Edward Larrabee Barnes was one of those rare individuals whom everyone remembers with fondness. Ed was of one piece; his architecture, his life, his behavior were well ordered, thoughtful, and gentle.
I first met Ed Barnes over 40 years ago when he was master planning a new campus and designing student housing for the Rochester Institute of Technology. I was at that time working for Kevin Roche who was designing an athletic center on the same campus. I was then an apprentice architect, but Ed treated me with the same deference and paid attention to my opinions as much as he did those of his more equal collaborators. He listened with interest at what I had to say and offered useful comments. He was always like that: caring, modest, and helpful. I know he gave invaluable support to many young architects as they started their careers. Many architects prominent today worked early on for Ed Barnes. His office was an ideal place to learn the complex craft of an architect and how to use it to serve higher purposes.
While we were on the Rochester site, I was touched by his serious concern for the campus he was working on and for the students that were going to dwell there. The interplay of his buildings with the life of the people who were going to use them was always important to Ed. I have to admit that I left Kevin Roche’s office for Los Angeles shortly thereafter, and I never saw the campus or the finished buildings.
I believe that Ed Barnes was at his best when he was designing smallish structures that would be intensely used. In these projects, he could balance well his love for simple geometric forms and his care for the life they would shelter. Perhaps his best project was the Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. He was able to design a series of crisp geometric forms, very much in line with the tenets of the modern architecture he so much admired. The pavilions he designed there were, however, finished in natural, vernacular materials and they defined very well proportioned and extremely pleasant indoor and outdoor spaces. I sensed in this place the successful collaboration between his mind and his heart. Perhaps the projects dearer to him were the private houses he designed. I guess that in them, he found that he could control the competing forces of beauty, function, and budget, and satisfy rather fully all his aspirations and create homes that made his clients happy.
Once, I happened to sit next to Ed on a flight from San Francisco to New York and I commented to him on what I thought was a wonderful and most successful low-cost housing project I had just seen in Sacramento. The buildings were obviously old and inexpensively built but they were well kept and still very handsome. His face illuminated with a wide smile when he heard me. Then he told me he had designed it himself, many years before. Obviously he had worked on those buildings with great love and the project still shows it. Unsolicited recognition of this type is probably one of the greatest joys one occasionally receives as an architect. I am certain that Ed had many of these happy occasions in his life.
I am particularly fond of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Ed designed their new building in 1971, and it is one of the most pleasant museums in which to look at art. It is a handsome, unpretentious, and friendly building, much like Ed himself. The architecture became a pleasant and supportive background for the art exhibited there. Today, it is being added to and remodeled and I hope the new architects (Herzog & de Meuron) will maintain the excellent qualities of Ed’s design.
Ed was one of the most consistent and dependable architects (or persons) I have known. His integrity and his aesthetic preferences for crisp, geometric forms, shades of gray, and natural materials were well developed early in his career. He refined them as he matured but deviated little from them. His person also always remained consistent in his integrity, gentleness, and love for architecture. Ed was a person of great dignity and humanity and our profession has lost much with his death
I am pleased to add these few words in memory of Ed Barnes. Ed and I entered Harvard Graduate School of Design together as classmates in 1939. That is now 65 years ago.
At that time, Harvard School of Design had lived through a revolution introducing new principles of the Modern Movement in Architecture. This new revolution was for us students both fierce and joyous! We were transported. There among the pioneers of the first generation, we were the second generation to whom they entrusted their future. This was sobering and required of us responsibility as well as spirit. Ed exemplified these qualities in his character and the fulfillment of his enviable career.
We will miss Ed. However, we in this company will continue to feel his presence in so far as we continue to remember and to love him.