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Arthur Ovaska with architecture students in Milstein Hall in 2012.

Architecture professor Arthur Ovaska dies at 67

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Jeff Tyson

Associate professor of architecture Arthur Ovaska, B.Arch. ’74, died March 26 at his home in Ithaca. He was 67.

Ovaska served on the Cornell faculty for more than three decades and had an impact on generations of architecture students.

In 2005, as director of undergraduate studies in architecture, he helped the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) accommodate 36 Tulane University students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He also served as a faculty adviser to the Cornell chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students.

“Arthur was a graduate of the architecture program and a creative force in the department’s rise to international prominence,” Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art and Planning, wrote to the AAP community. “But to many, he was known first and foremost as a remarkable teacher of extraordinary rigor, generosity and kindness, and he will be sorely missed by the many individuals whose lives he shaped and enriched.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree at Cornell, Ovaska began graduate architecture studies with his mentor, professor and department chair O.M. Ungers. From 1974 to 1978, he collaborated with Ungers in Ithaca and Köln, Germany, on speculative architectural projects including a trilogy, “The Urban Block,” “The Urban Villa” and “The Urban Garden.” He also contributed to “The City in the City: Berlin, A Green Archipelago,” a 1977 manifesto by Ungers and architect Rem Koolhaas.

He founded the office of Kollhoff & Ovaska in Berlin in 1978 with Hans Kollhoff, a fellow collaborator on “The City in the City.” The studio produced numerous projects and built works, including buildings in the International Building Exhibition Berlin from 1984 to 1987 and the master plan for the 1987 exhibition site.

Ovaska left Berlin in 1987 to accept a full-time academic position at Cornell. His career included appointments as director of undergraduate studies, director of graduate studies and chair of the Department of Architecture.

“Arthur was a most talented architect, a great educator and a tireless advocate for students,” said associate professor and chair of architecture Andrea Simitch, B.Arch. ’79. “His work in Berlin established the qualitative bar for the IBA [International Building Exhibition Berlin]. He inspired generations of students with his passion for architecture, and finding architecture in the most obscure and unexpected places. He embraced difference with unsurpassed generosity – students were celebrated for their individuality. His big-hearted spirit will be missed.”

In 2012-13 Ovaska was a guest professor of architecture and urban research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg, Germany, concentrating on “The City in the City.” Over the years he also taught in Oxford, Syracuse, Berlin, Taiwan and Puerto Rico.