Architect Edgar Tafel's $3.8M gift will endow architecture professorship and lecture series

June 16, 2011

Edgar Tafel, a noted architect, former visiting instructor, and, before his death in January, is one of the last surviving members of Frank Lloyd Wrights Taliesin Fellowship, has made a $3.8 million gift through his estate to AAP. The gift establishes the Edgar A. Tafel Professorship in Architecture and the Edgar A. Tafel Lecture Series.

Tafels gift comes at an ideal time for the college, as the architecture department launches its newly accredited graduate program and expands its intellectual territory with the addition of new faculty. Funding for professorships and visiting critics is one of the highest philanthropic priorities of the college, and through new hires made possible by gifts like Tafels, the college will continue its leadership in architectural and design education.

Edgars gift is a profound expression of trust in our commitment to offer the very best education for future generations of AAP students, says Dean Kent Kleinman. We are deeply grateful for his support and thoughtful planning.

As a member of the Taliesin Fellowship, Tafel served as project architect for many of Wrights most famous buildings, including Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, the Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, and Herbert F. Johnsons residence, Wingspread. He also authored two books on Wright.

Tafel had his own architectural practice in New York City from 1945 to 1986, where he designed 80 homes, 35 religious buildings, and three college campuses. He served on his local community planning board and was president of the Washington Square Association, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and an associate of the National Academy of Design.

Tafels connection to Cornell came through a personal relationship with Robert Silman 56, a member of AAPs Advisory Council. They met when Silmans engineering firm in New York City was hired to restore Wingspread.

That was the beginning of a very interesting friendship, recalls Silman, whose firm has been involved in restoring 10 of Wrights buildings, including Fallingwater. When he was in his mid-90s, Tafel mistakenly paid his New York City property tax bill twice. He went to Silman for assistance, and that led to a series of conversations between them about Tafels plans for his estate. He didn't want to talk about his estate, Silman said. He really needed prodding and pushing. Tafel had no heirs or formal will, only a commitment to support architecture through nonprofit organizations.

When Silman told Tafel about Cornells highly ranked and well-regarded architecture program, Tafel decided to make a charitable gift of his brownstone home in New York City, and divide the gift between Cornell and the University of Illinois, where he had lectured on occasion.    

After making the decision to leave the house to the two institutions, Tafel lived happily ever after, Silman said. He wanted the proceeds [of his estate] to support the cause of architecture, and this is a wonderful way to honor him.

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