In October 1943, during the Blitz, an incendiary bomb destroyed the House of Commons Chamber in London. A debate over its restoration centered on whether to adopt a semi-circular design, as was characteristic of many legislative chambers. Winston Churchill, whose opinion prevailed, argued that the original rectangular configuration, whereby opposing parties were face to face, was responsible for Britain’s two-party system and the essence of its parliamentary democracy. “We shape our buildings” he argued, “and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
On January 17, 2017, preservation architect Ted Lownie died suddenly and tragically just as he was nearing the end of his decades-long quest to restore the Darwin Martin House to its original grandeur. Long before any of those now heralded as champions of its restoration, Ted knew what the derelict building on Jewett Parkway could mean to this community. Why else would he spend years scouring for the right brick or the right glaze for a mosaic tile? His approach was the same at the Roycroft, Kleinhans, the Nash House and the many other buildings to which he applied his gifts. He lived his professional life articulating through his work what Churchill knew. For him, the way in which people live is shaped, in no small measure, by the buildings that surround them.
One need only look to the remarkable transformation of this community’s psyche that has accompanied its embrace of its once scorned “old buildings.” Ted understood.
It is his gift to us that we will find solace and inspiration in so many “old” buildings and thereby remember this wonderful, kind and gentle man. Thank you, Ted.