August 8, 2017
By Jerome Leslie Eben, FAIA
I was one of many colleagues of Steven A. Safary for forty years. On August 5th, I spoke at a Memorial for Steve organized by his family a few months after his passing.
Wil Shortz is the New York Times “LIFELONG PUZZLE MASTER” and is fond of saying “if you can figure out what you love to do most………then see if you can make a living doing it!”
This statement reminded me of Steve who loved puzzles and related doing them to the work in the practice of our profession. For my friend, colleague, teacher, and mentor, it was just that simple.
I once asked Steve what the initial ‘A’ stood for in his name, and only used the initial? Steve told me that it simply stood for the first letter of the alphabet. He added it when Agnes (his spouse for over 50 years) arrived at Camp Kilmer, NJ after fleeing the ill-fated student uprising known as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He explained at the time that the simple letter did not necessarily have to have any other letters after it. Well, I think that those who knew Steve can agree that the ‘A’ not only stood for ARCHITECT, but also for ARTIST. Because that was what Steve was in his real professional life.
I had already been working at Lehman Architectural Partnership as a draftsman when Steve joined the firm in 1978. Other young draftsmen and I worked not under Steve, but alongside him, learning and expanding our knowledge on just how to put a building together.
A client, Sutton Construction Company, was embarking on building speculative buildings. Steve designed two simple boxes. A low office component up front with a larger component used as a warehouse or industrial space behind. The floor plans were simple, changed little, but each of the structures had its own identity. The facades showed off Steve’s talent and knowledge of different building materials. Most of the buildings were built in what originally had been Camp Kilmer so one could state that Steve had come full circle from refugee to a broken down former army base that he was now responsible for giving new life to in creative architecture.
In the early ‘80s, we found a new client in Toys ‘R’ Us. Together under the LAP title block, we designed new or renovated stores, repeatedly across the country. Each time, Steve produced a rendering for the cover sheet. Rendering is where Steve showed his artistic talent and every project had the flare of his imaginary cars in front of the facades.
I brought a request of Steve’s talent and asked him to re-create a rendering of my mother’s childhood synagogue in Bamberg, Germany. Steve sketched out a remembrance from an old photograph, choosing a black and white format, because of his own experience of becoming a refugee from his childhood home. My mother cherished it as a memory of her days before the Holocaust, until her passing. I have used the rendering in school presentations where I relate my parents escape from a horrific time in history.
It was Steve that organized all of us at LAP to get involved in AIA. Under his guidance, we put together the monthly newsletter, which he named the Rostrum. It became AIA Newark and Suburban Architects’ platform for reaching out to the membership. Steve put together the first local Design Day, so members could present their work and be recognized for it. This important program continues to this day.
Steven A. Safary, AIA was the real thing, an ARCHITECT and true creative genius that we all will miss.
The Safary family has requested that in the spirit of Steve as a teacher and mentor to younger people and future architects that donations in his name be made to the AIA New Jersey Scholarship Foundation.
Architects are skilled professionals who listen to you, interpret your wishes, help realize your building dreams, and add value at every stage of a project.