AIA New Jersey Past President, Jerome Leslie Eben, FAIA, Engages the Public with Letter to the Editor

April 22, 2020

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AIA New Jersey Past President, Jerome Leslie Eben, FAIA, Engages the Public with Letter to the Editor



Every year, AIA NJ Past President Jerome Eben, FAIA, sends a letter to the editor of the West Orange Chronicle in recognition of Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday, April 13. Thomas Jefferson is the only architect US President and as a forefather, he is a familiar individual to most Americans. Jerry is a die-hard cheerleader for our profession and feels a positive impact in having his letters published. According to Mr. Eben, “The point of my letter is to suggest educating NJ Children about architecture or building safety. ” 


AIA New Jersey is sharing his 2020 letter here and encourages all of our members to hear the call, use Jerry’s letter as a template for your own and to share the message of the Value of the Architect with your own communities, through social media, community communication, direct contact with clients or the means of your choice!  We hope you will participate. 


Dear Editor, 

As an architect, the Chronicle has accepted for many years, an annual letter from me that celebrates National Architecture Week and Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has put our celebration of architecture week on hold due the situation we are all in. However, I thought that I would write something that can be used to introduce youngsters being homeschooled to the history of architecture.

West Orange and surrounding townships served by Worrall community papers are extremely rich in history. For years, this community has had great articles of local history that continue to appear in the paper by Joseph Fagan.

During this trying period of confinement, our teachers, and now, parents who are stepping up to help their children learn without the brick and mortar school buildings, might be able to use what is written here as a foundation for further learning.

AIA chose a week in April in honor of Thomas Jefferson because it was this month in 1743, that our third president was born. There is no doubt that Mr. Jefferson served our country in many positions cumulating with the presidency. AIA believes that he was in fact also an architect. As a young man, he studied Greek, Latin, and French. Though he might have been somewhat of an aloof intellectual, he admitted that he was a “hard student.”  I believe that to be absolutely true. After a college education, he began his study of the law under George Wythe, a Williamsburg, (colony of Virginia) Attorney. However, Jefferson had many other interests.

Along with the practice of law, he began his work on his own estate, which he named Monticello. In Italian, it means “little mountain.”  For those who have visited his home, the placement of it affords a view of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. His self-study of what became the official profession architecture in 1857, was based on his love for classical architecture. Most certainly his sketches of perfectly symmetrical octagonal wings extending from a central core came from his study of Italian Architect Andrea Palladio. The home was also the basic building of what became the nation’s library. His books and manuscripts including observations of weather and planting schedules were donated to the Federal Government. One of my favorite buildings in Washington, DC is the Library of Congress. It is a wonderful place to visit on any family’s vacation to the Nation’s Capital.

It seems that while Mr. Jefferson’s interest in architecture might officially make him the only President who was also an architect does not mean that other Presidents did not also have that profession in mind. Certainly, several Presidents starting with George Washington had engineering skills, and it might be fun for some students to read and learn what the professions of these leaders were prior to entering politics?

Thomas Jefferson had a passion for architecture long before it was recognized as a profession. He not only spoke of Monticello, his beautiful home, but also the University of Virginia, which he designed. A drawing of his Rotunda can be found at THIS LINK. along with many other examples.

President Obama defined architecture as follows: it’s about creating buildings and spaces that inspire us, that help us do our jobs, that bring us together, and that become at their best, works of art that we can move through and live in.  In the end, that’s wh, architecture can be considered the most democratic of art forms.”

Teachers and parents, please use some of the ideas here to start the discussion about architecture, which can lead to any number of other interesting learning opportunities. For me architecture speaks not only of its time and place but yearn for timelessness.

After the pandemic, take from this article what you have learned about architecture and plan your next vacation or visit to family that may be are in other areas of this country, so to be exposed to the architecture there.

Thank you, Jerome Leslie Eben, FAIA

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