Noted Fort Worth architect Emery O. Young, Jr., died January 2, 2016, at the age of 83. His firm, Emery Young Associates, was established in 1971, and his work was heavily grounded in modernist precepts; one of few such practices in Fort Worth in the 1970s and ’80s and the most recognized. The corpus of work was primarily residential in nature and spoke to the careful engagement of built form in the landscape as well as to an almost-Miesian sumptuousness and restrained, flush vocabulary in interiors.
Emery was born in Post, Texas, where his parents lived on the caprock just northwest of town. He was simply not cut out for the farm life of the 1930s in that place. He attended architecture school at Texas Tech (where he was known by close friends as “E.O.”) and graduated in 1954. Emery found the love of his life — Barbara Lee — and first danced with her while at a Stan Kenton performance in Fort Worth. They were married 51 years and raised a son and daughter.
He served two years in the army and then worked for Wilson, Patterson, Sowden, Dunlap and Epperly from 1957 to 1960. He worked for two years as a designer with Wyatt C. Hedrick before a brief stint with HKS and then joined Albert S. Komatsu & Associates in Fort Worth where, over eight years, he became Associate Partner and Director of Design. He designed a number of highly regarded projects while there, including the Cullen Davis residence. After a year with Envirodynamics in Dallas, he started his own practice as Emery Young Associates in Fort Worth. The practice was never more than two employees besides himself.
Significant residential work from his office included the 1979 Axe Residence in Arlington, Texas; 1981 Kornfeld residence; 1982 Minker residence; 1986 Otero residence; 1987 Sotman residence; and the 1993 Geesbreght residence in Mira Vista. A 1980 finish-out for Trouve and finish-out for Metro in Sundance Square in the mid-80s stand out in his small body of commercial projects. An unbuilt project for Mr. and Mrs. Thurman McGaugh was particularly eloquent architecturally. Many of the houses were courtyard typologies incorporating water elements as focal points and were very often splayed open to the site or arrayed along the perimeter to views. In section, many embodied a kind of ‘caprock’ relationship to a lower living area, perhaps a subliminal evocation of his youth.
Emery served on more than 30 committees for AIA Fort Worth and was chapter President in 1975. In 1979, he was the inaugural recipient of the Charles R. Adams Award for Design Excellence. The award was not given again for 11 years. He received 11 design awards from AIA Fort Worth and two from the Texas Society of Architects — one for the James “Tonny” Foy residence and another for the Shady Oaks Townhouses on Roaring Springs Road freelancing with Albert Komatsu.
Refinement of form and detail, elegant proportions, and a use of exquisite materials were the signature ‘voice’ of architect Emery Young. His rarified sensibilities attracted wealthy and erudite clientele, and his hand-drawn working drawings on large (30-in x 40-in or larger) sheets were the envy of his professional peers. Sensitive site plans, exquisite sections, framing plans, and large-scale details were composed on a sheet with no inch to spare. No architect in the region drew as carefully and in as fine a hand as Emery and his office, and none would have detailed finish work to the 1/32nd of an inch.
He cared intensely for cooking and gardening his entire life and these loves, in conjunction with his family and his architectural practice, formed the centerline of his existence. Dinner parties with friends, dancing, and social and cultural activities provided counterpoint. His friendships with those in the art and design community, such as Tonny Foy, were strong and lasting conversations. A number of his residences were built by Steve Rapfogel, whose right hand, Charles Ivy, could be both challenged and chagrined by Emery’s stringent requirements. Emery officed for years in the 1898 Pollock-Capps residence on Penn Street before moving to the Roundhouse Office Building on West Vickery, now destroyed for the Chisholm Trail Parkway.
In 1994, architect Frank D. Welch, FAIA, said of Emery that he had “… scrupulously produced a body of distinguished, small-scale designs to earn the highest regard by his peers in Fort Worth and beyond. He possesses that city’s modernist conscience unalloyed by the vicissitudes of transient design fashion. He quite clearly and unselfconsciously sees architecture as an art and is unwavering in pursuing that goal. That makes him unique. This sometimes-lonely quest has placed Emery Young at the very top of his community of architects.”
Author Lisa Germany wrote of Emery’s work, “What struck me most forcefully about his work was his sensitive handling of light. He harnessed the sometimes-oppressive power of this force and made it dance for his clients or glide over sculptural surfaces revealing elegant lines and details. Where possible, he allowed it to enter rooms, generously blurring the lines between inside and outside — a quality he reinforced as well with thoughtful choices of materials and colors. … This element of grace is what I saw and felt in Emery Young’s houses.”
W. Mark Gunderson, AIA, is an architect in Fort Worth.