Ronald Filson, dean of architecture who ‘put Tulane on the map’, dies at 75 | Education


Ronald Filson, a Yale-educated architect whose career included three years in the Algerian desert, 12 years as dean of Tulane University’s school of architecture and a confrontation with Donald Trump, died Sunday of a heart attack in White River Junction, Vermont, while attending a reunion conference at Yale, his wife, Lea Sinclair Filson, said. He was 75 years old.

When Filson started at Tulane in 1980, he was 33, one of the youngest deans in the country, said Errol Barron, professor emeritus of architecture at Tulane: “He was a kid. He charmed everyone because he was full of energy and enthusiasm. … He brought the school to life. He brought all these young people. They energized the school.

He was happy to run a school where the lights were on day and night while the students worked on their projects.

Ronald Filson poses June 7, 1981, at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he is Dean of the School of Architecture.

“Long hours and hard work breed a sense of camaraderie among architecture students, and they stick together,” Filson said in the 1981 Jambalaya, Tulane’s yearbook. “They feel like one big family – like most families, happy at times and unhappy at others. “

Filson said he didn’t expect a college career, but it was something he had been preparing for for years. As a student at Yale, he was a teaching assistant to Charles Moore, the dean of architecture in New Orleans known for creating the Piazza d’Italia and the Wonderwall at the 1984 World’s Fair.

In 1974, he was recruited to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became assistant dean of the school of architecture and headed the Urban Innovations Group.

Six years later, Tulane offered him the deanship of architecture. “He ate the work,” said Barron, who chaired the search committee. “He put Tulane on the map.”

Studied in Rome

Born in Chardon, Ohio, Filson said he knew at age 6 that he wanted to be an architect. While an undergraduate at Yale, he and fellow student Dan Scully won a Rome Prize to sign up for a year of study at the American Academy, a private arts and research institution. in Rome.

After graduating from Yale, he was offered a job restoring the legendary Casbah of Algiers. But by the time he arrived in Africa, he said in an oral history on the 50th anniversary of Yale’s architecture class in 1970, the 17th-century citadel was not yet ready to function. So he was sent to the M’Zab Valley, a 10th-century UNESCO-listed village, which he described as “an incredibly dusty little town in the Sahara desert”.

He ended up spending three years in Algeria, half of them in the valley. The work, which he said consisted of restorations and “the design of new things”, was “really wacky work”.

The Trump Connection

For the next two decades, Filson was an academic. After leaving the deanship of Tulane, Filson established an architectural practice. Among the people he met in the mid-1990s was a dynamic New York real estate developer named Donald Trump, who was heavily involved in casinos, opulent hotels and apartment complexes.

The two men met when Filson traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi, to discuss his proposed master plan for Marine Life Park. Trump, who was there because of his interest in the Marine Life project and the Gulf Coast casinos, told Filson, “I like the presentation. I have other projects that I would like to talk to you about”, according to Filson.

Trump invited him to fly that night on his private jet to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Trump said he wanted to renovate the Steel Pier, an amusement park that had seen better days.

“We stop work”

“He was looking for freebies,” said Filson, who knew Trump’s reputation for people who worked for him.

Regarding the Marine Life project, Filson said, “The more we worked on it, the worse it got, probably because of Trump’s involvement and his efforts to keep changing things.”

During a presentation that included an architectural model, Trump ripped off Filson’s two models for the entrance pavilions. “I realized he was pulling out of the project,” Filson said.

By then, Filson had had enough.

“I made it clear that if we weren’t paid within five days of the invoice, we would stop work,” he said. “He understood and I got paid all the way.”

Filson has served as President of the New Orleans Arts Council, a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Contemporary Art and of the Planning Commission.

Filson and Lea Sinclair, whom he married in 1999, shuttled for several years between New Orleans and Ohio, where he renovated the family farm. Then they moved to Plymouth, Massachusetts, which suited his wife who was Governor General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Survivors include his wife, Lea Sinclair Filson; one daughter, Lily Virginia Filson; and a grandson. His first marriage, to Susan Virginia Saward, ended in divorce; she lives in New Orleans.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete on Tuesday, but Lea Filson said a memorial service will be held in New Orleans.


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