Sean West Sculley: 1939-2021

POSTED ON: April 29, 2021

From left: Regi Weile, Roderick Knox, John Hejduk, Sean West Sculley, David Gersten (1992-93)

From left: Regi Weile, Roderick Knox, John Hejduk, Sean West Sculley, David Gersten (1992-93)

It is with great sadness that The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture announces the passing of former faculty member Sean West Sculley, who died on March 23, 2021. During his forty-seven-year tenure as a faculty member at The Cooper Union, Sean taught all five undergraduate design studios, most notably Design II and Thesis, and several Theory of Landscape Architecture seminars. He was a fixture in the third-floor studios and ever passionate about the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture.

Sean West Sculley

In addition to his teaching, Sean made numerous contributions to The Cooper Union. In the spring of 1977 he helped organize the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation visiting professorships, inviting the poet John Ashbery, literary critic Jay Fellows, filmmaker Robert Freeman, author and playwright John Hawkes, architect Aldo Rossi, and historian Joseph Rykwert to teach the fifth-year design studio. Sean later edited and wrote the introduction to Solitary Travelers, a publication celebrating the creative work of each of these six esteemed visiting professors. He also participated in the Trenton Industrial Corridor Study (1979)—a publication of student proposals from the 1978-79 Design IV studio he co-taught with Diana Agrest, John P. Clarke, Richard Stein, Fred Travisano, and Michael Wurmfeld.

In 1999 Sean’s design for the George Hecht Viewing Gardens was realized. Located at the intersection of 9th Street, Stuyvesant Street, and Third Avenue, the $2.1 million dollar project received funding from the City of New York, Con Edison, and George Hecht, a 1930 graduate of The Cooper Union. The design features a decorative wrought-iron fence, a compass rose and a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. In his remarks about the garden, Sean explained “The park has to do with a notion of maintaining the vitality and longevity of a historic neighborhood that is now experiencing a renaissance of activity. The effort, in terms of the design, was to acknowledge and respect the historical character of much of the architecture in the neighborhood. Not only that, one element in the garden—the compass rose—refers to the fact that Stuyvesant Street runs true east and west. It’s the only street in Manhattan that does so.” 

George Hect Viewing Gardens
The George Hecht Viewing Gardens, 2021

Sean was deeply committed to the School of Architecture’s pedagogy and his relationship with John Hejduk. In a letter to Hejduk accepting his reappointment as a faculty member for the 1987-88 academic year, Sean wrote “The honor and delight of being associated with you and your colleagues at Cooper continues to be an event in my life of the first consequence. I am nurtured, proud and above all always thankful to be part of the school.”

Several of Sean’s colleagues in the School of Architecture remember him fondly:

When I arrived as Dean, Sean came to my office, congratulated me, and asked what would I like him to teach. I replied by asking what he would wish to teach. We discussed a number of options and settled on his real passion—the art and architecture of landscape gardening. It would be a seminar that he taught regularly, with site visits where possible, during his time at Cooper. Every year he dropped into my office to check in, and every year he offered to help in any way he could. A perfect gentleman offering wise advice from his long experience with Cooper, he was a beloved teacher and a valued colleague.
— Anthony Vidler

I was unfortunately never Sean’s student nor taught with him, nevertheless hearing him talk to students and at crits, I always found him the most respectful teacher. He would observe the work quietly, for a long time, and he always—with a smile—encouraged students, having the ability to connect even whimsical work with time-honored traditions. His kindness and wit will be sorely missed.
— Tamar Zinguer

Sean Sculley and I joined the teaching faculty of The Cooper Union in the academic year 1970-1971. In those days it was The School of Art and Architecture, under one dean, George Sadek. I came to know Sean a few years later. He expressed admiration of my students’ drawings and for several years was part of a small group that met in my studio to draw from the figure. He was also a great defender of the inch (as opposed to the metric system) and belonged to a society that supported this. Apart from his favored attire of Bermuda shorts, he was given to wearing a kilt on occasion. He is remembered by many alumni as an enthusiastic and supportive critic.
— Sue Ferguson Gussow

I had only one chance, an excellent one though, to teach alongside Sean Sculley. It was some time ago, together with a group of wonderful teachers: Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, and Mike Webb, and it was a very formative experience for me. Over three decades I had many opportunities to converse with Sean, sitting in the faculty lounge, sipping a coffee, and listening to his considerations on art, the school and, of course, landscaping. I most enjoyed listening to his pondering on political history. Sean was an elegant person, in the way in which he dressed, in his manner and—quite significantly—in his thinking. And when he wore his shorts it meant that a warmer season was at the door.
— Guido Zuliani

Sean West Sculley graduated from Kent School in Kent, Connecticut in 1957. He received a BA from Harvard College and a BA from the Columbia University School of Architecture. Before joining The Cooper Union he was on faculty at Columbia University’s School of Architecture and was a visiting faculty member at the Graduate School of Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture of the University of Pennsylvania. He was honored by the New York City Municipal Arts Society, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Westchester Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and Suffolk County in New York State. Prior to establishing his private practice, he was a partner of Sculley, Thoreson and Linard, and a former associate at James Stewart Polshek, FAIA. His academic research focused on the history of landscape architecture and public policy pertaining to the use and protection of open space in the public realm, and on developing affordable housing in emerging economies. 

If any former colleagues or students would like to share their memories of Sean with his daughter Samantha West, she can be reached at Donations in Sean’s honor can be made to The New York Landmarks Conservancy

Inset photograph of Sean West Sculley by Samantha West.

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