Tribute: Danforth W. Toan, 1918-2013

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Tribute: Danforth W. Toan, 1918-2013

Danforth W. Toan died on January 16 at the age of 94. He was an architect and founding partner of Warner Burns Toan & Lunde Architects & Planners in New York, now known as WBTL Architects. Many of Dan’s significant buildings in New York and around the world were college libraries and educational facilities, including Columbia University’s Hammer Health Sciences Center and New York University’s Warren Weaver Hall.

His buildings transformed other campuses, including Brown University, where he designed the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library and the Science Tower, and Cornell University, where he designed the Olin Library. Among a score of other campuses he shaped were LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Sara Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Perhaps his largest structure is the Robarts Library for the University of Toronto, which, when it opened in 1973, held over one million volumes. His extraordinary sense of place changed campuses from Emory University in Atlanta to St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Dan was also involved with the Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR). For ADPSR, and for friends, Dan would play the saxophone in an architects’ jazz group called Jazzitechts. The group opened for Dizzy Gillespie in New York in 1991. As a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning & Preservation for more than 12 years, Dan was known for connecting with students, literally leading them around the campus blindfolded until they saw what they could not see. In both the academy and in practice, Dan was a step ahead of the rest of us, paving the way for an appreciation of what teaching, learning, and the design of space had to do with the future.

Perhaps the most fun he had as an architect was the design, for Grumman Aerospace Corp., of astronaut living quarters for an early version of the NASA Space Station. Dan saw the future up close and personal, and made it habitable, logical, and a pleasure to behold.

Rick Bell, FAIA, is Executive Director of AIANY and, as a design partner, worked with Toan at Warner Burns Toan Lunde Architects & Planners.

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