Williams, A. Richard (1914-2016) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Williams, A. Richard (1914-2016)

Historical Note:

A. Richard "Dick" Williams (1914-2016) was a professor at the University of Illinois's School of Architecture from 1946-1970 and a visiting professor of architecture at the University of Arizona from 1988-2016.  During his long and distinguished career, Professor Williams established the Mid-Continent Modern style of architecture, which was characterized by minimalist simplicity, functional pragmatism, and environmental harmony.  Williams was critical of the "vapid and pretentious" vanities of high modernism and postmodern architectural styles; he instead advocated a modest style of modern design that was in dialogue with nature.  This style was reflected in many of his designs, including the College of Education Building on the University of Illinois's Urbana-Champaign campus, which earned him the prestigious American Institute of Architects' Honor Award. Williams received numerous awards and accolades during his seventy-seven year career. He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and in 2013, the Design Futures Council recognized him with its Most Admired Educator Award.

A. Richard Williams was born in Evanston, Illinois, on September 23, 1914.  His family moved to Normal, Illinois, sometime before 1920.  Upon graduating from Normal's University High School in 1932, Williams enrolled in the University of Illinois's School of Architecture, where he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture with highest honors in 1936.  He then enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936.  Upon graduating from MIT in 1937 with a Master of Science degree in Architecture, Williams taught architectural design at Oklahoma State University.  He took a leave of absence from OSU in 1942 to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  During his service, Williams worked as a naval architect and helped design minesweepers in the Southwest Pacific fleet.  Williams was an avid sailor who eventually designed his own boats, including the 40-foot motor sailer Osimo.

Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1946, Williams joined the University of Illinois's School of Architecture as an assistant professor.  He was promoted to full professor in 1950 and professor emeritus in 1970.  During his tenure at Illinois, Williams served as the Director of the Graduate Architectural Design Program from 1957-1970.  As director, he spearheaded a series of collaborative projects in urban design, including redevelopment projects in Columbus, Indiana; and Kankakee, Bloomington, Champaign, Downers Grove, and Chicago, Illinois.  After retiring from the University of Illinois in 1970, Williams served as a visiting professor at numerous institutions, including the University of Arizona, the University of Wisconsin, Notre Dame University, Ohio State University, the University of Hawaii, and the American Academy in Rome.

As a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Williams was an internationally renowned architect who is recognized for pioneering what he termed the "Mid-Continent Modern" design aesthetic.  This aesthetic sought a "harmonics of humanity and nature" and is evident in the various residences and buildings Williams designed, including the College of Education Building (1963); the Second Appellate Court in Elgin, Illinois (1967); the Concordia Seminary Library in Springfield, Illinois (1969); and the St. Ignace Public Library in Michigan (2006), among others.

Williams authored several articles and two books. Williams recounted his life experiences in his second book, Archipelago: Critiques of Contemporary Architecture and Education (2009).  A. Richard Williams died on May 26, 2014, at the age of 101 years old.

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