Architecture Professor Arthur Ovaska Dies at Age 67

students and faculty member talking in an architecture studio

Ovaska meets with students in L. P. Kwee Studios in 2012. William Staffeld / AAP

March 28, 2018

Associate professor of architecture Arthur Ovaska (B.Arch. '74) died on March 26 at his home in Ithaca. He was 67.

Ovaska served on the Cornell faculty for more than three decades and had an impact on generations of architecture students.

In 2005, as director of undergraduate studies, he helped AAP accommodate 36 Tulane University students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He also served as a faculty advisor to the Cornell chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students.

"Arthur was a graduate of the architecture program and a creative force in the department's rise to international prominence," Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning, wrote in a message to the AAP community. "But to many, he was known first and foremost as a remarkable teacher of extraordinary rigor, generosity, and kindness, and he will be sorely missed by the many individuals whose lives he shaped and enriched."

After receiving his undergraduate degree at Cornell, Ovaska began graduate architecture studies with his mentor, professor and department chair O. M. Ungers. From 1974 to 1978, he collaborated with Ungers in Ithaca and Köln, Germany, on speculative architectural projects including a trilogy, The Urban Block, The Urban Villa, and The Urban Garden. He also contributed to The City in the City: Berlin, A Green Archipelago, a 1977 manifesto by Ungers and architect Rem Koolhaas.

He founded the office of Kollhoff & Ovaska in Berlin in 1978 with Hans Kollhoff, a fellow collaborator on The City in the City. The studio produced numerous projects and built works, including buildings in the International Building Exhibition Berlin from 1984 to 1987 and the master plan for the 1987 exhibition site.

Ovaska left Berlin in 1987 to accept a full-time academic position at Cornell. His career included appointments as director of undergraduate studies, director of graduate studies, and chair of the Department of Architecture.

"Arthur was a most talented architect, a great educator, and a tireless advocate for students," said associate professor and chair of architecture Andrea Simitch (B.Arch. '79). "His work in Berlin established the qualitative bar for the IBA [International Building Exhibition Berlin]. He inspired generations of students with his passion for architecture and finding architecture in the most obscure and unexpected places. He embraced difference with unsurpassed generosity — students were celebrated for their individuality. His big-hearted spirit will be missed."

In 2012–13 Ovaska was a guest professor of architecture and urban research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg, Germany, concentrating on The City in the City. Over the years he also taught in Oxford, Syracuse, Berlin, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico.

"Arthur was part of a rare breed," said Professor Jerry Wells, "a talented teacher of architecture and an equally talented designer with a long resume of professional practice. The school will miss him, I will miss him, we will all miss him."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been shared.

By Dan Aloi, Cornell Chronicle

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