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In Memory of Brian Shawcroft, AIA

Brian Shawcroft and Students

The College of Design mourns the passing of Brian Shawcroft, AIA, modernist architect, photographer, and 1991 winner of the Henry Kamphoefner Prize for excellence in the Modern Movement of architecture. In 1994, Brian established the juried Shawcroft Prize for Drawing “to recognize and encourage the skill of architectural drawing by hand.”

Shawcroft served as an associate professor and lecturer in architecture at the School of Design from 1960 to 1968, where he was a thought-leader, a mentor, a expert practitioner, a photographer, and much more. Perhaps one of his most valuable contributions was in the lessons he instilled in his students.

Richard Green, FAIA [’68 B.Arch], a student of Shawcroft’s, reflected that, “Brian was an excellent teacher – comprehensive in his approach to architecture and demanding in requiring an absolute commitment to the profession from his students. His deep knowledge of buildings and mechanical and structural systems served as a resource for our entire class, but to this day, his overarching contribution to my education was his fierce determination to ensure we were committed to becoming the very best architects we could be. This has been invaluable during my 50 years of practice on projects located around the world. Brian was most definitely the ‘Lion of Modernism’ in my experience at NC State,” said Green, “and several generations of architects were fortunate that he made such a large contribution to our education.”

In a section entitled “Essays by Former Students” in the book Fifty50: Photographs by Brian Shawcroft, Curtis Fentress, FAIA, RIBA [’72 B.Arch], said of Shawcroft, “Perhaps even more than traditional academic methods, Brian taught by example. […] His recipe for success — hard work, dedication, and talent — continues to encourage young architects to follow their dreams and realize their full potential.”

While Shawcroft was an accomplished photographer, he also notably emphasized drawing as an important architectural skill. “Drawing is a way to explore architecture. It’s a way to put forward an idea, to develop it, to embellish it, to change it, to modify it,” Professor of Practice Frank Harmon explained. Shawcroft’s value of drawing as a tool for thinking is best demonstrated through the Shawcroft Prize for Drawing, which he established in 1994. The prize is awarded annually to an architecture student for superior hand drawing skills.

Shawcroft, who played a leading role in the design of many of the modernist houses in Raleigh, was a larger-than-life force who influenced not only his students, but also his fellow colleagues in education and in practice. He will be remembered by the community for his work, his teaching, and also his eclectic personal interests.

“He was a remarkable person,” said Harmon. “He was a very clear and insistent critic. He was an extremely talented designer. He could draw like an angel. He was a magnificent swimmer, tennis player, [and a] beautiful dancer.” In the obituary for Shawcroft that he wrote for the News and Observer, Harmon also noted that, “He loved classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, and fast Jaguar sports cars. Parties at his house often ended with him playing jazz on his grand piano.”

“Different as we are as personalities, Brian and I shared an intense interest in music, which may not be all that common among architects,” said Emeritus Alumni Distinguished Professor Paul Tesar. “We both loved classical music, jazz, opera (particularly Puccini), and the ballet, and we were both pianists of sorts, favoring the music of Schubert, Chopin, and Beethoven for that instrument. I particularly remember a wonderful performance of Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ we attended together in the old ‘Estates Theater’ in Prague (known to many of us from the movie ‘Amadeus’) while I was teaching at the Prague Institute for a semester. We were also regulars at the performances of the North Carolina Symphony for many years. While we often disagreed about issues of architecture, we clearly were ‘on the same page’ when it came to music. I will miss our conversations.”

Shawcroft was a memorable conversationalist, according to Associate Professor Julieta Sherk. “Brian and I were always aware of each other and our related work, and although we were not close, I admired him. I had terrific and memorable conversations with him about design and life, which always left me hungry for more.”

Shawcroft’s mark on the Triangle and the College of Design is indelible. His photographs, his lectures, his designs, and even his conversations at Cup a Joe – they remain part of a lasting legacy.

A celebration for Shawcroft will be held on Saturday, February 3rd at 4 PM at the AIA North Carolina Center for Architecture and Design.

Brian Shawcroft and Students


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