Architecture’s Elinor Evans dies at 102

Elinor Evans, the Albert K. and Harry K. Smith Professor Emerita of Architecture, died on Sunday morning after a short illness. She was 102.

Elinor Evans

Elinor Evans

Evans taught design Rice School of Architecture (RSA) freshmen for 21 years and continued to lecture at the school into the ’90s. She challenged her students to look to nature to help them think about structure, a practice she maintained in her own art throughout her life.

“Elinor was a truly remarkable person, so warm and devoted to her art and her students, but also so sharp and pointed with her convictions,” said Sarah Whiting, RSA dean and the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture. “She was a great model. Every student who had her — pretty much every undergraduate between 1964 and 1985 — evokes her when they talk to me about their experiences at Rice.”

Early in her career, Evans taught at her alma mater, Oklahoma State, which recruited her to help teach soldiers returning from World War II. She moved on to Yale University, where she earned a master’s degree and studied with artist Josef Albers.

She was recruited to Rice by Oklahoma State classmate William Caudill, who was to become RSA director. At Rice, she said she taught students “to see and to invent and to discover their own creativity.”

Among her assignments, the most famous involved using sticks and strings to build “a structure that could be continuous, that could go on and on and on, repeating itself, but reinventing itself, also, in the process.” Decades later, some of the best of those student inventions had a place of honor on one wall of Evans’ Houston apartment.

Born in Mont Ida, Kan., Evans grew up on her parents’ ranch in Oklahoma, where she and her twin brother developed an eye for nature’s designs during walks with their grandfather. She reflected on her background in a Rice News article and video in 2014.

“They say you may be lucky to have one great teacher in your whole lifetime,” said Danny Samuels ’71, a Rice professor in the practice of architecture, when she turned 100. “Well, she was that for almost every student who had her.” Samuels, a former student and longtime friend of Evans, followed in her footsteps and taught first-year architecture at Rice from 1992 to 2012.

At 100, Evans mounted an exhibition of her at Houston’s Moody Gallery exhibition, “Some Truths to Learn from Leaves,” which featured her leaf collages. Evans donated proceeds from the sale of her work to an endowment fund established by RSA in her name in 2014. (For information about the fund, contact Rice Development and Alumni Relations.)

Evans is survived by two sisters, Sally Flowers of St. James, Miss., and Roberta Wilson of North Andover, Mass., and 15 nieces and nephews. Details on services are forthcoming.

About Mike Williams

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