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Lived fearlessly, transformed lives, forever transforming architecture

Phillip H. Knight Professor of Architecture, G.Z. “Charlie” Brown passed away peacefully early Saturday morning (2/15/2020) at his home in Eugene, OR at the age of 77 years. He was surrounded by the love of his daughter April, partner Sue, and many friends. G.Z. was a singular and exceptional teacher, dry fly angler, and father. He spent the entirety of his adult life steadfastly pursuing his vision to leave the world a little better off than when he joined it, and he did.

G.Z. Charlie Brown joined the faculty at the University of Oregon Department of Architecture in 1977. Over his four decades at UO, Charlie created one of the most highly respected university-based architectural research labs in the world. Through the Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory (ESBL), Charlie envisioned transformational ideas and built a capable team dedicated to implementing them. ESBL is Charlie’s legacy, his greatest idea, and it will continue to champion his vision, his mission, and his spirit. Throughout his career, Charlie modeled intense dedication to and relentless pursuit of his ideals. He worked tirelessly to transform design—to innovate design technology, practice, and building operation—to combat climate change.[1]

Brown earned graduate degrees in industrial design (Michigan 1966), business (Akron 1971) and architecture (Yale, 1974), and was a registered architect in Oregon (AIA, 1977). He was a Fulbright scholar in Norway and in Nigeria and spent three years as an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis before joining the faculty at the University of Oregon.

Charlie first authored Sun, Wind, and Light: Architectural Design Strategies in 1985 which provided the foundation for modern passive design principles, including daylighting, natural ventilation, and night flush cooling. Charlie was among the first authors to describe the challenges that climate change places on architects to design buildings for greater resiliency. He was essential to the founding of what is now the Society of Building Science Educators, which has improved sustainable design education worldwide. In 2002, he helped developed a theory and practice of integrated design that has made possible recent advances in net-zero energy buildings. He was honored by the Architectural Research Center Consortium with the James Haecker Distinguished Leadership Award in Architectural Research (2000). He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 2006, and selected as a Fellow by the American Solar Energy Society in 2005. He received the U.S. Green Buildings Council 2005 Leadership Award, and the Cascadia Fellows Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for his work on sustainable building practices. Brown received both the PLEA Award and the Philip H. Knight Professor of Architecture Award in 2009. He co-founded the Biology and the Built Environment Center in 2010 that has launched a new field of indoor air quality research.  In 2015, U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio read remarks into the Congressional Record recognizing Charlie and his accomplishments[2].  In his final years, Charlie developed pathways for peak-zero energy positive buildings and was working on a book focused on elegant design of windows. His legacy in teaching and research in energy use, thermal comfort, daylighting, indoor air quality, and related design tools for buildings is unparalleled and will persist.

Brown was principal investigator on more than $20 million of externally funded research, including grants with the US Department of Energy, US Environmental Protection Agency, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, US Department of Education, US Department of Commerce, Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Trust of Oregon, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During his directorship of ESBL he supported more than 200 graduate research assistants, authored more than 100 research publications, gave more than 100 invited lectures, and provided design assistance in energy-conscious design on over 20 million square feet of buildings internationally, amassing more than 500 consulting reports. Additionally, he developed nine software licenses, including Energy Scheming, and two technology patents.

In his 2017 Festschrift book honoring Brown’s career, former dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts and current President at Pratt, Frances Bronet, described Charlie as “a generous and thoughtful colleague, dedicated to excellence and rigor, advising on difficult situations, from collegial interaction to curricular ambitions.”

Bronet continued, regarding Charlie’s commitment to the climate change challenge,

“…he made sure it was addressed and designed for by students and partners committed to precision, creativity, and persistence. He never backed down from these aspirational principles and has guided as a vigilant sage. I am reminded, especially in these times demanding leadership, political savvy and critical inquiry, of Harriet Tubman’s words:

“Be firm in your goals, make little noise . . .take the long way round, build strength quietly, strike swiftly, keep secrets, demand a new level of discipline and live fearlessly.”

Indeed, Charlie, living fearlessly.”

In the College of Design, we are honored to remember Charlie as an unmatchable colleague, mentor, teacher, and researcher. At ESBL, we will fearlessly pursue Charlie’s vision.

Condolences and remembrances can be submitted as a comment below.

Donations can be made to support Charlie’s legacy, vision, and cause here.

This page will be updated with more information about a memorial service in the near future.

Remembering GZ Brown:

Kent Duffy, FAIA and former AFO President, remembers GZ Brown with a heartfelt tribute.

A 2016 interview for a UO Research Award (

A 2009 interview about integrated design (

2016 UO Research Award for ESBL (

2017 Festschrift Book (

Other Links:

[1] Preface, Transforming Architecture: A Festschrift in Honor of Professor G.Z. “Charlie” Brown.

[2]  Remarks int he Congressional Record, 114th Congress, First Session, October 6, 2015.