Judith Chafee, FAIA
(1932-1998)

Judith Davidson Chafee was born in Chicago and moved to Tucson at the age of five. Her delight in, and respect for, the desert can be attributed to a Tucson childhood living in an adobe house and learning first hand about sun angles, cool washes, and prevailing breezes. From her mother, a Harvard-trained anthropologist, Chafee learned ro respect the indigenous cultures of Arizona and the wisdom they demonstrated in building for the desert. An additional advantage for Chafee was being a child in a world of intellectually stimulating encounters, including those with Margaret Sanger, who later founded Planned Parenthood, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chafee's High School years were spent at the Parker School in Chicago, then on to Bennington College in Vermont, earning a bachelor's degree in visual arts, and in 1960 a master's degree from Yale's Graduate School of Art and Architecture. Upon graduation from Yale, Chafee stayed in New England working for a veritable who's who in mid-twentieth-century American architecture: Paul Rudolph, The Architect's Collaborative (TAC), Eero Saarinen, and Edward Larabee Barnes. For three years she had her own practice with projects in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, before the frustration of cutthroat competitiveness and perhaps a longing for the stark beauty of the desert helped to form her decision to return to Tucson in 1970. She opened a small 'atelier' doing primarily residential work and quickly built a national reputation for synthesizing modern design ideology with a critical understanding of the desert's indigenous qualities.

She traveled extensively throughout her career and in 1977 was awarded the prestigious midcareer National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to the American Academy in Rome. From 1973 until her death, Chafee taught architectural design at the University of Arizona, instilling in her students the value of place, climate, and culture. In 1983, she was invested in the AIA College of Fellows--Arizona'a first woman so honored.

The Tucson buildings of Judith Chafee are unequaled in their power and originality. She created dynamic spaces through the continuity of inside and outside, expressed the power of the structure, did not use formal references to previous styles, and achived balance through a limited color palette, echoing the modern age and the resilience of the desert. [text from A Guide to Tucson Architecture, Nequette and Jeffery, 2002]

In presentations of her work, she used this photograph of herself as child to make the point that one learns how to build in the desert by living in it [under the shade of a hat].