March 27, 1936 – Dec. 10, 2020
Frederic K. Houston studied architecture under two of the masters of modern design. More often that not, however, his projects involved accommodating the ornate styles of the past.
The last surviving original partner in the Buffalo firm of Hamilton, Houston and Lownie, now HHL Architects, he frequently was engaged in historic preservation efforts.
His work included adaptation of the Butler Mansion for the offices of Delaware North and an addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to incorporate an expanded gift shop, for which he was honored in 1995 by the American Institute of Architects.
He was principal-in-charge on restoration work for Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Cathedral – he led the design of Cathedral Park – and on projects for the Gow School, Western New York Psychiatric Center, the West Seneca Developmental Center and the former Children’s Hospital.
He also led the design of two new buildings on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst – Knox Lecture Hall and Bonner Hall.
He died Dec. 10 in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst, from complications of Covid-19. He was 84.
Born in Wilmington, Del., he attended high school in Concord, N.H., and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1959 from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He came to Buffalo after he completed a master’s degree in 1962 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied under major architects Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi.
During graduate school, he met Marie Sturges, a staffer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the daughter of an architect. They were married in 1963 and moved to Buffalo.
Mr. Houston first worked for Duane Lyman, the dean of Western New York architecture, and then for pioneering African-American architect Robert Traynham Coles before spending two years with the Department of Urban Renewal in Buffalo City Hall.
After Lyman died in 1969, he joined with Lyman’s grandson Peter Castle and two other local architects, Mike Hamilton and Ted Lownie, to form the firm now known at HHL Architects, which was devoted to contemporary designs.
Mr. Houston’s projects featured clean lines, clear spatial flow and bright color. His fullest expression was seen in “The House in the Woods,” a home he designed and built for his family outside East Aurora in 1971.
“Anyone who visited in the winter will remember the remarkable sensation of walking barefoot on the carpeted radiant heated floors, while just a yard away, snow blanketed the same plane outside,” said his son, Thomas R., who also is an architect.
“A lot of the commissions he got because he had good relations with people in the community,” said Matthew W. Meier, a managing partner at HHL. “It was about impossible to dislike Fred. He was such a sweetheart. He was so dynamic and personable.”
He retired in 2002, but continued to serve as a consultant. He also taught architecture at the University at Buffalo for nearly 20 years.
He helped found the Landmark Society of Western New York and served on the boards of the Elmwood Franklin School, Nardin Academy, the International Institute of Buffalo, the Episcopal Church Home, the Church Mission of Help Counseling and the Salvation Army. He also was a member of the Thursday Club.
He enjoyed swimming in the pool at his East Aurora home and hosting parties around it. A connoisseur of food and wine, for many winters he took to the ski slopes at Holiday Valley and ski resorts in the West.
“He was one of those totally elegant skiers, so calm and cool,” his son said. “Even after skiing changed, he was old school with the long skinny sticks.”
Mr. Houston and his wife moved to Buffalo about 10 years ago and were among the first residents of the Canterbury Woods Gates Circle retirement community.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Virginia Houston Meenan; and four grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.