Like so many other freshmen, I showed up on the first day of the academic year at the Rice University School of Architecture for First Year Design Studio, thinking that we were there to get a professional credential. Instead, we found a master in Professor Elinor Evans.
The first experience of her studio was baffling and hard to accept: on the surface it seemed remote from the practice of architecture because the materials we used were so ephemeral — sticks, string and leaves, for example, and colored and patterned paper harvested from old magazines. There was no text, nothing to tell us what was coming next, nothing actually written down. Evans would state an assignment, an exquisitely designed conundrum — “What is the bluest blue?” she might propose, and while she might repeat it several times, no further explanation was given.
All of this had a purpose: to focus our attention and open our eyes — and our minds — to color, form, pattern and structure. Once the visual problem solving began, she demonstrated a remarkably perceptive, agile and joyful style of design criticism, which was based on a deep understanding and love of natural phenomena. She also plainly exuded a sense of personal integrity, one that seemed inseparable from everything she did as teacher. After a few classes, her proposed brief was no longer met with scrutiny but instead, with rapt attention and a deafening silence, followed by flurries of intense activity and deep introspection.
Photo © Frank White.
Elinor Evans, Professor Emerita, is an artist living in Houston, Texas where she taught and inspired generations of architecture students. She currently has an extraordinary exhibition of new collages and fiber works — Some Truths to Learn from Leaves — on view at Moody Gallery in Houston, as well as a show of her students' work on view at Architecture Center Houston. This robust body of work, excerpted in a brief slideshow here, testifies to one woman's remarkable breadth and capacity, revealed over decades upon decades of careful looking. And more remarkable still, Evans celebrated her 100th birthday on August 4th.