Riley Explores Design at Alma Mater

Published on November 8th, 2011

Jefferson B. Riley, FAIA, received the Distinguished Alumnus Award recently from Greenwich Country Day School, an independent pre-K through ninth grade school in Greenwich, Connecticut. As honoree, he gave a presentation last month to the students about architects, explaining who they are, what they do, and how they do it. He took the students on an illustrated history of architectural design from ancient Rome to Michelangelo, Thomas Jefferson, Julia Morgan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Charles Moore, Zaha Hadid, and Jeanne Gang, among many others.

As images of a Palladian villa or Saarinen’s curvaceous buildings appeared, Riley engaged the students in examining the various approaches and movements that have influenced architecture through the centuries, explaining the difference between a “Pursuit of Happiness” approach to design and a “Discovery of Joy” approach. “Architects believe, above all else,” he said, “in the power of architecture to tell stories about us, to convey our values and aspirations, and to lift our spirits.” He stressed how a building’s sociability, its response to its site and circumstance, the care it takes of the earth‘s resources, its sense of the handmade and craft, its ornament and symbols are all critical to creating places that become beloved. “The act of drawing by hand is crucial,” he added, “to the art of making architecture, especially in the age of the computer.”

Riley, a founding partner of Centerbrook Architects and also recipient of the 1999 Distinguished Achievement Award from his collegiate alma mater, Lawrence University, addressed how architects touch all of our daily lives in many ways by designing not just buildings but landscapes, bridges, furniture, and even cars, boats, cutlery, and tea kettles. The future for architects, he predicted, would involve more intensive sustainable design, large scale urban plans, the ability to make almost any shape imaginable – but combined with a renewed call for simplicity, restraint, and human scale, and more participation by women.

Founded in 1926, Greenwich Country Day School has an enrollment of 800 students. Previous alumni of the year have included President George H.W. Bush, Frederick B. Dent, and author Peter Matthiessen.