Joan Goody, 1936-2009

Joan Goody, 1936-2009

We may have crossed paths at MIT earlier, but I know Joan Goody and I met in 1970 at an extraordinary gathering, the first of its kind in Boston, for Women in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Planning (fondly dubbed WALAP). Joan was then a young partner in the firm Goody Clancy and Associates, and together with Sally Harkness at The Architects Collaborative, they were the only principals in a room of over 100 women.

For those of us who dreamed about creating a practice of architecture, Goody was tangible evidence it could be done. Her participation in WALAP was no surprise, because Joan was nurtured in an environment of political activism. I recall her saying that growing up, there was always talk of The Movement—in the ‘50s it was the labor movement, in the ‘60s it was the civil rights movement, and in the ‘70s it was, naturally, the women’s movement. Through the years since that meeting, she generously shared her experiences, joys, and frustrations with many of us.

Joan began her practice in Boston in partnership with her husband Marvin Goody, who had formed a small firm with colleague John Clancy. From the outset, their commitment to design for the public sector and particularly urban housing gained regional and national attention. When Marvin died in 1980, Joan became the firm’s most visible presence, and it grew dramatically under her leadership.

Joan’s values, shaped by her earliest experience in New York’s Ethical Culture School and later at Cornell and Harvard Graduate School of Design, permeated her architecture. The social benefit of architecture was always uppermost in her mind, and she was famously skeptical of design that celebrated itself more than its users. While the work of her firm expanded with projects of many types around the country, her contribution to Boston was most significant.

Her affordable housing projects for Boston’s Tent City and Harbor Point restored a livable urbanism to damaged parts of the city. Her Student Center for Emmanuel College and Graduate Center for Simmons College were both inviting student and academic spaces, and critical elements in the campus ensemble. She excelled in historic restoration in three notable buildings by H. H. Richardson: Austin Hall and Sever Hall at Harvard, and Trinity Church. For her contributions to the profession and the city, she received the Award of Honor for lifetime achievement in 2005 from the Boston Society of Architects.

As a cultural and civic leader, Joan was well known for her breadth of knowledge, her forthrightness, and her eloquence. She served for many years as the mayoral appointee and chair of the Boston Civic Design Commission, reviewing every major building project undertaken in the city with consistent and persistent concern for the quality of life and design each would contribute. When she stepped down and recommended me for “her seat,” she cautioned me to accept only if I would speak my mind with candor as she had done. She was one of the leaders in the current effort to save Boston’s City Hall, a modern landmark designed by Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects, slated for demolition or redevelopment by Boston’s mayor.

She was a great reader—I never could read the newspaper early enough to be ready for her morning question: “Did you see… in the Times/Globe today?”—and belonged to several discussion groups including the Saturday Club and the Tavern Club, where she led conversations both serious and light-hearted. She was dedicated to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she taught briefly in the 1970s, close to her classmates who included Tom Payette and Henry Wood, and served on its Visiting Committee for many years. She was always ready with suggestions for improvements large and small, including most recently the wish for the school’s lecture and exhibition posters to be more graphically legible.

Joan was an elegant woman who bore a frequently mentioned resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore. She favored Italian sportswear, artisan jewelry, and shopping at Saks. She preferred public transportation to driving. She loved her homes in Maine and Gloucester, and she traveled widely. Her favorite city abroad was Paris, and she spoke French well. In 1984, she married the poet and editor Peter Davison, and became close to his children and grandchildren; they were together until his death in 2004.

The community of Boston architects is stunned and saddened by her death. She chose not to tell most of her friends and colleagues about her short and devasting illness, so that she might enjoy her life as normally as possible until its end. Not long ago, she told me that she really couldn’t imagine retirement, and indeed she has not needed to. I will always remember her as a person of strong convictions, sparking intelligence, great humor, and enormous kindness. She began as a generous colleague and wise advisor and became an enduring friend.


A version of this article appeared in AN 10.07.2009.