Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Memoriam to an Innovator

I lost another exceptional mentor and friend in May of this year - he was a Past AIA President and my Installing Officer at my AIA Presidency Inaugural. Lyman Ennis passed away and was eulogized by his architect friends: "His loss will be felt and mourned by many that knew him, and were fortunate enough to call him friend. Lyman's approach to life, and to architecture, the profession he loved, was passionate, consistent and uncompromising. As was his dedication to his family, colleagues and friends. Always generous with his time in sharing knowledge and ideas, he was a committed force for positive growth and change. Gentle in spirit, tenacious in principle and gracious in his sharing with others, Lyman will be deeply missed."

He was a graduate of USC's program that produced many locally known architects in the Pasadena area." Probably one of the most important and concentrated areas of residential architecture of the City’s Recent Past is located in one such hilly area in southwest Pasadena, known as Poppy Peak, the peak after which the neighborhood is named. It is particularly notable because it contains both an excellent range of different approaches to Modernism as well as excellent examples in themselves of prewar and postwar custom designed houses by both well-known, international figures in Modernism, such as Richard Neutra and Harwell Hamilton Harris, as well as highly competent, but not well-known local practitioners of Modernism such as the aforementioned Cox, whose 1937 house shows an adept attention to a particular site, a feature of Modernist design but yet rendered in clearly individual and independent approach to Modernism. There are also examples on Poppy Peak of later mid-century work, including four houses by the internationally known Case Study House architects Buff, Straub and Hensman, and fine examples of the period by Lyman Ennis (USC), Leland Eivson (USC; who moved and altered a Harris house in 1951), Kenneth Nishimoto (USC), Alexander Pyper, James Pulliam, and William Henry Taylor. All of these later architects were active in the Pasadena/San Gabriel and Los Angeles chapters of the A.I.A. Neutra’s 1955 house here for Dr. Constance Perkins, an art history professor at Occidental College, became the City’s first Historic Treasure (now called a Historic Monument)"

Among his innovations are applied patents for a mechanical modular storage and retrieval system for autos, and a windmill prototype that still remains under development.

Lyman also wrote extensively about progressive social issues, and was deeply concerned about the form of urban development. He published a 3-part series in the local AIA newsletter that made the argument for Land Value taxation in order to productively use urban land instead of land-banking it in surface parking lots. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 are posted here) They are based upon the concept of ethical and effective use of urban land. Further discussion of this concept is posted here, and explains the legal ramifications of this approach.

For this reason, I got Lyman and a few of our other architects involved in a "Mobilization of the Human Family" symposium set up by John Cobb in early 2001 for a discussion of this form of taxation. The intent was to create a white paper for a system of taxes that would balance the needs of the common good with a fair tax system, and new taxes on pollution and depletion of resources. This was triggered by the regressive taxation policies of the Bush administration that began to grow the divide between the wealthy and the middle class. Discussion of this issue was moving apace, until the land value tax existing in Pittsburgh at that time was repealed in the spring. John has since moved on with larger visions of a theology of ecology and the writings of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. His many books, articles and symposiums framing "new economics" have also been included in the series, "An Introduction to Ecological Economics".