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Howard Dearstyne 

Date/place of birth:
2 August 1903
Albany, New York

Date/place of death:
7 March 1979
Alexandria, Virginia

Relationship to the college:
Visiting Instructor in Architecture
Assistant to A. Lawrence Kocher
November 1941-May 1942

Architectural Historian



Howard Dearstyne enrolled at Columbia University in 1921 (B.A., 1925). He remained to study medicine for a year. An extension course offered by the Barnes Foundation which included visits to the collection in Marion, Pennsylvania, rekindled Dearstyne’s interest in the arts, and he later credited both his teacher Thomas Monro and Albert Barnes with his first meaningful introduction to art. After a trip to Europe, Dearstyne enrolled from 1926-28 at the Columbia School of Architecture. He recalled that at that time the School of Architecture was “retarded,” and after a second trip to Europe and exposure to modern architecture, he decided to remain there. In 1928 he found himself by “happy accident” at the Bauhaus in Dessau where he studied with Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, and Josef Albers, among others. After graduation in 1932, he moved with the Bauhaus to Berlin for additional study, and when the Bauhaus closed in 1933, he remained a year for private study with Mies.

In 1934 Dearstyne returned to the United States. From 1935-39 he worked with Wallace K. Harrison and J.A. Fouilhoux as an architectural designer, and from 1939-41 he was a designer in defense work with Raymond Loewy in New York City and Antonin Raymond, in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In 1941 he became a member of American Institute of Architects.

On the recommendation of Mies van der Rohe, Dearstyne was invited to teach architecture at Black Mountain College. He was appointed Visiting Instructor in Architecture and Assistant to Lawrence Kocher from November 1941-May 1942. He worked with Kocher on site plans and the detailing of the new buildings and taught courses in architectural structure.

Black Mountain College was the first of several teaching positions held by Dearstyne. He was Assistant Professor at Lawrence College, Appleton, Wisconsin (1943-44), Chairman of the Department of Design, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (1944-46), Lecturer in architectural design, College of William and Mary (1946-57); and Associate Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, Illinois Institute of Technology – invited by Mies – (1957-71).

The association with Kocher was critical to Dearstyne’s career. They co-authored "The Architectural Center: An Organization to Coordinate Building Research, Planning, Design, and Construction," which appeared in the July 1943 issue of New Pencil Points and was abridged in New Architecture and City Planning: A Symposium, edited by Paul Zucker (1944).

In 1946, Lawrence Kocher invited Dearstyne to join him at Colonial Williamsburg where Dearstyne was Assistant Editor of Architectural Records of Colonial Williamsburg until 1956. Working both together and separately, Kocher and Dearstyne prepared monographs on approximately fifty buildings. He and Kocher co-authored two books: Colonial Williamsburg, Its Buildings and Gardens (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, ©1949) and Shadows in Silver: A Record of Virginia, 1850-1900 (New York: Charles Scribner, 1954), a pictorial history of the life in Virginia. During this period, Dearstyne published articles on colonial buildings of Virginia. He prepared a 700-page typed manuscript on the colonial Capitol of Virginia and another on the “Architectural History of the Wren Building of the College of William and Mary.”

From 1967-68 Dearstyne was Associate Editor of Inland Architect, and from 1954-57, Director of the American Society of Architectural Historians. With Hilda Rebay, he translated Wassily Kandinsky’s Punkt und Linie zu Flähe (Point and Line to Plane) (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1947), for which he designed the layout and supervised the printing at the Cranbrook Press.

For many years Dearstyne worked on a book on the Bauhaus. In 1969 he was a Fellow at Graham Foundation, Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. The memoir was published posthumously as Inside the Bauhaus (New York: Rizzoli, 1986). He also was recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Dearstyne was an avid photographer and his photographs were the subject of many exhibitions and published widely in journals and catalogues.

In 1946 Dearstyne married Barbara Louise Timmins who died in 1973. He died in Alexandria Virginia, March 7, 1979.


The papers of Howard Dearstyne were deposited with the Library of Congress in 1988 and donated in 1991 by his sister Marjorie Smolka. The collection is housed in the Manuscripts Division, Prints and Photographs Division (slides, drawings and some photographs), Geography and Maps Division (maps) and Motion Picture, Broadcasting, Recorded Sound Division (audiotape) and Rare Book and Special Collections Division (books, articles and pamphlets).

Photograph: North Carolina State Archives, Black Mountain College Research Project Paper, Margaret Kocher Papers.


This biography was funded by a grant from the Graham Foundation for a study of architecture at Black Mountain College.

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