Skip to main content

Hotel design pioneer Richard Penner dies at age 70

Richard Penner

Richard Haskin Penner ’69, M.Arch. ’72, professor emeritus of finance, accounting and real estate at Cornell, died Dec. 11 in New Paltz, New York. The cause of death was progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare degenerative neurological disease. He was 70.

Penner taught hotel planning and design in the School of Hotel Administration from 1970 until his retirement in 2012. He taught students how to read and create architectural plans for hotels, equipping them to work with the developers and designers they would encounter as hotel administrators. His classes ranged from resort development and management to properties development and planning to a seminar in environmental control.

“Dick Penner essentially created the study of hotel design,” said Stephani Robson ’88, M.S. ’99, Ph.D. ’10, senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration and a co-author with Penner and Lawrence Adams on the book “Hotel Design, Planning, and Development” (second edition, 2001).

Penner directly influenced the careers of countless hospitality industry professionals through his publications, but more importantly through his dedication to and genuine love of teaching, she said.

“Dick was a thoughtful and kind mentor who was tremendously patient with students as he guided them in understanding what all those lines on the drawings meant, and how a good hotel design could be not just functional but beautiful and engaging too,” she said.

On a personal note, Robson said she owes her career as an educator to Penner. “From the earliest days of our working together, he was infinitely generous with his time, his knowledge and his friendship. So many of us in the Hotelie community will remember him with deep fondness,” Robson said.

Penner chaired many university committees on campus planning and residence life. From 2005 to 2008, he served as the Richard J. and Monene P. Bradley Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Hotel Administration.

He was author of the book “Conference Center Planning and Design” (1991), and was lead author and co-author of three editions of “Hotel Design, Planning, and Development” (1985, 2001 and 2012). He co-wrote “Hotel Planning and Design: A Guide for Architects, Interior Designers and Hotel Executives” (1985) with Walter Rutes. Most recently he was author of “Cornell University” (2013), a pictorial history.

Penner also wrote numerous book chapters and encyclopedia entries on subjects ranging from row houses to bathrooms and windows for hotel guests to life-cycle costing in the hotel industry.

He presented design and planning seminars in numerous countries, including Norway, Italy, Australia, Japan and Singapore.

In 1992 he received Hospitality Design magazine’s Platinum Circle Award for his contributions to the field as an author and a teacher. Penner also received several teaching excellence awards from the School of Hotel Administration.

Born in Brattleboro, Vermont, on Aug. 7, 1946, to Albert and Bernice Haskin Penner, he grew up in New York City and in Winchester, Massachusetts. With his family, he spent each summer at a farm in South Newfane, Vermont. By age 7, Penner was designing buildings, charging a small fee to create house plans for relatives and friends from his hall-closet office.

That interest continued, and in the fall of 1964 he enrolled in Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning, earning a bachelor of architecture degree in 1969 and a master of architecture degree in 1972. He was also a member of the Cornell Glee Club.

He continued to make Ithaca his home, where he and his former wife, Catherine Penner ’68, raised their daughter, Anne.

He is survived by his partner, Susan Woodburn, of New Paltz and many family members. Friends and family gathered to celebrate his life Dec. 29 at Woodland Pond in New Paltz.

Contributions in his honor can be made to Brain Support Network or to CurePSP.

Media Contact

Melissa Osgood