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Death of Legendary Architect Frank Welch is a Huge Loss for Texas — and Beautiful Buildings

The Dean’s Extraordinary Legacy Will Live On

BY // 06.23.17

Frank Welch, one of the Southwest’s most important architects, has died at 90. A former protégé of O’Neil Ford, Welch helped birth the regionalist modern architecture movement in Texas during the 1950s. Welch’s brand of warm and sophisticated architecture was sought after by high-profile and wealthy clients — first in Midland where he designed modern homes, churches and municipal buildings for the oil town’s tennis-playing, hard-drinking and bird-hunting elite. Welch humorously and vividly detailed many of his early clients and their homes in a 2014 memoir, On Becoming an Architect.

He loved the desolate West Texas landscape and light, incorporating its unique windswept character and materials into his designs with steeply raked metal-seam roofs, tall chimneys, native stone and wood. He considered his greatest architectural achievement to be a minimalist ranch shelter in the early 1960s, called The Birthday. Built on a bluff overlooking a flat expanse of land in west Texas, it was conjured from limestone quarried on site, salvaged wood, and supported by a 20-foot beam fashioned from a railroad tie.

The glassed-in shelter, with its elevated split-level roof, provided uninterrupted views and solitary contemplation. The Birthday won a Texas Society of Architects’ 25-Year Award in 1997, an honor he shared that same year with Louis Kahn’s acclaimed Kimbell Art Museum.

A graduate of Texas A&M University, Welch worked in Midland for 30 years before moving to Dallas in 1985. Here, he created elegant modern homes known for their comfort and livability, including the Shamoon residence near Turtle Creek, the Dillon house off the Katy Trail, and a two-story abode in Greenway Parks. Other notable Texas projects are the Lamplighter School and gymnasium, the expansion of the St. Alcuin Montessori School, and the design of First United Methodist Church of Richardson.

Welch was recognized with more than 50 awards for design excellence, and in 2006, the Texas Society of Architects presented him with its highest honor, the TSA Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In later years, as his eyesight dimmed from macular degeneration, he increasingly relied on other members of his architecture firm to carry out his designs. Despite his health challenges, his enthusiasm for parties and cultural events never waned, and he continued to go to movies, opera, and plays, escorted by a driver or a friend. A dapper dresser, Welch had wit, charm, and a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and martinis.

In his memoir, he writes of his melancholy whenever one of his labors of love is torn down. While many of his buildings and residences have escaped the wrecking ball, his most iconic achievement, The Birthday, was destroyed decades after it was built, when the land’s new owners built a house around it. He mused, “That’s when I began to realize that nothing does endure.”

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We disagree — Frank Welch’s structures may be subject to whim, but his extraordinary legacy lives on.

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