“A practicing architect of sensitivity and great distinction…. Besides achievement as a designer, he has given himself unflaggingly and quietly to the community at large as an advocate for a more civil, orderly, and beautiful city.” — Frank Welch, FAIA
This past December I received an email from Gregory Ibañez, FAIA, telling me of the passing of Philip Henderson, FAIA, whom we had both come to know better through our continued involvement with the DOCOMOMO US/ North Texas chapter. On December 7, the Dallas Morning News published an article by Mark Lamster that provided an overview of Philip’s life, career, and accomplishments.
Shortly after beginning my career in early 2010, I developed a fascination with the architectural history of North Texas, which was spurred on by my involvement in the preservation of midcentury work in Dallas. This experience led to my first article and, shortly thereafter, my first encounter with Philip’s work during a pivotal era in Dallas’ history. “The Prairie’s Yield: Forces Shaping Dallas Architecture from 1840 to 1962,” published in 1962 during the first AIA national convention in Dallas, was a departure from an architectural guide in the traditional sense. The book presented parallel views on how the city was developing in relation to the world around it. The voices — among them contributions by Joanne Pratt, James Pratt, FAIA, Hal Box, FAIA, and Philip Henderson, FAIA, (partners of the firm Pratt, Box, & Henderson [PBH]) — were honest, direct, provoking, and at times quite humorous.
I first met Philip during AIA Dallas’ Celebrate Architecture 2017, shortly after a trip where I and two close friends — Andrew Barnes, AIA, and Gray Garmon, Assoc. AIA — had visited the Pratts in Santa Fe. At the time, the three of us were working on a Dallas zine called “DFD” (Design Future Dallas), which was also the name of a grassroots effort that Andrew and Gray started as a way to provoke ideas for design challenges in the city. As we were thinking of ideas for the zine, the work of PBH kept coming to mind, and the Pratts graciously allowed us to interview them over the course of our two-day stay. When I met Philip, my explanation of our trip to Santa Fe was met with a smile and a “Why?” as he questioned in a jovial way why we would make the effort to have such a conversation. But Philip, too, graciously gave us his time, and what followed were deeply impactful and rewarding conversations with him. Each took place in his apartment, a home filled with pictures and artifacts — not unlike James and JoAnne’s home — which some might see as an incredible living archive of one’s career. I would later discover that Pratt, Box, and Henderson kept literally everything and donated their materials to the Dallas Central Library.
We would sit at his kitchen table with a panoramic view to Turtle Creek, and our conversation — focused around a map attached to his shelves in the living space — would usually start with an update on his work with the Circuit Trail Conservancy and Katy Trail, a project Philip was deeply involved with in his later years. During this time, he also pursued a number of creative avenues, including co-curating a notable comprehensive exhibition at Dallas’ AD EX on the architecture of Charles Dilbeck.
I was working on the design for Thanks-Giving Square at the time, and he offered advice on how the architect’s role of advocate for a project is as important as their role of designer, in order to build the capital and consensus needed to bring it to fruition. I also remember him being very honest and pointed upon learning that our firm had done the work on the park for free. “That’s quite foolish,” I remember him saying. He wanted me to understand the value that the profession brings to the table and that it is a contribution that should never be taken for granted. Philip’s advice greatly shaped the trajectory of my career.
Not all of our conversations carried such a serious tone. One of my favorites was when Philip spoke of his time in Saarinen’s office. He explained how the team always aimed to be innovative, and that included testing new materials that came to market. The process often involved placing a material sample in the oven, then into the fridge, then back into the oven. This back and forth carried on for some time, and we both shared a laugh over the safety (or lack thereof) of such a process. If the product failed, it was often given back to the sales rep in a very different state than the way it had arrived. Please, don’t try this!
I am most grateful that these conversations helped energize the effort of bringing attention to Pratt, Box, & Henderson’s legacy by the DOCOMOMO US/North Texas chapter in 2018 with the “Shaping Dallas Architecture” event, featuring an in-depth conversation about the firm’s contributions. Each board member committed time and effort to sifting through the library archives and communicating our findings to Philip.
The board recognized the meaning of our interactions with Philip. These are some of the thoughts shared by two members of our group:
Aside from being the consummate professional, Philip was always warm, generous with praise, and in possession of both a keen intellect and deep curiosity. — Gregory Ibañez, FAIA
I’m not really sure how I first came to know Philip. Probably through AIA matters, probably something to do with urban design, I think. Then we just kept running into each other at AIA events, Preservation Dallas events, trail and tree events, and so on…. And then we really re-connected when DOCOMOMO US/NTX did the symposium. That is when I came to realize how gracious of a person Philip was, and how deep his knowledge ran.
During all that time, I admired Philip for his passion and dedication to urban design, especially in the areas of trail advocacy and planning. This kind of work is somewhat the opposite of designing a building. If one designs a good building, there may be awards and publications about it that are rewarding in their own way, including one’s ego. But advocating for decades for a comprehensive trail system that connects the neighborhoods and people of Dallas, not so much.
That’s how I will mostly remember Philip — as an incredibly effective architect and planner who brought his passion to projects that he did for the love of a city, not for glory nor for credit. — Robert Meckfessel, FAIA, President, DOCOMOMO US
When I offered to write this piece for Texas Architect following the news of Philip’s passing, I admittedly wished I had come to know Philip more than I did. Although I knew him for only a brief period of his 92 years — an incredible life that ended too abruptly — I cannot thank Philip enough for his time and impact. “Unflagging and quiet” are certainly apt descriptions of the person I came to know, and I never thought that a journey from reading someone’s written work to meeting them and having them open themselves up to a strange young designer would have had such impact upon my career. For this, Philip, I cannot thank you enough. I hope you know that the conversations will live on. For those just coming into the profession, I cannot stress enough the reward and sense of purpose that comes with understanding your peers and their impact.
I am certain that my feelings are shared by many others in our design community. My hope is that this tribute will spark you as readers, friends, and colleagues who knew Philip to share your recollections in the comments section of the online version of this article.
Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is a senior associate at the Dallas office of Perkins Eastman and resides in Minneapolis.