Obituary: Nolan Ellmore Barrick, FAIA (1913–2013) by Andrew Vernooy, AIA
In the late 1940s, the precise tectonics of modern architecture began to overtake the formal pedigree of the Beaux Arts canon. Most architecture programs transitioned to the clean, structurally driven idiom of Mies van der Rohe’s Lake Shore Drive apartments without glancing back to the strong, formal training of the Bauhaus. The destruction of World War II made this move a mere reflex; it was easy to cast aside artistic training in favor of the engineering required to rebuild the Western world. A young Nolan Barrick, FAIA (1913–2013) graduated from Rice University in 1937 and was a faculty member at Iowa State University and The University of Texas at Austin before joining the Texas Tech College of Engineering faculty and taking over as supervising architect of the university in 1953. As chair of the department of architecture, it was Barrick’s daunting task to reconcile the strong Beaux Arts traditions at Texas Tech with the strictly engineered intensions of the Modern Movement. Barrick’s slight stature was matched with an intense intellect and a quick wit. No one relished a summons to his office; yet he was, for 24 years, a passionate and relentless leader with a clear vision about the sophisticated balance of
PHOTOS COURTSEY CAROL HOWELL.
Barrick was, for 24 years, a passionate and relentless leader with a clear vision about the sophisticated balance of professional acumen and solid artistic training. professional acumen and solid artistic training. His legacy is the foundation of the Texas Tech College of Architecture today. During his tenure, if you taught at Texas Tech, you taught freehand drawing. Students were required to take four semesters of drawing, which was seen as the key to fluid design thinking. They were also required to take sculpture, pottery, and life drawing. With art woven intensely throughout the program, one might have expected less time for teaching the technical aspects of architecture. Not a chance. Barrick’s strong sense of the profession of architecture, his belief in the fundamental facts
of construction, and his passion for the art of making buildings remain the hallmarks of the Texas Tech curriculum. Barrick was a leader who allowed and encouraged the co-existence of the nobler aesthetic traditions of architectural education and the modern technical aspirations of the profession. He could act upon each with vision, and he could communicate the balance of those visions to faculty and students alike. Throughout his life, Barrick loved the profession of architecture. He loved its institutions, its practice, and his graduates — more than a thousand during his tenure. Many an alumnus was surprised to find that the formidable executive of their education became a tender and sincere friend upon graduation. He had done his job, and he was justly proud of their accomplishments. He treated them as equals — fellow members of his chosen profession. He was elevated to Fellowship in the AIA in 1973. While retired, he never stopped believing in architecture, its unique balance of art and technology, its unique ability to serve the client and the environment, and its unique ability to “transform thought into reality.” I believe in Nolan Barrick’s vision. It has become the legacy that I serve, and I am proud of it. My thanks to Dudley Thompson, former dean of the College of Architecture at Texas Tech, for his recollections.
E. Barrick is pictured on the USS Blue Ridge in 1943 during World War II. Below A portrait of Barrick taken in 1988.
Andrew Vernooy, AIA, is dean of the College of Architecture at Texas Tech University.
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