Obituary: Leslie Laskey, professor emeritus of architecture, 99

Leslie J. Laskey, professor emeritus of architecture at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, died Thursday, June 17, 2021, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He was 99.

Laskey (Photo: Jim Olvera)

Born in Manistee, Mich., in 1921, Laskey served in the U.S. Army during World War II, enlisting one day after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was among the first troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and he later fought in the Battle of the Bulge. 

After the war, Laskey studied architecture with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the pioneer of American Bauhaus, at the Institute of Design in Chicago (now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology). He then taught for three years at the School of Design at the University of North Carolina in Raleigh, during which time he was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant for work in the graphic arts.

Laskey came to Washington University in St. Louis in 1956 as an assistant professor in the School of Architecture. Dean Joseph Passonneau, who once described Laskey as ”one of the two or three best teachers of design in the world,” charged him with developing architecture’s basic design program and in 1961, as Laskey later put it, “sealed my fate with a tenure appointment.”

Laskey was named full professor in 1963. He received the Washington University Distinguished Faculty Award in 1982 and, in 1986, received a Distinguished Professor Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He became professor emeritus in 1987, though he returned to the classroom as a lecturer in 1990, 1991 and 1997. He received the Dean’s Medal from the School of Architecture in 2004 and the Dean’s Medal from the Sam Fox School in 2015.

“Leslie was a singularly gifted individual with an insatiable curiosity,” said Carmon Colangelo, the Ralph J. Nagel Dean of the Sam Fox School. “His talents were numerous. He was a painter, a sculptor, a photographer and a poet, as well as an incredible cook and the consummate dinner host. Above all, he was a cherished friend and beloved mentor to generations of students and colleagues. He will be sorely missed.”

Installation view, “Leslie Laskey: Then & Now,” Bruno David Gallery, March 27-May 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Leslie Laskey estate and Bruno David Gallery)

A prolific artist, Laskey staged 14 solo exhibitions at the Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, most recently the career-spanning survey “Leslie Laskey: Then and Now” in spring 2021. Other venues included the St. George Gallery in London, the Mark Pasek Gallery in New York and the Print Club Gallery in Philadelphia. In May, a group of friends donated two of Laskey’s woodblock prints, titled “Highlands,” to the Saint Louis Art Museum for their permanent collection.

In 2006, a group of Sam Fox School alumni founded Studio L, which sponsors an annual design competition known as the Laskey Challenge. “Forty-Seven Views of Leslie Laskey,” a documentary film by David Wild that chronicles Laskey’s life over an 11-year period, premiered in 2012. Just days before his death, Laskey’s hometown of Manistee announced that July 2, 2021, would be celebrated as Leslie J. Laskey Day.

Laskey is survived by the sculptor and architect Frank Schwaiger, his friend of more than 50 years. A memorial for Laskey will take place this fall; details will be forthcoming. Memorial donations may be made to the Sam Fox School’s Leslie Laskey Scholarship. To make a contribution, visit

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