Newsletter | Jul/Aug 2007

In Memoriam: Vera E. Jansone (1915-2004)

by Inge S. Horton
It is with great sadness that I let you know that Vera E. Jansone, a longtime OWA member, passed away on March 12, 2004, at the age of 88 years.

Vera was born in Riga, Latvia, to a family of doctors with her parents being ophthalmologists. "Since she was talented in mathematics and sensitive to the arts," Vera wrote about herself in a 1987 curriculum vitae from which I will quote, "she decided to study architecture. After a few years at the University, she participated in an architectural competition, won the first prize, and set out on a journey to Prague, Budapest, and Italy." This was just the first travel in her life full of traveling throughout the world.

"The war with its tragic events ... forced the Jansone family to leave Latvia... Vera escaped from the communists...

After "V" Day, Vera arrived in Paris with one suitcase and with a firm belief to become an architect. She continued her studies with LeCorbusier and at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts. Life in Paris was extremely hectic: work all day, study all night, attend concerts of the best musicians and dancers of the world, Sundays play tennis and during Summer vacations climb the Alps and Pyrenees with the Club Alpin Francais. Together with one young man only, she ascended the summit of Mount Blanc - the higher the closer to the almighty God.

At the Beaux Arts, she belonged to a small group of young architects from the Atelier Auguste Perret, who were fighting for the true Modern Architecture, based on the principles of Le Corbusier. After graduation at the Beaux Arts with a degree of "Architecte DPLG," Vera was offered to become an Associate with J.L. Humbaire, in his office in Paris. Previously she had been working with him successfully on several school and college projects. This proposal had to be delayed, because soon after she was granted a scholarship to the United States.

Vera came to Chicago. After three semesters at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies van der Rohe, she obtained her M.S. in Architecture.

Since the middle 50's, Vera has worked in Zurich, Switzerland and in the United States (New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco) with the offices of Sert and Wiener: master plan of Bogota; SOM: Bellevue Hospital in New York, U.S. Embassy in Moscow; Rex Allen: French Hospital in San Francisco;
Victor Gruen: Fox Plaza development in San Francisco;
Ernest Born: BART Rapid transit station design in San Francisco; Robert Liles: regional shopping centers in California and Hawaii; Leonard Michaels: a highrise Condominium building in San Mateo;
and with other San Francisco Bay Area architects, mostly on big scale commercial, institutional and multi-family residential building projects.

Vera Jansone was a truly international architect with an astonishing range of experience. In 2003, she donated most her drawings still in her possession to the International Archive of Women in Architecture at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg.

In 1952, she married Frederic de Fisher and had one daughter, who followed her mother's family tradition and became a doctor. Vera and her husband lived in Greenbrae, Marin County, in a house, which she had designed and built in 1976. Although her work was mainly in large scale projects, this house, cantilevered over a steep hill, demonstrates Vera Jansone's commitment to the International Style, her boldness and candor. The sketch is from the booklet of the 1985 OWA House Tour to Residences Designed by Women Architects in Marin County and Napa Valley.

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