A recent portrait of Bill Stern, FAIA, and a photo taken of Bill and his basset in 1992 outside of the home Bill designed for himself and his family in Houston.
William F. Stern, FAIA: 1947–2013 by Rives Taylor, FAIA
If I could use only one word to describe Bill Stern, it would be “caring.” He cared about architecture,
The practice and art of architecture in the United States has been propelled in its history by the small-firm practitioner — an individual with a small team of colleagues whose combined influence far exceeds a sometimes modest body of work. Typically, this mentoring individual passes on not only passion for consummate design, but also a zeal for community engagement and a dedication to education and selfless professional contribution. Houston witnessed the passing of just such an individual in early March of 2013. After a very brief illness, Bill Stern, FAIA, as so many of us across the region knew him — passionate advocate of urban planning, design, and
All who worked for Bill either grew as a result of — or chafed at — his rigor of design. HEADSHOT COURTESY ERIC HESTER; PORCH IMAGE COURTESY DAVID BUCEK, FAIA
fine arts — has left Texas a far better place with his 36 years of design rigor, public advocacy and engagement, and, yes, often passionate leadership in numerous Houston community organizations. and posthumously recognized his lifetime contributions to our community of architects and their clients. The Contemporary Arts Museum, to which Bill contributed both as a board member and as a designer — his firm, Stern and Bucek Architects, designed a new campus approach in collaboration with landscape architect Laurie Olin — recognized him at its recent Gala. Bill also sat on the Menil Collection’s board. One of his most highly prized appointments, he received it after he and his partner David Bucek, FAIA, restored the Phillip
urban planning (or the lack thereof), design both good and bad, education, art, and his friends and colleagues. More than once, I answered the phone to hear a voice saying, “How can they do this?” It would be Bill upset about a poorly designed project or another offensive action. He never took the expedient solution to a problem; he never lied to promote his position. In short, Bill Stern was the conscience of architecture for all of us involved in the built environment. Bill accomplished something to which many aspire but few achieve: he made a difference! — Raymond Brochstein
Our home has great bones. Our interior decoration is minimal because our home itself is more beautiful than anything we could put inside of it. Bill Stern gave a lot of thought to details like the windows. They open toward the ground so when it rains, the water flows down. Our bedroom feels like a tree house, because Bill worked so hard to keep existing trees. He was a terrific architect and a dear friend. — Andrea White
AIA Houston rapidly
Bill cut the figure of the quintessential old-school architect: all Harris tweed and bow ties. He had seemingly read everything and been everywhere, including a visit to Roman ruins in Libya in 2011 just 10 days before the revolution started. He amassed one of the most exquisite art collections in the country, and yet he was in some ways completely modest, driving a succession of Saabs until
John-designed Menil family house in River Oaks, to critical acclaim. Bill’s memorial service was hosted by the institution, on April 29, in its lobby that has seen so many notable gatherings. The visitation in his home, hosted by his family, was indicative of the love and respect the design and client community had for Bill. For more than five hours, his signature house was filled not with overt grief and the sad recognition of his passing, but rather with a celebration of his contributions and his firm’s work. Bill’s dedicated clients, his University of Houston College of Architecture students, and his former design team members attested to his wide-reaching influence. All who worked for Bill either grew as a result of — or chafed at — his rigor of design; I recall learning about the joinery of architecture and the focus on detail with Bill. His sharp nature often came through as he tackled new challenges: working for Bill in the mid-1980s, I was repeatedly impressed by the resolute approach this Harvardtrained architect took to the introduction of the computer to both the design and business side of his then-single practitioner practice. When I worked with Bill and his two partners 20 years later to teach them the intricacies of LEED and the subsequent LEED AP studies, he was the consummate scholar; he wanted to “get it all perfect.” With more than 25 design awards to their credit, Stern and Bucek was recognized in 2009 as the AIA Houston Firm of the Year. To the credit of Bill and David Bucek’s vision, their highly respected firm will continue to practice. The firm’s remaining two principals, David Bucek and Daniel Hall, will no doubt continue the excellent design legacy dedicated to new construction, adaptive reuse, renovation, and historic preservation.
the wheels fell off. — Herman Dyal, FAIA Rives Taylor, FAIA, is principal at Gensler in Houston.
Texas Architect 11