Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Architect Leonard Parker, 88, designed Minnesota landmarks

Leonard Parker, an award-winning Minnetonka architect who designed many well-known public buildings in Minnesota and other civic structures around the world, died of lymphoma Monday. He was 88.

Parker and his firm, Leonard Parker Associates, designed the University of Minnesota's Mondale Hall, which houses the law school, and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. They also designed the Minneapolis Convention Center and, in St. Paul, the Minnesota Judicial Center and Minnesota Public Radio's headquarters. Parker's 50-year career also included designs of the South Korea embassy in Ottawa and the U.S. embassy in Santiago, Chile.

"All kinds of people in the construction industry can put up buildings," Parker, whose Minneapolis-based firm is now known as Parker Design International, told the University of Minnesota Alumni Association for a 2005 article. "But we architects don't just build buildings. We create works of art."

After earning a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Parker worked in Michigan for six years with famed modern architect Eero Saarinen, who designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Christ Church Lutheran in South Minneapolis. It was with Saarinen that Parker learned the ethos he brought to architecture, said his son B. Aaron Parker, a fellow architect.

"He would exhaustively examine design alternatives at the beginning of the design process," B. Aaron Parker said. "He was thorough and exacting in his follow-through

and having the details the way they were supposed to be."
Parker won hundreds of awards, including the American Institute of Architects Fellowship and the Gold Medal from the group's Minnesota chapter. When it was built in 1978, the U's law school building incorporated one of the first known large-scale "green" roofs in Minnesota, B. Aaron Parker said.

Parker, a 1948 University of Minnesota graduate, taught architecture at his alma mater for 34 years.

"Few people have had as big an impact on the School of Architecture as Leonard Parker," said Thomas Fisher, dean and professor in the College of Design. "For decades, he ran a successful architectural practice and taught as an adjunct in the school, showing generations of students not only how to become skilled designers, but also how to work in ways that would help ensure their own success in the profession."

Parker's ambition to become an architect started at age 14 after he and a friend biked from their hometown of Milwaukee to Racine, Wis., according to the U of M Alumni Association article. The destination was a building his friend wanted to see.

"I didn't care about the building," Parker said in 2005. "But I thought riding a bike to Racine sounded good!"

After six hours and 45 miles, Parker and his friend arrived at the Johnson Wax headquarters, whose iconic building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

"I'd never seen a building like that," Parker said. "It was incredible! The building engineer showed us around, and he spoke of Mr. Wright with such deference. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to design buildings like this and have people talk about you with such respect!' I made up my mind right there. I was going to be an architect."

Services for Parker will be held at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. LINK

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