The exceptional emotions
evoked by the untimely death of Professor Robert G. Mather on July 7,
1984, at the prime of his scholarship at the University and the coalescence
of all his contributions to the City of Austin, have left this memorial
resolution languishing on the chair's desk for thirteen years after
being assigned to this committee by President William Cunningham in
the fall of 1986. By the fall of 1987, eighty-three pages of text and
appendices were completed but, of course, such an unwieldy length would
have taken away too many trees to distribute to the entire University
faculty. That long version is now available on file in the Office of
the General Faculty, and what follows is a summary of Professor Mather's
Robert G. (Bob) Mather was a wonder to us all. The extent and depth
of his intellectual inquiries were legendary, but it was only after
his untimely demise that the full dimensions of Bob's rich and varied
background began to take shape for those of us who survived him.
Bob Mather was born April 4, 1921, in Plainfield, Illinois, to Catherine
Retz and Asa Frisbee Mather. His father, who was a World War I veteran
and a salesman of farm implements and Buicks, died when Bob was fifteen
years old, leaving Bob and his brother, Richard, to be raised by their
strong mother, who was a nutritionist. The family of three moved from
Plainfield to Pasadena, California, where they temporarily lived with
Catherine's sister Jeanette.
The Pasadena environment, especially his exposure to the Greene and
Greene designed houses in his neighborhood, seems to have sparked an
interest in art and architecture, because after he graduated from John
Muir High School in 1939, Bob enrolled in art classes at Pasadena Junior
College. There he completed his associate arts degree in 1942, just
five months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In Bob's own words: "During World War II, I was classified â4E, Conscientious
Objector,' assigned to alternative service under civilian direction."
As a CO he served as a subject for medical research and worked in various
building trades. With characteristic irony, Bob and his brother referred
to this time as "educational" and valued the associates they encountered,
among them Aldous Huxley. Bob also became intrigued with the ideals
of the Quakers, which he absorbed and carried with him throughout his
After his release from detention at the end of the war, Bob took graphics
courses at the Art Center School in Los Angeles until his acceptance
into the architecture program at the Illinois Institute of Technology
in the fall of 1946. Thus began his formal training under the "Father
of the International Style," German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
While the rigidity of the program at IIT was not to Bob's liking, its
rigor led to his discipline in drawing, creativity in graphics, and
the understanding of integrity and efficiency of structure.
In his first year at IIT, Bob met an Antioch College political economics
student, Jean Neville Allen (1925-), and they began working together
on projects in their coed cooperative dormitory. Shortly thereafter
they were married. Jean completed her bachelor of arts degree in 1949
and went to work while Bob finished his architecture degree, with the
tacit agreement that after graduation he would work while she engaged
in a master's program.
During Bob's studies at IIT, the curriculum was extended from four to
five years. At the same time, he took a year off to attend to family
matters. Thus his graduation date, when he finally received his bachelor
of architecture degree, was delayed until 1952. However, the unexpected
and postponed fifth year turned into a blessing, because it provided
Bob with unanticipated opportunities to engage in studies of city and
regional planning, an area that became a major interest in his career
and landed him his first real job.
In 1952, when the Mathers moved to Cambridge so that Jean could enroll
in Harvard University's graduate program in landscape architecture,
Bob sought a job in which he could gain experience with large-scale
projects. With the planning option on his resumÌ, Bob found work in
Boston with the Planning Division of the Massachusetts Development Commission,
working on the shoreline of Cape Cod. From this work came two major
publications: Ocean Beaches: A Massachusetts Master Plan Report,
1954, and Past, Plan, Promise in Barnstable County: A Study of the
Economic Specialization on Cape Cod,
1955 (with J. Turley). Both
of these reports were published by the commission, and the latter also
appeared as an article in Shore and Beach, the Journal of the American
Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
In 1955, Bob joined The Architects Collaborative, whose principle partner
was Walter Gropius, in their Bow Street office in Cambridge. He worked
on the firm's U.S. Air Force contracts: the Master Plan, and Family
Housing for Otis Air Force Base, Cape Cod. (The chair of this In Memoriam
committee joined TAC and met Bob in the fall of 1955.) After six months,
Bob had tired of military regulations and planning, and looked for a
smaller office in which to attain some purer architectural experience.
He went to work for James L. Harris, architect, and was afforded gratification
creating preliminary design studies and presentation and production
When Jean completed her master's degree in landscape architecture in
1956, they began to plan a future of working together. With their mutual
interest in helping developing countries, they went to New York City
to visit the United Nations. However, their idealistic aspirations were
quickly thwarted as they encountered the bureaucracy of that ponderous
organization (this was long before the Peace Corps came into being).
Discouraged, but not disheartened, they decided to explore the world
on their own, and searched for a way to travel as far as possible on
the four thousand dollars they had somehow saved. A Christian Science
Monitor article led them to the Putney (Vermont) Graduate School of
Education, which was sponsoring a world study/travel program. Armed
with their own money and a supplementary scholarship from the school,
they set out on their "epic journey," their first trip abroad. This
real adventure took them through Western Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan
and India, East and North Africa, Greece, and Eastern Europe, finally
terminating in Sweden where their money was exhausted. During this incredible
odyssey their experiences covered a wide array of extremes, from some
of the most primitive villages in the world to some of the most sophisticated
and urbane cities. Bob brought back stunning black and white photographs
to share with others, but there were countless untold images that remained
locked in his and Jean's minds.
In Sweden, Jean found an ideal job with the Stockholm Park Department,
while Bob went to work with a fine architect, Lars Erick Lallerstedt,
doing preliminary studies and development details on an eleven-story
building for the city. After completing this building, he transferred
to Lars Myronberg's office and worked on the site design of a new campus
for Stockholm University.
Eventually, Bob earned enough money to return to the U.S. and went to
College Station, Texas, to find employment with the prestigious firm
of Caudill, Rowlett and Scott. Meanwhile, Jean stayed in her happy position
in Stockholm. CRS offered Bob a job as a planner, but he turned it down
because he was seeking more experience with buildings. He then tried
Austin and was welcomed into the office of Jessen, Jessen, Millhouse
and Greeven. At the Jessens' office he did an outstanding job of developing
and detailing the design for St. Martin's Lutheran Church, Austin, 1960.
It still stands gracefully on the northwest corner of Rio Grande and
West 15th Streets.
During his first year with the Jessens, Bob came to the attention of
Philip Creer, director of the School of Architecture, 1956-1967. Impressed
with Bob's variety of experience, Creer hired him to fill a vacancy
on a temporary, one-year basis. Bob performed so well that he was continually
rehired and was on tenure track in four years, thus launching him into
a successful and passionate twenty-six year teaching career.
Bob was a natural and brilliant teacher who assigned significant design
projects. The projects were broad in scope and high in ideals, furthering
the students' knowledge of architecture, providing them with a sense
of value, and stimulating their efforts while inspiring others outside
of the school, as well. For example, his spring 1970 advanced design
studio aided the Graduate School of Management in finding their "place"
on campus and assisted them in securing sites and facilities. Later
projects focused on such diverse topics as regional "urban field studies"
covering Travis County, a proposed city hall program for Austin, and
his "Bridge Communities" project that investigated developing with the
least impact on the physical environment. At the opposite end of the
spectrum Bob taught a course in the school's design laboratory with
Mike Farmer, dealing with the influence of the act of "crafting" on
a design's result. With all his offerings he was most creative in encompassing
a wide range of thoughts and resources.
Immediately, Bob was very influential in the school's efforts in establishing
a research program. He coordinated the research activities within the
school and set up a laboratory space at Balcones Research Center. In
almost all cases, his research and theories were actually applied in
some form or other, whether it be in fabricating concrete shells, managing
data, or designing development strategies and citizen input in planning
In the latter category, Bob was a major leader in the Austin Tomorrow
program, from its origin in 1972 until he died. (See: Urban Pathfinding:
Charting Austin's Growth toward a Consensus Growth Strategy,
Clancy Mullen, published by We Care Austin, Austin, September 1985.)
He also worked on reports for the city on the following planning topics:
open space, transportation, growth management, sustainability, renewable
energy, land use, and water and waste-water systems (see the longer
"In Memoriam," 1987, on file in General Faculty Office).
Bob and Jean's own house, on Alameda Drive, purchased in 1963, contains
many excellent examples of his ingenuity and craftsmanship and their
partnership in landscape and outbuilding design, including everything
from a suspended bookcase to a combination playscape and carport.
After his 1966 registration as an architect, by examination in Texas,
he continued his personal hands-on approach to the design of houses
for others. Of about a dozen private works, the concrete masonry house
for Jean Hejl in Lago Vista, 1970, and the carefully woodworked house
for Marlan Blissett in Austin, 1982-84, are of particular interest.
Bob proceeded through the academic ranks as follows: lecturer, fall
1958; assistant professor, 1962; associate professor, 1965; and professor,
1970. Early in his teaching career (February 1963 to January 1965) he
was a visiting associate professor in the Department of Architecture,
College of Engineering, at the University of Baghdad. He lectured and
taught design studio for a total of twenty-eight contact hours per week
and consulted on both a new six-year curriculum and physical facilities.
Seven years later, he taught advanced design at the University of Oregon
during their winter and spring quarters.
As chair of architecture graduate studies in the early â70s, he helped
define "thesis" and taught a methodology seminar, "Designer's Tools,"
which he had developed for graduate students who lacked goals and needed
procedures, thought stimulation, and scheduling skills. Signal amongst
his papers on this subject was, "Upholstering the Inside of Your Head:
Some Tools for Second Generation Designers," Man-Environment Systems
Vol. 3, No. 5, September 1973, pp. 363-366.
In his late years, Bob formulated his own theory of architecture and
vehemently opposed the fashionable postmodernists. He labeled his theory
a "post-historic" architecture: "The expressive content of post history
is social change and the central insight of post history is that the
environment is the ultimate work of art and that people are the ultimate
artists." Again his own words still ring true, "...the world is both
developmentally closed (nature seems a finite reservoir and sink) and
conceptually open (culture displays pluralistic models of good-bad,
Bob died quietly during a nap one hot summer afternoon. His bright mind,
quick wit, and immense talent simply went to sleep, and didn't wake
up. At least, not on this plane, where the merest of mortals, left toiling
behind, will forever remain humbly grateful to Bob Mather for his legacy
of thoughtful detail, his immense conscience, and his love for one's
fellow man. During his commendable life, he indeed left his mark on
this campus, this city, both the East and West Coasts, and the capitals
of Sweden and Iraq.
Professor Mather is survived by his wife Jean and their two children:
Emily, born in Austin, 1961, who completed her Bachelor in Architecture
in 1984, the year her father died, and Richard Emery, born in 1965,
in Baghdad, whose interests are focused on art and music, and Bob's
younger brother, Richard, who is a professor of history at the University
of California, Santa Clara.
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin
John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty
This memorial resolution was prepared
by a special committee consisting of Professors Richard P. Swallow (chair),
C. Owen Cappleman, and Gerlinde Leiding.
Distributed to the Dean of the School of Architecture,
the Executive Vice President and Provost, and the President on
December 7, 1999. Copies are available on request from the Office
of the General Faculty, FAC 22, F9500. This resolution is posted
under "Memorials" at: http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/