Thoughts in Memory of Panos Koulermos
Knut Luscher

Much too early for us humans.
My dear friend the architect, urbanist, educator, poet and humanist, Panos Koulermos, died on Sunday the 26th of September.

He left us during one of his long journeys around the world, left us behind with the memory of his incredible spirit and his search for truth in architecture and the world in general - as if he wanted to say to all of us to continue his journey.

Here we are, thinking of who we lost, thinking what he meant to us.

Here we are.

Here I am trying in these humble words to sketch a glimpse of Panos. Who was he?

I first met Panos in Los Angeles in 1987 while studying architecture at the University of Southern California. He was the head of the graduate program at the time and also my graduate thesis advisor. He struck me from the first moment I met him with his open, warm and lively manner and his poetic understanding of architecture. Soon after that I came to be his teaching assistant, and he came to be my good friend and mentor.

In 1995, Panos told me about his plans to move to Switzerland to be part of the founding forces creating a new architecture school in Ticino, together with his old friend Mario Botta. Knowing Panos's architectural, didactical and educational qualities, I realized the explosive potential Panos's presence would have in that process.

In 1996, after 24 years in America, Panos and his wife Piera were about to return to Europe, where he felt so spiritually connected. He was so happy and excited . The year after that I joined him again as his assistant at the new Accademia di architettura. I enjoyed an amazingly intense and creative time together with Panos and his other three assistants.

Panos loved architecture. He lived it with all his soul. The understanding of space, form and meaning in architecture came entirely naturally to him. The clarity and poetic depth of thinking astounded me every time I observed it while working close to him.

Panos was also a gifted teacher. He believed that the real understanding of architecture and the world around us must come from within a person; it cannot be taught, imported or implanted by someone else. He did not appear to want to instruct students. On the contrary, he gave the impression of one desiring to learn from them. He didn't lecture; he discussed. He felt that only the understanding from within can lead to true insight and that all those many ideas provided the richness of the world we live in. A society of liberated individuals in a pluralistic world.

Panos believed in an open and free world where architecture schools educate their students in ethics and humanity. He felt students should be prepared to be able to practice their profession anywhere in the world and that their architecture give joy and meaning to human life.

During many of our long walks together, we often passed the statue of Socrates in Chiani park in Lugano. Panos was so fond of this statue and always greeted Socrates's likeness with great respect. One day we realized that our friend had been moved. Socrates was no longer in his place. I could tell Panos felt quite sad.

Panos was in many ways like Socrates. I never saw a teacher who was so capable of seeing inside the students' minds, who could see the hidden seed. He believed in each individual and in the greatness of his thoughts. He believed in you and helped you to find your own identity. I realized time and time again while talking to former students and friends around the world, just how many lifes he influenced, how many eyes he opened.

In the end, Panos somehow found Socrates again, along with the Gods in Greece, where he now rests. Perhaps the words of his old friend John Hejduk ring most poignant:

"Panos understands that the ancient Gods are always waiting, observing our creations; that is, they compare and finally judge. I think they smile with and upon Panos Koulermos. In their positions, the Gods need their hearts to be warmed a bit as do we humans, and Panos provides us with the necessary heat, just enough, for he does not want to burn us. He is clear about the ambiguity as to what the heavens might bolt down, so he makes an appropriate offering, that is, the offering of good work in the form of architecture."

He left us on one of his long journeys.

Much to early for us humans.

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