Sanford Hirshen, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of architecture, dies at 78

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Sanford Hirshen, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of architecture, died on Oct. 2 in Oakland. He was 78.

Hirshen began lecturing in UC Berkeley’s department of architecture in 1966 and became a professor of architecture in 1974, eventually serving as chair of the department. He also served as the director of the campus Center for Planning and Development Research.

Hirshen worked to improve conditions in migrant community housing and oversaw various community design projects. His efforts spanned from public housing to rehabilitation centers.

“Early in his career, Sandy began experimenting in ways to create humane environments for people who did not have much money,” said Stephen Tobriner, Hirshen’s colleague and also a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of architecture. “Here is somebody who had these ideas of providing shelter for people and did it with elegant aesthetic.”

Hirshen grew up in New York City and attended the New York High School of Music & Art, where he met his wife of 56 years, Vivian.

“I had a crush on him at the age of 14,” said Vivian Hirshen. “He was 16, but we were in the same class, and I just attached myself to him and he to me. He was just a very special person.”

After graduating high school, Hirshen received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1959 and was awarded a William Kinne Fellows Memorial Fellowship, which allowed him to travel and study in Europe.

When Hirshen returned from Europe in 1960, he served in the U.S. Army and worked at several architectural firms. In 1965, Hirshen partnered with Sim Van Der Wyn, a high school classmate and colleague at UC Berkeley, and three others to found an award-winning architectural practice. The firm focused on underserved populations, carrying out projects including the construction of 33 camps for migrant workers between 1965 and 1974.

“Sandy was class president, and I was class treasurer,” Van Der Wyn said. “With Sandy, he was always good at knowing who he was and he was all about serving people who were underserved in society. I certainly miss him.”

A fellow of both the American Institute of Architects and the Royal Canadian Institute of Architects, Hirshen acted as the director of the School of Architecture at the University of British Columbia from 1991 to 1999. Hirshen retired in 2000 and returned to the Bay Area in 2009 to be close to his family and friends.

“Sandy’s approach in doing community design has influenced a whole generation of architects and because of him, students have completely different agendas as architects,” said Mui Ho, Hirshen’s colleague at UC Berkeley and an architect at her private practice in Berkeley. “He sought out works that had social components and students learned from him.”

Donations can be made to the Sandy Hirshen Prize in the department of architecture at the College of Environmental Design, which is an award given annually to an undergraduate or graduate architecture student whose works relate to socially responsible architecture.

Hirshen is survived by his wife and two children. A memorial service will be held later this fall.

Jane Nho covers student government. Contact her at [email protected].