Norbert Schoenauer

Resolution on the death of Professor Emeritus Norbert Schoenauer, 1923-2001

Please read PDF icon School's tribute to Norbert.

Professor Emeritus Norbert Schoenauer died on August 7, 2001, following a brief illness. He was a colleague, friend, and mentor to many, and his death marked the end of a distinguished career that spanned more than forty years at the McGill School of Architecture. Norbert was born in 1923 in Transylvania, and studied in Budapest and Copenhagen before obtaining his M.Arch. at McGill in 1959. He joined the faculty of the School in 1960, was appointed Assistant Professor in 1961 and served as Director of the School in the early 1970's. Except for a sabbatical and a two-year leave of absence between 1975 and 1977, when he served as Executive Director of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation in Ottawa, he taught continuously until his death.

Norbert served the University and the community as a teacher, researcher, administrator, and advocate for responsible planning and design. His courses at McGill were legendary, particularly History of Housing, one of the faculty's largest courses. His lectures were insightful and meticulously planned, and presented a combination of scholarship and personal observation, making the subject both accessible and entertaining to generations of students. When Norbert received the Faculty of Engineering Class of '51 Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1988, his students cited his creativity and the unique capacity of his courses to inspire re-interpretation.

Norbert was appointed Macdonald Professor of Architecture from 1982 until his retirement from full-time teaching in 1988, at which time he was appointed Emeritus Professor. He celebrated his retirement in characteristically unconventional ways - with his continuous presence and active participation in the academic and social life of the School, with the uninterrupted teaching of his specialized courses in housing and housing theory, with sustained and even increased participation in public consultations and debate on issues such as Benny Farm and the MUHC, and with the publication of a host of articles and no fewer than four more books on housing.

Between his first book, The Court-Garden House, written with Stanley Seeman (1962), and one of his most recent, Cities, Suburbs, Dwellings, which he was editing for republication just days before his death, are dozens of other books, chapters and articles that confirm his international pre-eminence in the field of housing, and his role in establishing McGill as an internationally recognized centre of research and teaching. His three-volume 6000 Years of Housing, published in 1981, is certainly his most important work, and was translated into Spanish and Japanese in the 1980's. The book was updated and republished by Norton in 2000, and is recognized as a classic.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy, and his professional memberships included the Order of Architects of Quebec, the Corporation professionelle des urbanistes du Québec, and the Canadian Institute of Planners. In addition to his two-year term as Executive Director, he served CMHC as Senior Advisor on Planning and Design, and represented Canada on numerous missions for the U. N. and other international organizations.

His involvement in practice, as both architect and planner, was as distinguished as his teaching and was recognized with numerous awards. Projects carried out in association with the well-known firm of Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold and Sise included the Chomedey Civic Centre and the Confederation Memorial Building in Charlottetown, both of which won first prize in national competitions in the early 60's. Norbert was especially proud of the work he did with long-time partner Maurice Desnoyers on the Master Plan and Housing for the new town of Fermont, Quebec, a project which continues to receive broad international recognition.

Norbert's scholarship and high standards in teaching, research and practice have always served as models for students and colleagues alike. He was a particularly strong ally of our international graduate students, and his remarkable accessibility to students and colleagues was in some ways his greatest contribution to the life of the School. Here one discovered the great teacher, always ready with advice and criticism, his office door never closed, the chair opposite his desk always occupied by a student, a former student, a colleague, a visitor, all benefiting from his experience and wisdom and undivided attention.

Norbert was recently honoured by the Order of Architects of Quebec with La Medaille du Mérite for 1995, and by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture with a Distinguished Professor Award in March 1999. Just months before his death, he learned that his alma mater, the Technical University of Budapest, intended to recognize him with an honorary Doctorate (Artes Liberales), which was to be conferred next year.

Friends and family who had the good fortune to spend some time with him in the last few weeks of his life will always remember the extraordinary grace and courage with which he faced this difficult time; his great dignity, his zest for life and wonderful sense of humour, and his lifelong passion for architecture never deserted him. Norbert will be remembered in many different ways, through his built work and his books, in the memories of long conversations in his office and in the corridors of the university, and in the hearts and minds of the hundreds, even thousands, of students whose lives he touched.

Presented by David Covo to the Faculty of Engineering.


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