Charles Hummel discusses the role of architecture
Charles F. Hummel saw what was going on in cities across the West. He witnessed the congested, fast-paced growth. And he consciously tried to steer Boise away from it, and help this city preserve its history.
“I began to become increasingly aware of what was happening to the growth in the city and that became a preoccupation of mine later on in regard to trying not to reproduce Los Angeles,” he said in an interview published in 2007 when Ada County honored Hummel for his contributions to local history.
The renowned Idaho architect died in his sleep this past week, family members confirmed Monday morning.
Hummel, 91, was the grandson of namesake and early Boise architect Charles Hummel, who designed the Idaho Capitol building and many other projects with partner John Tourtellotte. The firm they started continues today as Hummel Architects, and has put its imprint on communities across the state.
The younger Hummel, born in Boise in 1925, didn’t immediately follow his forebears. After serving in the Army in World War II, he returned to Boise and gradually decided to pursue architecture — receiving a full-time job offer from the Hummel firm in 1953, according to the Ada County chronicle of his life.
Architecture is “our third skin, public buildings reflect something about us,” he said in the interview. “If they’re in a city or town, they have to be part of the urban fabric. They can’t work against it. They have to be in the context of their place.”
Anyone who’s lived in the Treasure Valley will recognize items on Hummel’s resume. He was proudest of his design of the James A. McClure Federal Building, said Boise architect Ty Morrison, past president of the Idaho chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
The list goes on: the Boise State University Library and Student Union, Bishop Kelly High School, Caldwell’s Our Lady of the Valley Church. He played a role in a number of historic renovations such as the O’Farrell Cabin, St. John’s Cathedral and St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral. Hummel also shared in the design of the Boise Centre on the Grove.
Morrison worked for Hummel for more than two years upon moving to Boise in 1990.
“He was a great figure, always interested in preserving the architectural heritage of the city,” Morrison said. “He left a great legacy of work and touched the lives of many other architects in the community. He was always friendly, always had a kind word.”
Greg Allen, a partner at Hummel Architects, started working at Hummel’s firm in 1987. A local native, “to actually grow up and work for them was pretty amazing for me,” he told the Statesman.
That was particularly true when it came to the young architect’s chance to work with Hummel himself, Allen said.
“He struck me as a scholar, a gentlemen and, obviously, a historian,” Allen said.
Morrison said Hummel was the last living recipient of AIA Idaho’s State Medal, the association’s highest honor, which is given for a body of work and for civic achievement.
Hummel worked on the renovation of the Capitol in the 2000s, including underground additions that gave the Legislature more space. He talked about the project in an Idaho Public Television interview in 2009.
“I’m particularly pleased that the addition to the building is the underground extension and not an above-ground extension, which would’ve ruined the balance architecturally of the building,” he said. “(The Capitol Commission) worked hard through three sessions. That was hard work to convince their colleagues that this is what had to be done.”
In that interview he candidly discussed the errors his firm made, but wasn’t afraid to express pride in his and his grandfather’s work.
“If I’m not mistaken, I think there are 46 state capitols that basically are like (Idaho’s). They have a dome, and balanced wings on each side. Of course, the model of that is the United States Capitol,” he said. “So, this Capitol follows that tradition. So it’s not unique in that sense, but I believe that it’s one of the most nicely proportioned ones, and the interior rotunda with the skylight effects, which by the way were a particular Tourtellotte signature. He loved skylights and the central rotunda, that white marble and the white-colored scagliola flooded with light, is one of the real achievements of this Capitol. Many other state capitols have very ornate rotunda areas, some of them nice or impressive, but this one has a certain quality that I don’t think the other capitols have.”
Hummel’s grandfather arrived in Chicago as an immigrant from Germany in 1885. From there he traveled to Everett, Wash., but after a depression hit in 1893, he took his family to a town he had heard wonderful things about: Boise. That’s where he set up, met Tourtellotte and started their architectural firm.
The younger Hummel carried on the family’s design legacy into the 21st century. Even after his retirement, Allen said, Hummel would still offer his namesake’s firm pro bono advice.
Correction: The story previously said Hummel designed the Joe R. Williams building, a state office building across State Street from the Capitol known informally as the Hall of Mirrors. It was designed by his partner, Chet Shawver.