Anderson Todd dies at 97

Professor, Rice School of Architecture director brought modern style to Houston

Anderson Todd, Rice’s Gus Sessions Wortham Professor Emeritus of Architecture and former director of the Rice School of Architecture (RSA), died Dec. 21. He was 97.

Todd joined Rice in 1949 after earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture at Princeton University.

Between earning his degrees, he served as captain of a submarine chaser in the South Pacific during World War II. Having learned seamanship at the foot of his father, Rear Adm. Forde Anderson Todd, a Naval aide to President Woodrow Wilson, the younger Todd took command of his ship at 23.

Anderson Todd. Photo by Brandon Martin

Anderson Todd. Photo by Brandon Martin

“About three years ago, one of my crew called me up,” Todd recalled in a 2011 interview with Rice News. “He’s only three years younger than I am. He said, ‘You were a good skipper.’ I said, I was pretty young. ‘Yeah, but we had a happy ship, and you got the job done.’ What do you mean I got the job done? ‘Well, you got us there and back!’

“Nothing about food or gunfire or fighting a war,” Todd said. “You got us there and back! That’s what it adds up to.”

Todd’s leadership skills were in full bloom when he succeeded William Caudill as RSA director in 1969 – he refused the title of dean, he said, to avoid regular meetings with the president – and quickly enhanced the preceptorship program Caudill established.

“Andy had a lot to do with the way it evolved and expanded into something like what it is today,” said William Cannady, a professor of architecture. “He helped develop it in a serious way into a program that no one else had.”

Todd was fully responsible for founding RSA’s Qualifying Graduate Workshop, which enabled students with no undergraduate training in architecture to quickly learn the essentials necessary for entering the graduate program.

Though he retired from Rice in 1995, Todd remained a fixture at Anderson Hall, returning often to encourage and cajole students to think for themselves. “He had very strong opinions, and yet an incredible generosity in wanting people to learn about architecture and in seeing architecture as something that benefits the world,” said Dean Sarah Whiting, the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture.

“He pushed people to have their own opinions, but also really cared that people do,” she said. “It was a powerful combination and, to me, that was what was most remarkable about him.”

“He could meet a new student and ask a few questions, and maybe make some comments, and take a question or two from the student,” Cannady said. “We’d turn around and walk off, and he’d say, ‘You know, that student, I can tell you what his strengths and weaknesses are.’ And I’m thinking, how in the heck did he figure that out?

“Usually, he was right,” he said. “I never found an instance where he wasn’t.”

Todd left a strong mark on Houston both as an architect and supporter of modern architecture. Along with the countless students he mentored through the years, he also designed many distinctive buildings, including his own homes. He often worked in professional partnership with Cannady, whom he hired to teach at the university in 1964 and worked with as a practicing architect a short time later.

Todd’s buildings included Houston Fire Station 59 and the Superior Oil Co. geophysical laboratory, both of which won awards from the Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1968 and, with Cannady, the Brochstein House, similarly honored in 1975.

The duo also redesigned Rice’s Cohen House in 1976. A bas-relief portrait of the professors still adorns a wall there.

As a board member of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Todd was responsible for bringing renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to the city to design Cullinan Hall and the Brown Pavilion. He also served on the boards of the Contemporary Arts Museum and Planned Parenthood.

Todd was recognized by the Texas Society of Architects as winner of the TSA Award for Outstanding Educational Contributions, and won Rice’s George R. Brown Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1968. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Architecture.

For a celebration of his 90th birthday in 2011, Rice Architecture Professor Ron Witte produced a collection of essays about Todd written by Rice faculty and others. Rice News produced a video and story detailing Todd’s adventures en route to his faculty position at Rice, including his unique recruitment by William Ward Watkin and his glee, as a student, at standing up to legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Cannady said nobody enjoyed teaching more than Todd. “He had a great sense of humor,” he said. “It was a dry humor, but he was childlike in many ways. We’d pull pranks on each other all the time, and most of them would backfire.

“But we agreed that having fun was important, and that’s one of the products of good learning: enjoying it. We tried to instill that in the kids.”

Todd is survived by his wife, Iris ’49, and his children, Emily Leland Todd ’88 and David Anderson Todd ’84, his wife Wendy Price Todd ’89 and their daughters Hannah Todd ’18 and Margaret Todd ’22; and stepchildren Michael Lawrence, David Lawrence and Tamara Roberts and their children.

A celebration of Todd’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Cohen House. In lieu of flowers, his family requests gifts be made to the Anderson Todd Award at RSA or the charity of your choice.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.