Frederic Schwartz, who died on April 28 after struggling with cancer, wasn’t so much an architect as a public citizen who used architecture as a tool to improve lives. Other tools included empathy and patience. His best-known project in New York was the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, a project he inherited from his former employers, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, after public officials tinkered with their design so many times they felt unable to continue. Schwartz picked up where they left off, focusing not so much on making a statement, architecturally, as on obtaining support for what he saw as an essential civic improvement. He once estimated that he had attended more than 600 meetings, with community boards and city, state, and federal agencies, to get the approvals he needed.
Schwartz was famously loyal, particularly to Venturi and Scott Brown. Schwartz helped save the Lieb House, designed by Venturi for a site on the New Jersey shore and threatened with demolition in 2009, by securing a new location for it on the North Shore of Long Island. And he worked, successfully, to get the American Institute of Architects to change a rule that allowed the Gold Medal to be awarded only to individuals. Now partners, including Scott Brown and Venturi, can receive the prize. (Schwartz was himself part of an intensely loyal couple; he and his partner and wife, Tracey Hummer, an editor and master logistician, worked side-by-side for years.) Another sign of his loyalty: he changed almost nothing in the apartment he inherited from the architect Alan Buchsbaum, a friend who died of AIDS in 1987; he wanted to keep Buchsbaum’s creation intact. (Notably, Schwartz also edited a book of Buchsbaum’s work.)