Blake Alexander (1924 – 2011)

Architectural historian and long-time educator Blake Alexander died Dec. 11, 2011, at age 87. He taught for four decades at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture.

Blake Alexander: photo by Debbe Sharpe
Blake Alexander in his office at Battle Hall on the University of Texas campus.

Alexander’s vast personal collection of materials produced by the offices of important Texas architects, along with his many photographic slides of significant works of architecture from around the world, became the basis of the university’s architectural archives, which was named in his honor.

His collection expanded over the years, eventually outgrowing his office. The materials were then moved to a small storage room, otherwise known as "Alexander's closet." Today, the Alexander Architectural Archive is the largest such resource in Texas – containing over 250,000 drawings and over 900 linear feet of papers, photographic material, models, and ephemera – representing thousands of projects in Texas, as well as in New York, Chicago, California, and Great Britain. Learn more about the archive here.

The archive is the subject of an episode of The Shape of Texas radio program. To listen to that episode click here.

The following biography, written by Kristy Sorensen, was copied from the website of the Alexander Architectural Archive.

Drury Blakely Alexander, architectural educator, was born in Paris, Texas, on February 4, 1924, to Drury Blakeley and Katherine (Stone) Alexander. After serving in the U.S. Army (1943-1946) Alexander obtained a Bachelor of Architecture Degree (1950) and a Bachelor of Science in Art Degree (1951) from the University of Texas at Austin. He earned a Master of Arts Degree from Columbia University, New York, in 1953.

Alexander began his teaching career as an Instructor at Kansas State University, Manhattan (1953-1955) and returned to the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture as an Assistant Professor (1955-1960). In 1958 he was the recipient of both the Heritage Society of Austin Award for Service in the Cause of Historic Preservation, and the University of Texas Students' Association Teaching Excellence Award. As a Registered Architect (State of Kansas #664) Alexander directed the 1964 summer survey program in Historic Architecture of the Schuylkill Valley. This program, jointly sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and the Historic American Buildings Survey at the National Parks Department, served as the basis of the measured drawings classes that he subsequently developed at the University of Texas at Austin.

As Associate Professor (1960-1967) Alexander maintained a busy schedule serving as Faculty Advisor for the University of Texas Chapter of the Honorary Architecture Society, Tau Sigma Delta, a post he continued through 1970. In 1964, Alexander assumed the position of Director of the Texas Architectural Survey - the first historic architecture survey undertaken in Texas, jointly sponsored by The Amon Carter Museum of Western Art and the School of Architecture of The University of Texas. The survey prompted the establishment of the Texas Historical Survey Committee.

In 1967 Alexander was promoted to Professor of Architecture. From 1975-1977 he served as Vice President of the University of Texas Chapter of the Texas Association of College Teachers, and he devoted his expertise to several boards of directors, including the Victorian Society of America (1969-1974), the Society of Architectural Historians (1979-1982), and the Heritage Society of Austin's Preservation Awards Committee (1973-1978). His community service included participation in Austin's Historic Landmark Commission and serving as Texas Chairman for the Historic Landmark Committee (1975-1985). He also worked with the Dallas Historic Landmarks Survey at the Department of Urban Planning (1971-1974), and as a consultant in historic architecture for the Fort Worth Junior League. He also served on the National Register Board of Review Committee for nominations from Texas. Alexander received numerous awards and honors during this time including the Austin City Council Distinguished Service Award (1976), and the Service Award for Historic Preservation at the Heritage Society of Austin (1976). His teaching honors include the Margaret McDermott Centennial Teaching Fellow in Architecture (1983-1984) and The Eugene McDermott Lectureship in Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin (1983-1985).

From 1984-1986 Alexander served as the Meadows Foundation Centennial Professor in Architecture and in 1994 became Professor Emeritus. Recent awards include the Texas Historical Commission's Texas Award for Historic Preservation (1986), the National Preservation Honor Award at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (1991), The Texas Society of Architects Excellence in Architectural Education Award (1994), and the Distinguished Professor Award (1995) of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

Throughout his career at the University of Texas, Alexander participated in numerous University Committees including the Faculty Senate (two terms), the Faculty Building Committee (six years, Chairman for two), the Committee on Committees, the Faculty Committee for a More Vital Faculty Council, the School of Architecture Budget Council, and as Chairman of both the Winedale Council and the Winedale Stagecoach Inn Advisory Council. Today, Blake continues to serve the city through the Historic Landmarks Commission and the University as a champion of the preservation of the University's historic buildings, resident historian, and special friend to the Architecture and Planning Library.

Talk About It

About 5 years ago: Herman Dyal, FAIA

Professor Alexander had a profound influence on me as I entered the School of Architecture in 1968. I was a know-nothing kid from the Houston suburbs, who hadn't travelled much farther from home than Garner State Park, much less Rome, or even New York. As an incoming freshman I suppose I had heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, but that's about it. Professor Alexander made architectural history interesting, of course, but he did more. He showed me what it was to be a scholar and a gentleman. I remember several of us once being invited to his home for a social visit and discussion. It was a modest home, but as I recall, it was full of books, prints, and the ambiance you would expect of a distinguished professor. I couldn't have been more impressed if I had been invited to Sir John Soane's house. Professor Alexander was a great educator. He made a difference, and he'll be missed.

About 5 years ago: Anna Mod, Houston, TX

I was fortunate to have been in Dr. Alexander's last class of American Architectural History at UT. On the last day of the spring semester was gave him a standing ovation. I am often asked what my favorite architectural style is. I am fickle and change my mind often in response to a recent project or something I read. I do find myself coming back to Greek Revival more than the others. I think that is largely due to Dr. Alexander. I remember our term paper assignments. He said, "You can write about anything you want except Frank Lloyd Wright." He was one of the greats. As the previous post notes, "a scholar and a gentleman."