Frederic Kidder Houston
March 27th, 1936 – December 10th, 2020
Frederic Kidder Houston was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1936 to David and Virginia Houston. He attended St. Paul’s School, Trinity College (1959) and the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a Masters in Architecture (1962) under the tutelage of Robert Venturi and Louis Kahn.
Fred was introduced to Marie Sturges during graduate school when she was working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They were married two years later and moved to Buffalo. Fred worked first for Duane Lyman and then Robert Coles, before spending two years at City Hall in the Buffalo Department of Urban Renewal.
Together with Peter Castle, Mike Hamilton and Ted Lownie, he founded the architectural firm now known as HHL Architects in 1969. It could be argued that HHL brought modern architecture to Buffalo. The firm was founded as a response to those who dreamed of simpler spaces with clean lines and a contemporary aesthetic, at a time when there were few modern options available.
HHL thought of Buffalo as a city ripe for change, using masterpieces by Louis Sullivan, Eliel Saarinen and Frank Lloyd Wright as inspiration to continue the city’s evolution into the modern era. Fred wanted to implement the ideas burned into his mind while studying with Kahn and Venturi. He was not an iconoclast; he simply loved really good modern design. His projects were marked by clear spatial flow, filled with texture and color, and punctuated by chunky butcher block tables and bright Marimekko pillows.
His work won awards over the years, but he had a particular fondness for the AIA’s 1995 recognition of a sweeping arc inserted into the Albright Knox Art Gallery to expand the gift shop. While he talked most about his larger modern projects, he also loved working on historic buildings like the Butler Mansion on Delaware Avenue. He reveled in the renovation of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he advocated for repainting the ceiling cerulean blue with sparkling gold stars to represent the lofts of heaven.
He was Principal-in-Charge on projects for The Gow School, Western New York Psychiatric Center, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and the restoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Trinity Church, among others. Fred continued his work at HHL through 2002 and was the last surviving original partner.
He taught architecture at the University of Buffalo for nearly twenty years, ever enthusiastic about the creativity of his students and their ability to invigorate his love of the profession. He relished circulating through the studio, listening to students explain their work and offering critiques with a large dose of encouragement.
Fred was instrumental in founding the Landmark Society of Western New York, which was started out of a desire to preserve the Coit House, the oldest house in Buffalo. The Society continues today as a preservation organization with a mission to protect the unique architectural heritage of the region. He served on many boards throughout his career, including the Elmwood Franklin School, the International Institute, the Episcopal Church Home and the Salvation Army.
While people tend to focus on Fred’s civic accomplishments, his dynamic style was also trained on residential projects. He designed houses for several close friends, and other clients who became friends during the design process, a testament to his ability to press a vision while maintaining a humanity, kindness and understanding of his clients.
In 1970, he built his minimalist masterpiece – a weekend residence for his family in East Aurora on the edge of Cazenovia Creek. Anyone who visited in the winter will remember the remarkable sensation of walking barefoot on the carpeted radiant heated floors, while just a yard away snow blanketed the same plane outside. The house was a location for stylish pool parties with friends and long summer vacations with grandchildren.
Fred had other passions beyond architecture and his family. He enjoyed making an experience for people to remember. He loved people, parties, music, food and wine. He could happily sit through a 13-course meal, especially if it came with special wine pairings. In the summer he swam daily laps in the pool. In the winter, he took to ski slopes near and far with family and friends.
A natty dresser, his tie collection – bright colors and bold stripes – expressed his spirit in a blend of modern and classic with a punch of fun.
Fred died as result of complications from Covid-19. He is survived by his wife Marie, their children Ginny (Terry) Meenan and Tom (Amy) Houston and four grandchildren, Abby and Betsy Meenan and Nina and Henry Houston, and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brother David Minot Houston, Jr.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. Flowers gratefully declined. Memorial tributes may be made to the Salvation Army.