Irwin Luckman
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Irwin Luckman
Architect, Sculptor

Irwin Luckman was born in 1922 in New York. He grew up in an ethnic all-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. His childhood interest in art was encouraged in high school by the Arts Project of the PWA (one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt"s programs to revitalize the economy by providing jobs during the Great Depression of the 1930s). The PWA employed artists to teach enrichment courses in the public schools after school hours. A class taught by an unemployed sculptor was Irwin's introduction to sculpture, which became a major focus in his life.

In 1939 Irwin won a scholarship to Cooper Union, the art school in New York City. While at Cooper, Irwin was introduced to Architecture by working as a draftsman for an architect in Manhattan. Throughout Irwin's life he referred back to Cooper Union as the school where inspired teachers taught the fundamentals of artistic perception, rigorous technique, creativity and innovation.

In 1941 the Second World War burst into everyone's private life with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Before completing the 4-year degree at Cooper Union, Irwin entered a wartime training program to study radar as a civilian. He was drafted into the Infantry, did basic training in Kentucky.At this time it was expected that the war in Europe would soon be over. But suddenly the Germans broke through. He was shipped out, landed in Wales, went onto the coast of France, was in combat in the Battle of the Bulge and then in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. His assignment was on a front-line ammunition truck, which was always the" target of the day". He had many close calls with death, including an episode when his ammunition-laden truck went off the side of a mountain road in snow and ice, and a night when a buddy and he almost froze to death standing guard at a road crossing in the woods in Belgium.

After the war ended while still in the Army and until there was space on a home-bound ship. he attended the School of Architecture in London.

Back in the USA , he enrolled in Columbia University in New York. His family's income was too low to send him to college but the GI Bill, a Federal Government Entitlement program, paid for everything - tuition, books and living expenses. It was all free - in grateful recognition of service to the USA, open to all veterans of the Second World War. The GI Bill enabled him to get a Bachelor of Architecture degree at Columbia University.

After graduating, he designed a house in New York and worked on its construction. Then he moved to California to design a house for a friend who had become a paraplegic from war injuries. Together they designed a unique house which had special architectural features that gave his friend maximum independence in the activities of daily living and few transfers between prosthetic aids.The design for the house was published but unfortunately the house was not built.

During the next years he worked as a Union Carpenter, as a draftsman for a Berkeley firm that designed schools, and studied for the Architecture Licensing exam with two architect friends, Walter Thomas Brooks and Burns Cadwalader. He passed the exam and became a Licensed Architect in California in 1955.

He started a private architectural practice in Oakland doing residences, remodeling and painting architectural renderings for other architects. Renderings - which are drawings of architectural projects before they are built - used his Fine Arts training as well as his innate skill in imagining three-dimensional forms. His architectural practice included public buildings, a fire station, park and recreation buildings and parks. His imaginative design for a Children's Theater was built in Oakland under s construction supervision. Photos and articles about the theater were published in architectural magazines such as the French magazine BATIR. For a time, while he and his friend Burns Cadwalader were in parternership, they produced a soaring restauant design to span Dimond canyon in Oakland. The restaurant was not built but the design was published in BATIR and in the British magazines INTERBUILD and ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN in1960.

In 1961 he closed his private practice to become - for a year - Professor of Architecture at the University of Xalapa in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. He returned to the Bay Area in 1962 to become Chief of Plans Design and Construction for the East Bay Regional Park District. There he designed a number of structures, some built with his own Regional Parks crew - the beautiful Cull Canyon swim facility, the popular Environmental Center (Museum) in Tilden Park, the innovative Equestrian Center off Skyline Blvd. He briefly became General Manager of the District.

In 1968 he changed to a new field - Environmental Planning. He opened a consulting practice designing mining plans for the surface mining of construction materials. He created his own mission - to ensure that his client companies adhered to environmental values and that they came to realize that environmental requirements would serve their own business interests as well.

He retired in 1999 at age 77. Finally, after not handling clay for 60 years, he returned to sculpture.

From 1999 to 2007 his major activity was sculpture.

Many of the sculptures he created are abstract tabletop pieces. An equal number - although tabletop size - are models of monumental structures which call upon the viewer's ability to imagine walking through and around the complex shapes. These pieces are intended to capture the aesthetic impact of grand architectural spaces, but without the restraints imposed by practical functional requirements. Models of human figures placed within them suggest the immense scale of the spaces.

Irwin had a one-man show of his monumental sculptures at the Hatch Gallery in Oakland in 2012.

Irwin Luckman died on August 14, 2013 at the age of 91.

Instead of a Memorial event, there will be a showing of his sculptures, tabletop as wll as monumental, during the entire month of October, in Berkeley. For location and hours of the Opening Reception and show inquire by email to:

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Aug. 24 to Aug. 25, 2013.
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