Turned Out in Black

Victor Burgin didn’t make it to Cooper Union’s Great Hall last weekend. But in a eulogy read by writer Leslie Dick, the British artist delivered some of the most moving and insightful words in a banner memorial reflecting on the life, work, and curious beachgoing habits of Anthony Vidler, the master architectural scholar who died in October at 82. “When we speak of friends we’ve lost,” said Burgin (via Dick), “we speak inevitably of ourselves.” The English-born Vidler’s singular impact on architectural culture—through his long deanship at Cooper and years of teaching at universities across the US; through his books and essays, which unearthed the lost links between the eighteenth century and early modernism; and through his many friendships in every corner of the profession—was evident both in the auditorium and at the lectern, where practitioners followed academics and back again. From Peter Eisenman, who spoke of Vidler as both “his first student” at Cambridge and his “last teacher” later in life, to Beatriz Colomina, who recounted the shock of discovering Vidler’s work after leaving behind the “totally non-Anglo-American” intellectual climate of Barcelona, to Nader Tehrani, who recalled his fellow Cooper dean’s personal kindness and generous scotch pour, the late historian himself became the subject of an impromptu oral history, a process that took nearly three hours to complete. If, as Burgin suggested, many of the lengthy reminiscences were closer to autobiography, well, such is the nature of memory. So I’ll add my own: He was a wonderful teacher, intimidating as hell yet endlessly forbearing and always, always impeccably turned out in black Prada. It was hardly surprising to learn that he even wore it to the beach or that he was loved by so many.