It is with great sadness that the College of Environmental Design reports the passing of Jean-Pierre Protzen, Professor Emeritus, in Switzerland on January 10, 2021. His wife, Elsbeth, died a few days prior.
Born in 1934 in Switzerland, J-P first came to the U.S. to work with Professor Horst Rittel, and in 1968, the department of architecture hired him to establish the area known as design theory and methods. He served as Professor for more than 40 years. To his expertise and publications in design methods, he became a well-known expert in Incan stone architecture. Many will remember J-P as part of the NOVA television series, “Secrets of Lost Empires: Inca” and “History’s Mysteries.” Among his many publications are two books, Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo (1993) with Robert Batson as illustrator and The Stones of Tiahuanaco: A Study of Architecture and Construction (2013) with Stella Nair in which his expertise in stone quarrying and construction led to new understanding about the cultures that produced these Incan sites. In 2009, a Festschrift for J-P was published, Architecture - Design Methods - Inca Structures.
J-P twice served as Chair of the Department of Architecture as well as a variety of leadership roles for the Institute of Andean Studies as well as faculty affiliate of UC Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility.
Jean-Pierre and Elsbeth will be missed. Our extended academic community shares our condolences with their family.
If you would like to share photos or remembrances of J-P and Elsbeth, please send to email@example.com.
When I was in the M.Arch program (option 3), I learned about Inca architecture in a lecture for the survey of architecture history class taught by Professor Dell Upton. I decided to write my term paper on Machu Picchu and became fascinated with the stunning buildings and sophisticated site design. My TA, Diane Shaw, told me that one of the leading authorities on Inca architecture taught right here in Wurster Hall. I immediately went to introduce myself to Professor Protzen, and after one too many visits to his office asking questions about Inca design, he asked if I wanted to be his research assistant. The first task was to work on his Inca architecture slide collection. I eagerly agreed and spent many an afternoon in the lovely and bright attic that he designed as his home office, carefully transcribing and typing in details of his already well organized and stunning collection of Inca images. While at first we worked in silence, side by side, eventually a question I had about an image would turn into a long discussion about Inca design and construction. In those discussions, JP taught me how to think about buildings, how to look closely at details, and how to be a careful scholar. Those afternoons always ended with delicious smells wafting up the staircase, and then Elsbeth calling us down to dinner. She and JP loved to cook and they made each dinner a warm, welcoming and elegant occasion. Often with Charley Parker playing in the background, they shared stories of their many adventures together, from growing up in Switzerland, to living in Spain, and traveling across the US with two young sons. In the years that followed, they became family to me and changed the trajectory of my life. — Stella Nair, Associate Professor, UCLA
Learning of Jean-Pierre and Elsbeth’s deaths was a blow to my sense of the CED family stability. J-P was my primary advisor in the PhD program in the early 80s where he, along with Russ Ellis, taught me what it means to be a scholar in architecture. When I was studying for my exams, J-P and I met each week to critically dissect a book I selected. In his seminars, he would pull out little graph-paper books filled with his notes, where we students realized troves of knowledge were stored. Once when he returned from Switzerland, he brought us empty notebooks to fill with our own future seminars. When my dissertation was in its final draft, Mary Comerio ferried the massive bundle of paper to J-P who was working in the Andes, where he somehow found time to read it and send back astute comments. And when my husband and I visited Peru to see the places J-P had been documenting, we were welcomed into his network of friends. Thinking back on all those years, J-P along with Elsbeth and their boys, instilled in me the belief that generosity was the heart of being a professor. I was often at their house in North Berkeley for dinner, helping in the kitchen, laughing over a glass of wine with the remarkable circle they created --former doctoral students, South American architects and archeologists, CED faculty, and visiting Swiss friends all blended together at their dinner table. Long after leaving Berkeley, I would return to their table, sometimes bringing my own children. That continuity, their intelligence, the laughter, painted a portrait for me of the university and architecture as places filled with hospitality, where an openness to differences among people, ideas, and fields produced all the insights. Only much later did I realize how unique that portrait was. The Protzen model sets a high bar for my own academic generosity, and reminds me how lucky we’ve all been to have J-P and Elsbeth in our lives. — Dana Cuff, Director of CityLAB, UCLA, Professor
This is one of my favorite photographs, it captures a special moment in my life and my good fortune to share it with Jean-Pierre Protzen. I am still in awe at how JP balanced academic excellence with real friendship, independent thought with institutional roles. I could not have asked for a better doctoral adviser, and I am thankful that I was able to share my first book with him. It is, at heart, a long answer to the many questions he had (subtly) pointed me towards and I could not have written it without his guidance and support. (Photograph by Momen El-Husseiny) — Avigail Sachs, Associate Professor, Universisyt of Tennessee
What I liked best about JP was his combination of intelligence, enthusiasm, intellectual humility, and confidence. He wanted to explore and learn. His motivation always seemed to be curiosity and the pursuit of understanding. He didn’t need to defend his ideas or put others down. He wasn’t competing to see whose ideas were best. He could listen and critique an argument based on its own terms, rather than on whether he agreed with it. He thought clearly and deeply, and offered me many insights that continue to appreciate. He didn’t get defensive about his ideas or put others down. He wasn’t competing to see whose ideas were best. He tended to credit Horst Rittel for his design philosophy, and discounted the importance of his personal world view, but he used that foundation in his own way—not all of those influenced by Rittel have pursued the same paths as JP did. For his support as well as his insight, I remember and honor JP as having been one of the best people in my life. — Dave Harris