Nancy Ai-Tseng Miao Twitchell, FAIA, pioneering architect and former professor in Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, passed away on May 29, 2020. In the remembrance below, Alex Schweder, BArch ’93, adjunct associate professor of interior design and industrial design, honors his former teacher, mentor, and friend.
As a mentor leaves the world, as Nancy Miao recently did peacefully at age 92, reflective questioning enters. Recalling what made her so important to her mentees was the fearlessness she generously offered us to model. Starting to practice as an architect during the 1960s in a profession that guarded its white male homogeneity with a tenacity that continues today, Nancy Miao achieved more than many who had systemic advantages.
In 1960, Nancy was one of only four women, in a class with forty-seven men, to graduate from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design with an MArch. She went on to work for Walter Gropius and then established two of her own firms in New York City. As principal of these offices, her built works ranged from skyscrapers, to college campuses, to private homes. Nancy changed the face of who could be accomplished, and in so doing inspired grit to do the same in those who might also be marginalized on the basis of their inner and outer selves.
When Nancy retired from teaching architectural design at Pratt Institute 26 years ago, in 1994, she had already played a role in shaping the School of Architecture and its students for nearly 30 years, since joining the faculty in 1967. Her tenure at Pratt started in late modernism, crossed the full arc of post-modernism, and ended as de-constructivism was waning. This breadth of experience led her to cultivate our imaginations rather than teach toward mastering any image of the architectural. Beyond honing our talents in this way, Professor Miao passed on other instruments of her success—like the power of listening, the craft of social etiquette, and the confidence we project when we are open to other perspectives.
Considering how Pratt might honor Professor Miao’s memory, plaques, statues, or other static memorials seem to misalign with Nancy’s dynamic presence. Instead, apt remembrance occurs in practice. Our community remembers Nancy each time we assist one of our members in need, in those moments when we embrace plurality, and when we value the possible more than the acceptable.
Read Professor Miao’s full obituary from The New York Times.