Charles Willard Moore was a postmodern innovator, an architect who pushed the envelope with the use of loud colors and unconventional materials.
Born in Benton Harbor in 1925, Moore was highly educated, beginning with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Michigan, where he enrolled at age 16. He went on to earn a master’s of fine arts from Princeton, a Ph.D. in architecture from Princeton and a post-doctorate fellowship in architecture also from Princeton. He studied with Ecoletrained Jean Labatut, the Milanese architect Enrico Peressutti and American architect Louis Kahn.
It was clear very early, his absolute love and dedication to architecture. His doctoral dissertation on water and architecture became the basis of a later book about the role of fountains in public spaces. While still in school, he designed and built a home for his mother in Pebble Beach, California. He established relationships with life-long friends, collaborators and fellow students including Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, Jr., Richard Peters and Hugh Hardy.
"Working within the existing context"
During his education and early career, he distanced himself from the purity of the popular International Style and instead focused on architecture that was historicist and contextual. His goal was to work within the existing context and to enhance its essential character.
After completing his education in 1959, he became a professor at the University of California in Berkeley. He was the distinguished dean of the Yale School of Architecture from 1965-1970. His educational career continued at the University of California in Los Angeles and the University of Texas at Austin.
Moore was known for his outgoing, gregarious and engaging personality that complemented his innovative, unconventional and one-of-a-kind designs.
Following his scholarly career, Moore established an architectural firm in New Haven, Connecticut. He collaborated with a wide and unusual variety of colleagues and traveled extensively.
His lively design features became known far and wide, with some saying they bordered on kitsch. He used loud color combinations, wild graphics and unconventional materials including plastic, platinum tiles and neon signs. His home in New Haven was featured in Playboy, picturing an open, freestanding shower with a sunflower showerhead.
Moore also was a prolific author, publishing 12 books during his career, including “Body, Memory and Architecture” with Kent Bloomer and “Chambers for a Memory Palace” with Donlyn Lyndon.
Moore’s ambitious body of work includes the influential Sea Ranch Condominium Project in Sonoma County, California in 1965. Sea Ranch attracted acclaim for its pitched-roof, redwood-clad houses set into dramatic cliffs. The development became a prototype for many suburban
communities across the country. Other notable projects include the Beverly Hills (California) Civic Center, the University of Michigan’s Lurie Tower, the Bank of America in Celebration, Florida and the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington.
His best-known work may be the Piazza de Italia in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he created a map of Italy out of marble and concrete paving stones, surrounded by curved walls with colonnades and arches made of metal panels, stucco and neon lights. Like much of his architecture, it is a combination of ancient architecture and modern design elements. Functionality coupled with parody and irony.
Time Magazine called Moore’s Beverly Hills Civic Center one of the best designs of 1990. In this, Moore linked a series of new and existing buildings with elliptical and round spaces lined on a diagonal axis. Experts label his design “ingenious,” with geometrical spaces defined by a mixture of pavement patterns, fountains, wall surfaces and screens of palm trees.
His home and studio in Austin, Texas attracted much attention, and rightfully so.
Lawrence Biemiller wrote: “It's probably safe to say that few architects were more clever, or more fun.” About the Austin home Moore bought in 1984, “He transformed the house into an astonishing spatial and visual wonderland.”
His work was called “playful, full of drama and surprise.” He had the amazing ability to transform historical architecture into work relevant to the modern world.
Moore was a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and winner of the AIA Gold Medal in 1991 for outstanding contributions to the profession, known to be the pr0fession’s highest honor.
Moore died in 1993 at age 68. The Charles W. Moore Foundation was established in 1997 in Austin, Texas to preserve Moore's last home and studio.