Date of birth:
This biography was funded by a grant from the Graham Foundation for a study of architecture at Black Mountain College.
Claude Stoller was born and reared in the Bronx, New York where he attended public schools. He enrolled at City College of New York for a semester while searching for a school with a strong visual arts curriculum. Although he had heard of Black Mountain College from his brother Ezra Stoller, an architectural photographer, it was at the 1938 Bauhaus exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that Black Mountain caught his attention. Although both Moholy-Nagyís New Bauhaus and Black Mountain College were represented, of the two, Black Mountain appealed because of its sliding tuition scale. He applied to Black Mountain and Cooper Union in New York and was accepted at both. A dinner interview by the ever-charming Xanti Schawinsky, a former Bauhaus student who had taught at Black Mountain, at a restaurant overlooking the Hudson River was the deciding factor.
At Black Mountain Stoller took a general curriculum with a focus on art and architecture. He took Josef Albersís basic courses in design, color and drawing. He also took architectural courses with Lawrence Kocher, Howard Dearstyne, and Lou Bernard Voight. The architectural program at the time included architectural drafting and courses in Introductory Architecture, Contemporary Architecture, Introductory Design and Structural Design. For the class in Small House Design, the students designed small low-cost houses based on a four foot module.
Stoller and another student, Charles Forberg, were put in charge of the construction of the Jalowetz House, a small house designed by Lawrence Kocher for the Jalowetz family: Heinrich Jalowetz, who taught music, his wife Johanna, and their daughter Lisa. This involved meetings with Charles Godfrey, a local contractor who was directing the construction of several buildings, to plan each dayís work and the responsibility of directing other students assigned to the project.
At Black Mountain Stoller also explored his interest in photography. Students had set up a darkroom in the basement of Lee Hall, and although there was no photography teacher, Albers critiqued the work of the student photographers.
Stoller left Black Mountain after the 1942 fall quarter when he was drafted into the United States Army. He had applied for the Enlisted Reserve in hopes of finishing college but was rejected because he was deaf in one ear. During World War II he first was in the 14th Coast Artillery on Puget Sound. He then attended army engineering school after which he was sent overseas with the 13th Armored Division in France and Germany.
In February 1946, Stoller entered Harvard Graduate School of Design where he was accepted with advanced standing despite the fact he had not graduated from Black Mountain. He recalled that at first he was envious of the more advanced drafting skills of those who had come through professional undergraduate programs. He soon realized, however, that his courses with Josef Albers, an excellent physics course with Peter Bergmann, and his practical construction experience at Black Mountain compensated by far for any deficiency in technical skills which he soon mastered.
After graduation in 1949 (M. Arch.), Stoller studied for a year at the University of Florence in Italy. He and his wife Nan Oldenburg Stoller (now Nan Black), a Black Mountain student and a graduate of Radcliffe, were joined by Lucian and Jane Slater Marquis, both Black Mountain students. On his return Stoller worked for architectural firms in the Boston area. In 1955 he moved his family to St. Louis, Missouri, where he taught at Washington University. While there, he was registered as an architect in both Missouri and Iowa.
After two years the Stollers moved to the San Francisco area. In 1956, he formed a partnership, Marquis & Stoller Architects, with another young architect, Robert B. Marquis, the brother of Lucian Marquis. The firm, with its office on Beach Street, focused on the general practice of architecture and planning including residential, housing, institutional, and governmental projects. Stollerís use of natural materials in combination reflects both his studies with Albers and his admiration for the architect Marcel Breuer.
In 1978 Stoller formed Stoller/Partners (later Stoller Knoerr Architects) in Berkeley. Projects included single homes, multiple dwellings, religious buildings, and institutional and commercial structures. Social issues such as housing and energy-efficient designs were a primary concern for Stoller as was historic preservation.
Marquis & Stoller, Stoller/Partners and Stoller Knoerr have received many awards. In 1963-64 Stoller was visiting architect at the National Design Institute in Ahmedabad, India. In 1968 he was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, and in 1991 he was awarded the Berkeley Citation by the University of California. Stoller served on city and county planning commissions, on an advisory panel for the federal General Services Administration and on several other public and professional committees. He was licensed to practice in several states and certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.
In 1957 William Wurster invited Stoller to join the faculty in the Department of Architecture at the University of California. He was acting chairman in 1965-66 and Chair of Graduate Studies from the early 1980s until he retired Professor Emeritus in 1991.
As a teacher Stoller always bore in mind Josef Albersís emphasis on "seeing." He considered the development of a sensitive visual perception to be essential to the education of the architect. A second influence of Stollerís Black Mountain experience was the value of direct "hands on" experience. To the extent possible within a conventional architectural curriculum, Stoller used real sites and exposed his students to the manufacturing process of materials through visits to factories. In both St. Louis and Berkeley, Buckminster Fuller was invited to speak to Stollerís students who built experimental structures.
For one design class at Berkeley Stoller started the Wurster West Workshop, a studio in San Francisco where students could gain practical experience in planning, construction, and client relationships by working in poor neighborhoods. The major project for the workshop was the design in a redevelopment area of a square with both commercial space and housing. The square was designed in cooperation with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. The plan used both old buildings to be moved from other locations along with new buildings designed by the students. Although the square was never constructed, the project generated an ongoing discussion of urban design and redevelopment issues. Wurster West Workshop was continued by graduate students who renamed it ARKIS.
In 1965 Stoller started a program called Continuing Education in Environmental Design in collaboration with the University of California Extension. Several courses were instituted for architecture, planning, landscape architecture and design professionals. In 1966-67, as the internship component of the program, Stoller founded the pioneering San Francisco Community Design Center, a response both to student concerns about inequities in housing and community concerns about redevelopment plans. The Center, located on Haight Street in San Francisco, was started with a Research and Development grant from the University. The Center became a prototype for other Community Design Centers which brought the skills of architectural interns to poor neighborhoods where buildings needed remodeling or new construction was possible and where interns worked with "real" clients. In addition to architects, the program drew on the expertise of other disciplines including psychology, economics, law, and engineering. The program provided the type of practical experience Stoller had valued at Black Mountain. This was an extension of his teaching in which he selected specific sites which students visited.
Stoller has retired from active practice except for consulting. His last partner, his son-in-law Mark Knoerr, continues practice in San Francisco.
Stoller lives with his second wife Rosemary Raymond Stoller, also a Black Mountain student, in Berkeley and Maine where he continues his lifelong interest in photography. They inhabit a Julia Morgan House which they restored as well as an old house and barn on the Maine seacoast which they have been remodeling for many years.
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