I just presented the New Urban Guild’s Barranco Award for Architecture at the CNU21 morning plenary. These were my comments on Michael, followed by colleague Mark Moreno’s comments on Andrew von Maur, this year’s recipient:
Thanks so much to Bruce Tolar, Mike Thompson, and the other members of the Barranco Award selection committee for their dedication to this award.
Michael Barranco was a Renaissance man; an architect, artist, musician, and civic leader. But Michael’s life and work also had a much broader impact, even though he never would have told you so himself.
I first met Michael in Jackson, Mississippi, at DPZ’s planning charrette for Lost Rabbit, a new town in Mississippi. Michael, serving as Town Architect, asked me to plan a subsequent architectural charrette for Lost Rabbit. That charrette, in July 2004, would be the second ever held by the New Urban Guild, after Alys Beach that January.
Michael was the linchpin of an extraordinary decision made on the first morning of the charrette that led to the rediscovery three days later of the “heartbeat of living traditions,” which is these four words: We do this because…
Katrina came just over a year later. Michael called just after the storm and said “Steve, we’re assembling a Governor’s Commission, and we’d like for you to speak to them about rebuilding Mississippi according New Urbanist principles” I said “that’s a job far too big for me; let me talk to Andrés.” The next morning I went to DPZ and after discussing it, he said “that’s a job too big for me, too,” and so he picked up the phone and called John Norquist. And the rest we all know.
Through the years that followed, Michael worked quietly at the highest levels to advance the right ideals of rebuilding. Without him, we were just a bunch of outsiders, but with him, we were far more effective. If you really pressed him, he would simply say that he was doing what any civic-minded person would do. But he’s responsible for so much more than that.
The Katrina Cottages initiative sprang out of the recovery work. Katrina Cottages would likely never have existed without Michael. So this one man, humbly doing what he considered to be his civic duty, has seen the influences of that duty ripple outward far beyond what he ever would have imagined.
That civic duty ended on a tragic night just south of Memphis. The first tragic death ever recorded was that of Abel. Roughly 4,000 years later, it was said of him that “he, being dead, is yet speaking.” In like manner, we cannot yet fully know the legacy of Michael Barranco, as it is still growing.
This year’s recipient of the New Urban Guild’s Barranco Award for Architecture is Andrew von Maur. I don’t know if Michael and Andrew ever met, but I do know that they were men of like talents, like service, like heart, and like faith. Andrew is an enormously talented architect, planner, illustrator, and educator at Andrews University. Today, he is traveling with his students somewhere in Europe. His colleague, Mark Moreno, is here to accept the award for him.