Adolf K. Placzek, former Avery Librarian, Dies at 87


March 03, 2000 Adolf K. Placzek, former Avery Librarian and adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University, died peacefully at his home in Manhattan on March 19th. He was 87.

Born in Vienna in 1913, Mr. Placzek graduated from the University of Vienna in 1938 and came to the United States in 1940, after a brief sojourn in London. After receiving his degree in library sciences from Columbia in 1942, he served for three years in the United States Army. Mr. Placzek returned to work in the Avery Architectural Library in 1948, then under the direction of Talbot Hamlin. He took pleasure in recalling an interview that consisted on an exchange of views on the merits of the Viennese architect Otto Wagner. He was named Avery Librarian in 1960, a position that he held until his retirement from Columbia University in 1980.

Under Mr. Placzek's leadership, Avery came to be recognized as one of the best architectural libraries in the world. Many students and colleagues remember with pleasure learning from him and with him, whether in the classroom, in the library or on the run, for he was always willing to talk and share ideas. Carol Mandel, dean of libraries at New York University, remembers him from her days as an Avery cataloger, "He epitomizes for me everything that is great about Avery Library, he was a mentor to me, and the European gentleman par excellence." Phyllis Lambert, founding director of the Canadian Center for Architecture, says, "I could not have created the CCA without his advice, Placzek was prescient in underscoring the interconnectedness of printed, archival and museum collections in an architectural library."

Placzek not only acquired great architectural books and archives, but also contributed to their greater access by editing reprints, among which Sebastiano Serlio on Domestic Architecture earned several prizes. This was the first title to be published by the Architectural History Foundation, of whose Board he was a founding member. He also oversaw the publication, by G. K. Hall, of the great Catalog of the Avery Memorial Architectural Library in 19 volumes, to which 16 supplementary volumes were added over the years, and of the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals in 15 volumes and many supplements.

Upon retirement from Avery Library and Columbia University, Placzek remained as active as ever, undertaking several new and ambitious enterprises. He edited the four volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, launched the ambitious series on "Buildings of the United States" in the Society of Architectural Historians, of which he had been president, and was an active member of the New York Landmarks Commission. In celebration of the centenary of the Avery Library, Placzek co-edited Avery's choice: five-hundred years of architectural publications, one-hundred years of an architectural library, 1890-1990, with Angela Giral, the current Director of Avery Library, who remembers him as "the most supportive predecessor any one could hope for, I could always count on him for advice and a touch of good humor."

Mr. Placzek is survived by his wife, Beverley; two stepsons from his first marriage to the writer Jan Struther, who died of cancer in 1953, James Maxtone Graham of Peebles, Scotland, and Robert Maxtone Graham of Sandwich, Kent, England; his sister Susan Stern of Riverdale; and a stepgrandson. A memorial service is planned for April 9th at Calvary Church, Park Avenue at 21st Street, at 5 p.m. A celebration of Placzek's life will be held in Avery Library on April 17th at 5 p.m. Contributions may be sent to the "Adolf K. Placzek Memorial Fund for Classic Architecture Books" at Avery Library.

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03/19/2000