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Howard Meyer, Architect, Dies of Heart Attack
Architecture Critic, The Dallas Morning News
11 January 1988
Howard Meyer, one of Dallas' first and most accomplished modern architects, died Sunday of a heart attack at the age of 84.
Best-known for Temple Emanu-El and 3525 Turtle Creek, a high-rise apartment building, Meyer also designed numerous houses, schools and churches throughout Texas. Most of the buildings were in a soft, mellow style that blended modern technology with traditional forms and materials. Meyer was born in New York City in 1903 and graduated from Columbia University in the late 1920s, in the twilight of the Beaux-Arts tradition. After working briefly for the modernist William Lescaze and the eclectic Bertram Goodhue, Meyer and his wife, Schon, spent a year in Europe studying the work of Le Corbusier and other International Style architects. Meyer became an immediate and unwavering convert to modernism.
“Le Corbusier convinced me that the new forms had great meaning,” Meyer recalled in an interview. “He knew how to make geometry sing and could get more wit and charm out of a square than anyone.”
When Meyer came to Dallas he had to scramble for clients who were bold enough to flout convention.
“My first client was Eugene Sanger, recently married and somewhat adventurous,” Meyer recalled. He said, “All I want is a house that will last me 5 years. After that it can fall down. So I did a modern house for them on Jacotte Circle, with brick up to the second-floor windows, a low-pitched roof and a very open plan. And they lived in it longer than five years, too.”
The Sanger house was the first of many impressive residences that Meyer designed for Dallas' business elite, including Morris Zale and Ben Lipshy. They are typically low and spreading with broad sweeping roofs and interior spaces defined casually by columns, screens and shifts in elevation. Exteriors are finished in stone, brick and wood, the colors of mesas and sand dunes.
Meyer's most intricate and accomplished design is Temple Emanu-El, one of the finest art/architecture collaborations in the Southwest. Meyer commissioned Gyorgy Kepes, Anni Albers, wife of Bauhaus painter Josef Albers, and other artisans to design windows, screens and liturgical artifacts.
Even when his office was busiest, in the late 1940s and 1950s, Meyer rarely had more than 10 employees. This suited his desire to oversee every detail of a project as well as his need to practice architecture as an art rather than a business. His compulsiveness about details was a source of wonder — and occasional frustration — for his clients. In restoring the Lipshy-Clark house in Greenway Park, he lured a metalsmith out of retirement to stamp new pieces for the steel casement windows.
The restored Lipshy-Clark house won an award in 1983 from the Dallas Historic Preservation League.
“A lot of contemporary work is just too cute, a dead end,” he once said. “For some reason people want more definition in their spaces, more stylization. But stylization that gets away from structure is mere decoration.”
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