Biography of Friedrich St.Florian, FAIA

Designer of the WWII Memorial (b. 1932)

White man, glasses, grey hair, bow tie, Atlantic monument in background, architect Friedrich St.Florian in foreground
Architect Friedrich St.Florian in 2004 at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Photo by Mannie Garcia/Getty Images News/©2004 Getty Images (cropped)

Friedrich St.Florian (born December 21, 1932 in Graz, Austria) is widely known for only one work, the National World War II Memorial. His influence on American architecture is mainly from his teaching, first at Columbia University in 1963, and then a lifetime career at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. St.Florian's long teaching career places him at the head of the class for mentoring student architects.

He is often called a Rhode Island architect, although this is an over-simplification of his world vision.  Settling in the US in 1967 and a naturalized citizen since 1973, St.Florian has been called a visionary and theoretical architect for his futuristic drawings. St. Florian's approach to design melds the theoretical (philosophical) with the practical (pragmatic). He believes that one must explore the philosophical background, define the problem, and then resolve the problem with a timeless design. His design philosophy includes this statement:

"We approach architectural design as a process that begins with exploration of philosophical underpinnings leading to concept ideas that will be subjected to vigorous testing. To us, how a problem is defined is critical to its resolution. Architectural design is the process of distillation that purifies the confluence of circumstances and ideals. We deal with pragmatic as well as fundamental concerns. In the end, the proposed design solutions are expected to reach beyond utilitarian considerations and stand as an artistic statement of timeless value.

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St.Florian (who leaves no space within his last name) earned a Masters Degree in Architecture (1958) at Technische Universadad in Graz, Austria, before receiving a Fullbright to study in the US. In 1962 he earned a Master of Science Degree in Architecture from Columbia University in New York City, and then headed to New England.

While at RISD, he received a Fellowship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA from 1970 until 1976, becoming a licensed architect in 1974. St.Florian established Friedrich St.Florian Architects in Providence in 1978.

Principal Works (Built):

Designs (Unbuilt):

About Theoretical Architecture:

All design is theoretical until actually built. Every invention was previously just a theory of a working thing, including flying machines, super tall buildings, and homes that use no energy.

Many if not all theoretical architects believe that their projects are viable solutions to problems and can (and should) be built.

Theoretical architecture is design and building of the mind—on paper, a verbalization, a rendering, a sketch. Some of St.Florian's early theoretical works are part of the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA's) permanent Exhibitions & Collections in New York City:

1966, Vertical City: a 300-story cylindrical city designed to take advantage of sunlight above the clouds—"The regions beyond the clouds were designated for those most in need of light—hospitals, schools, and the elderly—which could be continually provided by solar technology."

1968, New York Birdcage-Imaginary Architecture: spaces that become real and active only when in use; "As in solid, earthbound architecture, each room is a dimensional space, with a floor, a ceiling, and walls, but it has no physical structure; existing only when "drawn" by the moving airplane, it depends entirely upon the airplane's presence and on the pilot's and air-traffic controller's consciousness of designated coordinates."

1974, Himmelbelt: a four-poster bed (a Himmelbelt), set upon a polished stone foundation and beneath a heavenly projection; described as "the juxtaposition between real physical space and the imaginary realm of dreams"

Sources:

  • Elements of the Vertical City by Bevin Cline and Tina di Carlo from The Changing of the Avant-Garde: Visionary Architectural Drawings from the Howard Gilman Collection, Terence Riley, ed., New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 68 (online accessed November 26, 2012).
  • Birdcage by Bevin Cline from Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, Matilda McQuaid, ed., New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 154 (online accessed November 26, 2012).
  • Himmelbelt by Bevin Cline and Tina di Carlo from The Changing of the Avant-Garde: Visionary Architectural Drawings from the Howard Gilman Collection, Terence Riley, ed., New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 127 (online accessed November 26, 2012).

Other Sources for this Article: Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Faculty Profile and Curriculum Vitae (PDF), accessed November 18, 2012; Design philosophy from www.fstflorian.com/philosophy.html, accessed November 26, 2012.