|| Thoughts in Memory of Panos Koulermos
Much too early for us humans.
My dear friend the architect, urbanist, educator, poet and humanist,
Panos Koulermos, died on Sunday the 26th of September.
He left us during one of his long journeys around the world, left
us behind with the memory of his incredible spirit and his search
for truth in architecture and the world in general - as if he
wanted to say to all of us to continue his journey.
Here we are, thinking of who we lost, thinking what he meant to
Here we are.
Here I am trying in these humble words to sketch a glimpse of
Panos. Who was he?
I first met Panos in Los Angeles in 1987 while studying architecture
at the University of Southern California. He was the head of the
graduate program at the time and also my graduate thesis advisor.
He struck me from the first moment I met him with his open, warm
and lively manner and his poetic understanding of architecture.
Soon after that I came to be his teaching assistant, and he came
to be my good friend and mentor.
In 1995, Panos told me about his plans to move to Switzerland
to be part of the founding forces creating a new architecture
school in Ticino, together with his old friend Mario Botta. Knowing
Panos's architectural, didactical and educational qualities, I
realized the explosive potential Panos's presence would have in
In 1996, after 24 years in America, Panos and his wife Piera were
about to return to Europe, where he felt so spiritually connected.
He was so happy and excited . The year after that I joined him
again as his assistant at the new Accademia di architettura. I
enjoyed an amazingly intense and creative time together with Panos
and his other three assistants.
Panos loved architecture. He lived it with all his soul. The understanding
of space, form and meaning in architecture came entirely naturally
to him. The clarity and poetic depth of thinking astounded me
every time I observed it while working close to him.
Panos was also a gifted teacher. He believed that the real understanding
of architecture and the world around us must come from within
a person; it cannot be taught, imported or implanted by someone
else. He did not appear to want to instruct students. On the contrary,
he gave the impression of one desiring to learn from them. He
didn't lecture; he discussed. He felt that only the understanding
from within can lead to true insight and that all those many ideas
provided the richness of the world we live in. A society of liberated
individuals in a pluralistic world.
Panos believed in an open and free world where architecture schools
educate their students in ethics and humanity. He felt students
should be prepared to be able to practice their profession anywhere
in the world and that their architecture give joy and meaning
to human life.
During many of our long walks together, we often passed the statue
of Socrates in Chiani park in Lugano. Panos was so fond of this
statue and always greeted Socrates's likeness with great respect.
One day we realized that our friend had been moved. Socrates was
no longer in his place. I could tell Panos felt quite sad.
Panos was in many ways like Socrates. I never saw a teacher who
was so capable of seeing inside the students' minds, who could
see the hidden seed. He believed in each individual and in the
greatness of his thoughts. He believed in you and helped you to
find your own identity. I realized time and time again while talking
to former students and friends around the world, just how many
lifes he influenced, how many eyes he opened.
In the end, Panos somehow found Socrates again, along with the
Gods in Greece, where he now rests. Perhaps the words of his old
friend John Hejduk ring most poignant:
"Panos understands that the ancient Gods are always waiting,
observing our creations; that is, they compare and finally judge.
I think they smile with and upon Panos Koulermos. In their positions,
the Gods need their hearts to be warmed a bit as do we humans,
and Panos provides us with the necessary heat, just enough, for
he does not want to burn us. He is clear about the ambiguity as
to what the heavens might bolt down, so he makes an appropriate
offering, that is, the offering of good work in the form of architecture."
He left us on one of his long journeys.
Much to early for us humans.