Henry Lagorio, UC Berkeley professor emeritus, dies at 90

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Henry Lagorio, an expert in seismic design and a professor emeritus of architecture at UC Berkeley, died after a six-year struggle with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases Oct. 1. He was 90.

Lagorio was a professor in the UC Berkeley department of architecture for 43 years. His study of architectural design for earthquake safety led to his collaboration with many federal organizations, developing methods for mitigating consequences of earthquakes and plans for recovery after a disaster.

As associate dean of the College of Environmental Design, he helped launch the Center for Environmental Design Research, which fosters studies in sustainable building technologies and design.

“(He) was a mentor — a man to be admired and a role model,” said Richard Bender, Lagorio’s colleague and a professor emeritus of architecture. “His solid footing and friendships in the ‘earthquake world’, the National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Architects set us on a path to interesting and groundbreaking work.”

Lagorio received a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1944 and a master’s in architecture in 1945 from UC Berkeley after a teacher at Oakland Technical High School suggested he explore the field.

After graduating, he served in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II. Discharged as a staff sergeant, he was invited by Robert Gordon Sproul, the 11th UC president, to teach first-year architecture courses at UC Berkeley.

A pioneer in his field, Lagorio was the first architect to serve with the NSF in the Research Applied to National Needs division, working on projects to improve industrial sectors of the country.  He was also the first architect to be a member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, serving on its various committees and on the editorial board of Earthquake Spectra, the institute’s professional journal.

During a sabbatical in Rome, Lagorio met Natalie Coce, who was working as a secretary at the U.S. embassy. The two were both from Oakland, and they married in San Francisco in 1962.

“He was very quiet with a tremendous sense of humor,” said Natalie Lagorio.

Strengthening architectural research was a priority for Lagorio, who worked to legitimize the role of architects in the field of earthquake-hazard design and research. In 1978, he was asked by the University of Hawaii to help advance its department of architecture into the School of Architecture. He became a Fellow of the AIA in 1997.

Elizabeth Byrne, former head of the Environmental Design Library at UC Berkeley, fondly remembered Lagorio as a “lovely, kind and very smart guy” who was “a joy to work with.”

Lagorio is survived by his wife.

A funeral mass will be  held Oct. 17 at 10:30 a.m. at Newman Hall, Holy Spirit Parish, 2700 Dwight Way at College Avenue.

Contact Jeff Landa at [email protected].