Mark Yoes | Essays

Elinor Evans : Some Truths from the Master

Still from “Elinor Evans approaches 100” from Rice University. Photo © Frank White.

Like so many other freshmen, I showed up on the first day of the academic year at the Rice University School of Architecture for First Year Design Studio, thinking that we were there to get a professional credential. Instead, we found a master in Professor Elinor Evans.

The first experience of her studio was baffling and hard to accept: on the surface it seemed remote from the practice of architecture because the materials we used were so ephemeral — sticks, string and leaves, for example, and colored and patterned paper harvested from old magazines. There was no text, nothing to tell us what was coming next, nothing actually written down. Evans would state an assignment, an exquisitely designed conundrum — “What is the bluest blue?” she might propose, and while she might repeat it several times, no further explanation was given.


All of this had a purpose: to focus our attention and open our eyes — and our minds — to color, form, pattern and structure. Once the visual problem solving began, she demonstrated a remarkably perceptive, agile and joyful style of design criticism, which was based on a deep understanding and love of natural phenomena. She also plainly exuded a sense of personal integrity, one that seemed inseparable from everything she did as teacher. After a few classes, her proposed brief was no longer met with scrutiny but instead, with rapt attention and a deafening silence, followed by flurries of intense activity and deep introspection.

Elinor Evans, Untitled 2013-2014, collage on paper. Photo © Frank White.

Elinor Evans, Professor Emerita, is an artist living in Houston, Texas where she taught and inspired generations of architecture students. She currently has an extraordinary exhibition of new collages and fiber works — Some Truths to Learn from Leaves — on view at Moody Gallery in Houston, as well as a show of her students' work on view at Architecture Center Houston. This robust body of work, excerpted in a brief slideshow here, testifies to one woman's remarkable breadth and capacity, revealed over decades upon decades of careful looking. And more remarkable still, Evans celebrated her 100th birthday on August 4th.

Posted in: Architecture, Education

Comments [1]

I come from a long line of educators. This doesn't necessarily mean that I would consider myself an expert in the field of education, but I can say that I have quite a bit of experience being on the receiving end of instruction. Although as a student these situations would seem very irritating, I agree that this method of allowing the students to really open their mind and come to their own conclusion is very effective. I might say that this approach isn't completely applicable in early education when there has to be structured teaching to establish a foundation, but once those students have solid ground to build off of, I find it most memorable for students to come to conclusions for themselves. I recall some of the times I had to really dig for an answer, and those were the moments that stuck with me best. I applaud you for finding an innovative way to teach. With age must have come great wisdom :)
Russell Cluff

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