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Renowned Austin architect Dick Clark dead at 72

Dick Clark, an architect who helped take buildings across Austin from simple sketches to bricks and mortar, died early Tuesday, according to his family.

He was 72.

Clark had been battling leukemia, but died of complications from pneumonia at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, a publicist said.

His firm, Dick Clark + Associates, was founded in 1979. Over the years, its projects have included the South Congress Hotel, Whole Earth stores in Austin and San Antonio and a number of bars and restaurants such as Hangar Lounge, Fino, Kenichi, Star Bar and Speakeasy, among others.

“Dick designed our firm, training a young architect right out of school in how he liked to do projects, developing their range of skills to eventually go out and have their own firm,” said Mark Vornberg, a 22-year employee who now serves as the firm’s CEO. “I’m thankful that not only did Dick raise me like a father, he allowed me to eventually manage the next generation at the firm. He lived life well, and if you asked Dick what his favorite project was, he always said, ‘The next one.’ ”

Michael Hsu is one of many Austin architects who’d come to know and trust Clark as a mentor.

“He rarely separated social and professional relationships; work and life was all personal, all the time,” Hsu said. “Those that worked for him or hired him were better for it because when you shared time with Dick you were a friend.

“Dick Clark, to me, was Austin royalty, having seen and lived it fully from the 1960s here, been part of its story for as long as I can remember, built the city we know today and influenced an entire generation of designers.”

Over the course of nearly two decades, Hsu said he worked together with Clark on countless projects.

“He still had the excitement of starting a project like it was his first commission,” Hsu said. “Trace paper and a fat pencil were all he needed. He cherished design and architecture, lived for it. It was never a job, it was inseparable from himself.”

Born in Dallas in 1944, Clark attended Highland Park High School. A 1969 University of Texas graduate, he went on to get a master’s in architecture from Harvard in 1972.

Sherry Matthews, founder and CEO of Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, met Clark in 1982 when both were going through divorces. The two went on to become best friends and longtime partners.

“We had a standing Saturday night date for 25 years,” Matthews said. She said Clark designed many homes for her over the years, including one on Westlake Drive called “The Water House,” which was written up in numerous magazines.

She described him as “very intelligent, very inquisitive” and a keen observer of human behavior – a trait that helped shape his designs.

“He wanted to go to restaurants not to eat, but to see how people behaved in a successful restaurant,” for example, observing women as they figured out where to put their purses.

As a 2-year-old, he asked his mother for a hammer and nails because he wanted to build a house, Matthews said.

“He always wanted to be an architect,” Matthews said. “That was the great love of his life. He lived to work.”

Matthews said she and Clark traveled the world – both separately and together – including trips to the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy.

Just this week, Matthews said, Clark was “planning in detail” a trip to St. Barts, instructing her to rent a private jet and fly all of his caregivers to the island for a long weekend.

“’I think by November I’ll be well enough to go,’ ” Matthews said he told her.

“’I have so many ideas and projects that I want to finish,’” he told her. “He fought to the end.”

Clark was a gifted architect who left “a very strong legacy of built work in Austin,” said Frederick “Fritz” Steiner, dean of the University of Texas’ School of Architecture from 2001 to 2016.

“It’s hard to put him in a stylistic camp,” said Steiner, now dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. “His work varied, based on the client and the site, but he contributed to a Central Texas aesthetic that emerged” – one marked by a “generous use of limestone and local materials,” Steiner said.

His restaurant design work “did much to enliven the food scene in Austin,” Steiner said.

Clark had “a strong rapport with his clients,” which he honed by listening to them and “transforming their ideas into places for them to live and work,” Steiner said.

Larry Speck, a prominent local architect, said in a statement: “Dick Clark taught us all, as architects, to give greater life and spirit to our buildings. He was one of the earliest designers to create restaurants downtown that had a really cool vibe and just ‘felt like’ Austin. A lot of that great spirit began to spill out on the streets and sidewalks and helped define what is best about the center of the city today.”

Speck, a professor of architecture at UT and dean of its School of Architecture from 1992-2001, went on to say: “Dick’s work was always more about the action and feeling of a place—the life and vitality of the people inhabiting it — not just about style or visual character. Dick was also a great mentor and team builder. Lots of cool people who worked for him have become the next generation of architects who are continuing his legacy of building places with great life and spirit.”

In a January American-Statesman story, Clark talked about how he made sure to take into consideration the wants, needs and desires of neighbors when working on high-profile projects, such as those along South Congress Avenue.

“Over the last 15 years, each time our office has designed a project on South Congress – from 1400 South Congress and the 04 Lofts (behind Guero’s) to the South Congress Hotel – there has been a great amount of care taken to address concerns about the development, because it is a part of town with significant character that Austinites care deeply about. While it’s incredibly important to be mindful of the scale of the neighborhood, a large part of what makes SoCo iconic is its eclectic melding of old and new, and the fact that there are so many destinations for people to discover along it.”

While attending UT, Clark was friends both with Farrah Fawcett, who studied art at UT, and a man she was dating at the time, Steiner said.

“They would go on double dates,” Steiner said. “He admired her.”

Personally, Clark “had a great sense of humor. He was always sort of joking and the life of the party,” Steiner said. “An all-around great guy.”

Austin actor, director and writer Turk Pipkin said he was friends with Clark for three decades. Pipkin said Tuesday that Clark was an early supporter of his nonprofit, The Nobelity Project.

“He always smiled, always had fun and always made sure that others did, as well,” Pipkin said. “We played a lot of golf with a giant rotating group of ‘Friends of Dick.’ We ate great meals in a lot of wonderful Austin restaurants and homes designed by Dick, and he traveled with me to Honduras and Kenya to see and assist in The Nobelity Project’s education projects.”

That included treks to places such as Kenya. In 2015, Pipkin said Clark received the organization’s Ann Richards Founders Award.

That night, Christy Pipkin told the crowd at the Four Seasons: “For those of you who don’t know Dick, imagine going to a rural Kenyan school with the world’s largest living teddy bear. He played ball, taught kids to take photos and talked with them about architecture. He somehow had more fun than the rest of us. He made the trip to make that face-to-face connection to kids whose lives he has helped changed forever.”

A memorial service for Clark has not yet been scheduled.

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