
Mr. Lewis moved to West Homestead, a borough on the south bank of the Monongahela River in the late 1980s, lived there for the rest of his life, and devoted himself to saving historic buildings and helping to revitalize the main street in Homestead.
Elisa Cavalier, PHLF’s former general counsel recalls Mr. Lewis’ tenacity for saving buildings when he joined PHLF and others in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit brought by CVS Pharmacy, “due to our efforts to stop the demolition of buildings in Homestead for an “attractive” drive-thru pharmacy in the historic district,” she said. “We won of course and it was a great triumph.”
“He was a real risk taker in Homestead,” Mr. Ziegler said. “He was dedicated to saving historic neighborhoods as the lifeline to improving the quality of life of people.”
(From Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation)