Had you met Jerry Lomax while waiting in line at a movie or sitting next to him on a plane, what you would have immediately noticed about him that he was obviously a very nice person. In a quiet, slightly rumbling voice, he might have chatted with you about the movie you were about to see or asked if you had previously visited the city that was your airplane’s destination. He’d have asked for your story and listened attentively before sharing a deeply redacted version of his own. His smile as you talked would have been easy, warm, and open. The twinkle in his eyes would have told you that your most precious possession was safe with him, be it a secret family recipe or a newborn baby.
If you admitted to having more than a passing interest in architecture, he might have told you about his having been stationed in Japan at the end of World War II and how the architecture he saw there ignited a fire inside of him about design detail, symmetry, and the integrity of materials that remained lit for as long as he worked. He would have walked you gently through recent architectural history by sharing stories of some of the giants of modernism as seen through the eyes of his teachers. The names of men like Richard Lilliot Jr., Donald Barthelme, Sr., and Howard Barnstone would have been mentioned, doubtless along with some specific thing that each one of them had taught him that he still used in his work. He might have referred to his early and ongoing admiration for the work of Saarinen, Wright, and Mies—single-named dwellers in the 20th century architectural Pantheon. And he'd have talked easily about the many current practitioners whose work he respected.
It would have been likely that it never occurred to you that the dapper older gentleman standing or sitting next to you had once either designed or helped to create some of the most iconic modernist architecture in America, a style of design that, although often diluted into seeming insignificance by clueless builders, still informs many of the best examples in that category of architecture as it is practiced today. What he would never have told you was that he was himself considered one of the overlooked masters of the Case Study Houses experiment—that touchstone of midcentury modern residential architecture.
His work in the years following his near-decade with Craig Ellwood, whose studio was considered to have turned out projects that were comparable to the output of Stravinsky and Picasso, exhibited the same sense of rigor and severe rationality of those who were responsible for his early inspiration, but it evolved away from those examples in significant ways. His later work often consisted of large rather visually dense volumes which he would carve – inside and out – to create new spaces and add needed light. And the amount of light that his projects captured told an important story about how he felt about those who would inhabit or use his structures: even after sometimes employing many running feet of window walls, the light in his designs never blasted the interior spaces: they blessed them.
You might think it odd to feature the work of an architect who passed away more than five years ago, who is mainly known to a select group of designers living mostly in one part of the country, and that issued almost entirely from sketches on yellow trace – not a software program – but there’s something about who Jerrold Ellsworth Lomax was as a person and a designer that truly speaks to the heart and soul of the profession of architecture. His buildings displayed the same degree of honesty and integrity that were hallmarks of both his character and his work. That work was always quietly marvelous; each detail revealing itself without fanfare or flare; it was up to the visitor to notice them, on their own, in their own time. His dear friend, former protégée, and senior associate at the time of his death, Karen Lesney, said of him that, over the breadth of his long career, he “worked a palette of minimalist modern ease into the function of commercial, industrial, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use projects”, and he did so to local and national award-winning acclaim.
He cared deeply about the practice of architecture, mentoring the people who worked with him, and satisfying his clients’ needs. As another former protégé and close friend, architect Zoltan Pali, FAIA, said about him, “Of course, he made it look easy. But Jerry worked hard and long,” and “he sweated all the details but never raised his voice.” And he sweated those details for nearly 60 years.
It’s my great pleasure and honor to present this page and its short video as TIM’s first legacies exhibit.