At Panos' memorial on November 20,1999 at USC School of Architecture, I spoke these words of remembrance.
This powerful name, this wonderful human being who meant so much for so many people, in so many ways.
When Dana called me last week and asked me if I could talk for Panos, I felt very honored, in fact I had never felt so honored in my life. But at the same time I felt great sadness and sorrow. I wished that the occasion had never come about.
I always felt very fortunate to be one of Panos’ students. It gave me the opportunity to spend so much time with him and enjoy every moment of it.
Some 20 years ago when I came to USC School of Architecture, one of my friends, Oshin Saginian, who at the time was in Panos’ studio, talked to me about this great Professor by the name of Panos Koulermos. He kept telling me "you have to take his studio Alek, you have to take his studio. You’ll design buildings that you won’t believe" he said.
I became very interested and volunteered to help Panos, along with some other students to put together his first exhibition in Los Angeles at the Barnsdall Gallery. After a week of working with Panos one day I told him, “Panos I really enjoy working with you because I feel that I’m learning.”
This statement held true for the course of the years that we spent together, and will be true forever. Whether we were working or not every time I met Panos I learned something new. The more time I spent with him the more I realized that his teachings were not only about Architecture but about life itself. After all architecture is about life.
Panos was a teacher by nature, he was born as a teacher and he knew how to teach. He loved his students and his students loved him. They loved to have Panos critic their work, because his criticism was so profound and to the point. It left you with a feeling of awe and being illuminated. It excited you to go back and work harder and come back for more. And yes, by the end of the studio, we designed buildings that we couldn't believe.
Quite often I thought about Panos and asked myself, “What is it that makes him so special, so unique?” I found my answer rather quickly as I thought it was so obvious. One could sense the presence of this bright and intense light of intelligence and knowledge which fused with his very Greek passion, made everything about Panos so enormous. His architecture, his humor, his academic abilities, his understanding of the Arts and above all his love for life and living poetically. Even his profile was unique to the one and only Panos Koulermos.
There will never be another Panos.
Panos, as John Hedjuk put it so beautifully “He loves architecture and his work proves it.” He always managed to work with such a joy and humor. He used to say “take your work seriously not yourself” or “Next to prostitution Architecture is the oldest profession.”
It’s so hard to talk about Panos, because he is so vast, yet it’s so easy because no matter what you choose to touch upon its always full of life and excitement.
One of the noble talents that Panos had was his ability to bring people together. And he brought so many of us together. So many friendships started with Panos, within his big space, the atmosphere that he created for us. The reason that we are all here today is because everyone one of us has a very prominent place in our hearts for Panos. He gave us so many gifts and they are all priceless.
Piera, let me also thank you for your support both for Panos and us the students. Very often you invited us to your home where we shared so many happy times with you, Yorgo and Panos. And you were also so kind to accept our invitations with great joy and sincerity. I like you to know that everyone of those moments are greatly appreciated and will remain in our hearts forever. Please know that you and Panos were always known among us, as the young students.
We, the students, have a great responsibility on our shoulders. We have to make sure that we pass the torch of knowledge and compassion to the next generation and let the future students see and get inspired, just the way he did it for us. And we know that it will take a lot of hard work, a lot of search and research and a lot of learning about living poetically, remembering that he always said:
“Never give up, strive for the best and it will pay.”
One of the things about our dear Panos, that never made it to the books of Architecture, was his love of music. In fact his only child, his son Yorgo, is a wonderful musician and composer. Once I had the opportunity to play drums with him and the impression that he left me was just like his father’s, a brilliant and sensitive artist. Sometime in the 80’s, as Panos and I were working in his studio he asked me to play an Armenian song for him. So I went to my car and came back with a tape of Armenian tunes played by a reed instrument called Duduk. Duduk was created by Armenians about 2500 years ago and is known for its most spiritual sound. When played right it sounds as if it’s a way of communicating with God. Panos wasn’t a religious man but he was one of the most spiritual men I have ever met. As soon as he heard the first song he fell in love with it and couldn’t help talking about the depth that the music gave him. He immediately asked me to make a duplicate for him and for years it remained as the memory of the moment that we shared with each other, listening to that music.
Today I like to play the music once again as words alone can never tell enough about this great husband, father, brother, friend, architect, and distinguished Professor Panos Koulermos.
Maestros: Roubik Haroutunian and Henrik Avoian will play, "Through foreign, deserted roads."
Only two days ago I found out that the lyrics for this song characterize a caravan as a man and his journey back to his homeland.
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