Happy Birthday, Stanislawa Nowicki!
Summary: Retired architecture educator Stanislawa “Siasia” Nowicki is celebrating her 95th birthday at the end of April, says her son, Paul. He has reached out to AIArchitect to share the news and to encourage former students, colleagues, and acquaintances of this “Grand Dame” of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania to surprise her with good wishes for a very special birthday. Still as famously sharp and elegant as former students vividly recall, she is living in Norwich, Vt., in the only home she ever designed in this country.
“I think she’s always wondered whether she has done a good job or not,” Paul says of Mrs. Nowicki, who received an AIA Medal in Education in 1978. That question is summarily answered by a number of her former students and acquaintances, whose positive emotions speak to the influence Nowicki had on their architecture education. Nowicki developed the basic design course at the University of Pennsylvania. For many of the students, it was their first frontier in the entry to the design profession.
“She was the most inspiring teacher I ever had in architecture,” says Jack Thrower, FAIA, principal, Bower Lewis Thrower Architects, Philadelphia. At Penn I went through all the graduate courses. Lou was of course a high point, but no one was as inspiring as Siasia. She made you want to please her.”
Nowicki, regarded as an extraordinary teacher, skilled graphic artist, drafter, and designer, devoted most of her life to teaching the fundamental principles of design and their relationship to architecture. She served the students of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Fine Arts for more than 25 years. “To start Day One with Siasia was a wonderful thing … She left an indelible mark on me,” says Richard Farley, FAIA, principal, architectural projects, KlingStubbins, Philadelphia, and an educator at Penn. Like many of his classmates, he vividly describes how Nowicki, with quick dispense, could as easily take an eager architecture student into her fold as know the one piece of his model that would fell it.
Undergraduate students remember visiting Nowicki in her Villanova home, a carriage house that exhibited the same principles of the care and purpose of design she consistently exuded in her classroom. “She was our first connection to the life of a designer,” Farley recalls. Nowicki’s example would demonstrate through life and art the “totality of design in your life,” Farley says.
Students also recall studio projects that challenged them to work with graphic and abstract forms, such as using the alphabet in abstract, or cutting wood pieces to see how edges would relate to one another. “Siasia taught by simply demanding the best of her students. She would never speak harshly. She would simply make you realize that you could do better and that would take you to the next step,” Thrower says. He says it was an equal thrill to be with her in class as to be a colleague. “She never stopped teaching those around her.”
History of excellence
Nowicki was born in Pultusk, Poland, in 1912. According to a biography prepared when she received the AIA medal in 1978, she received her master’s degree in architecture from the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute in 1938. She married Mathiew Nowicki, a young architect of extraordinary talent, who became known throughout the world before his untimely death in a plane crash in 1950. In the mid-1930s, she won a scholarship offered by the French government and spent a year in the Atelier of Le Corbusier in Paris. She was awarded the Gold Medal and Grand Prix in Graphic Arts at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937.
After World War II, Nowicki co-authored a plan for the rebuilding of Warsaw. The Nowickis came to the U.S. after Mathiew was named the Polish representative of the design team for the United Nations buildings. The couple moved to Raleigh, where they joined the architecture faculty at the North Carolina State University. G. Holmes Perkins, dean at the University of Pennsylvania, persuaded her to move north to join the new faculty he was assembling at the school, where she served from 1951 through 1962 and from 1963 until her retirement in 1977.
“Her influence is very fresh, and I think about her often,” says Sherman Aronson, AIA, associate, Bower Lewis Thrower Architects. The AIA sends best wishes for a hearty celebration, good health, and happiness with the arrival of spring and Stanislawa Nowicki’s 95th year.