Leonard S. Parker, FAIA, founding partner of the former Leonard Parker Associates and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Minnesota, died Monday. He was 88. Parker was well-known in Minnesota for his landmark designs featured in its largest metropolitan area – including those on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. But it was his ability to balance Modernist principles with community tradition that positioned him as a leader in the architectural world.
"He was an architect who the city and university went to frequently," says Tom Fisher, dean and professor of the College of Design at Minnesota.
Fisher says Parker took a "humanistic" approach to meet those requests – challenging traditional Modernism with brick and ample daylit space. Examples of Parker’s green roofs still remain atop the university’s Mondale Hall (1975) and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (1983). "He was pretty determined to make Modernism acceptable and comfortable and friendly to people," Fisher says.
In 2002, the 79-year-old Parker was the design lead on a nearly 900,000-square-foot expansion, mostly vertical, to the Minneapolis Convention Center. The project included a trio of rotating lecture halls and 100,000 square feet of below-grade exhibit space and cost $212 million. His firm was responsible for the center’s initial two-phase build-out in 1989 and 1991, featuring a facade of precast concrete and granite panels and topped with copper domes. Parker also designed the Minnesota Public Radio studios in 1979 and an arts building at Northwestern College in St. Paul in 1982.
But his work wasn’t limited to the Twin Cities. Upon receiving a master’s in architecture from MIT in 1950, he worked with the renowned Modernist Eero Saarinen on projects including the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. In 1958, he established Leonard Parker Associates, which would go on to receive more than 100 regional, national, and international design-excellence awards. The firm built the embassies for South Korea in Ottawa, Canada, and the United States in Santiago, Chile.
Parker earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Minnesota in 1948. He returned to the university in 1959 to teach mid-level design studio in its College of Design, from which he retired in 1993. In the classroom and in the field, Parker was known for both his wit and ability to combine practice and theory.
"All kinds of people in the construction industry can put up buildings,” Parker told the university in 2005.
“But we architects don’t just build buildings, we create works of art.”