2020/02/15 Remembering GZ Brown

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 (https://vimeo.com/392264455/10c5fe2321).

A 2009 interview about integrated design (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=5eYVKNX37lk&feature=emb_title).

2016 UO Research Award for ESBL (https://youtu.be/b0iQgKTPenA).

2017 Festschrift Book (https://esbl.uoregon.edu/festschrift/).

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.


  1. When Charlie joined our faculty, he quickly encouraged me to open a practice. He argued that with our commitment to on-site energy sources and sustainability, we could become even better teachers in the process of designing selected buildings.

    So we founded Equinox Design. Our projects include the Deadwood Community Fire Hall /Community Center, and the Cottage Restaurant [now Events Center]. Charlie had significant participation in the daylighting design for the Eugene Water and Electric Board office building as well.

    Charlie conceived the idea for a design-oriented book on sustainable architecture, and his “Sun Wind & Light” is now in its Third Edition. It appeals broadly to the design community with a graphic layout that invites inspection and yields understanding.

    Charlie helped co-found the Society of Building Science Educators, with a current membership of several hundred professors across the world. Charlie was a professor’s professor!

  2. You can be brilliant, curious and kind, and that’s how I’ll remember Charlie. I’m grateful for his enthusiastic approach to design education and simply for his generosity as a person. He taught so many people so much.

  3. This is a sad moment. Charlie was truly a change agent with a vision of better buildings leading to a better world. Many of us share this vision; but few have the collected talents that Charlie did, enabling him to make a notable dent in the status quo. I think that Charlie as catalyst for change will endure.

  4. We have lost a great teacher, building scientist, and colleague; and I have lost a wonderful friend. The world is a better place because of Charlie.

  5. Charlie was my first and best architecture studio instructor. He encouraged me to try to make a better world. A mission I have pursued ever since in my academic career. He was also a good friend, always whispering words of wisdom. Thank you Charlie for your fearless life and mastery of synergy!

  6. I worked for Charlie as a Graduate student 1994-1998. He hired me and mentored me, taught me how to write research proposals, brought me into the Society for Building Science Educators, helped me in design, taught me how to review design, involved me in writing curriculum for Energy Scheming, and encouraged me to get my architect’s license and to pursue a PhD in building science from UC Berkeley. I think he even showed me how he chose white wines. He had a huge impact on my life. I think some found him to be fairly introverted, and my response was to get him to laugh–he had a great sense of humor. I am deeply saddened by his loss, but his mark on my life remains forever.

  7. I first met Charlie in 1975 as an undergrad student at Washington U in St Louis. His vision, thinking and teaching were so far ahead of most educators – challenging students to consider the bigger picture, but also the practicalities of building a better world. Directly and indirectly, Charlie influenced several generations of architecture students, architects and educators. We owe him a great debt.

  8. “forever transforming architecture” is so true. While I did not have the pleasure of being one of his students, I am one of many of my generation of architects who is a beneficiary of Professor Brown’s wisdom and teaching excellence. His student was my professor / mentor. The legacy of ‘Charlie’ Brown will continue to make impact long into the future. My deepest condolences to GZ Brown’s family, friends and colleagues.

  9. Charlie will be sorely missed, but his life’s work will continue in the work of hundreds of architects who have been nurtured by his many years’ of teachings.

  10. One of my earliest memories of Charlie was the faculty retreat he organized at Silver Falls, maybe 1997? He had all the faculty take the Myers-Briggs test and at one point we lined up on the Introvert Extrovert spectrum, and our personalities showed in the colors of our clothes! He pretended to be a curmudgeon, claiming to prefer getting some work done instead of socializing. Of course he would say this at a social event, with a sly smile…
    As a junior faculty, I remember him generously coaching me on defining my research agenda. He had a lot of insight into design processes and was always ready to whip out a clarifying matrix. Later I felt very lucky to be able to use his airflow equipment and receive advice from him and his team. I enjoyed this view into his lab.
    Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Charlie’s work was how he was able to move so seamlessly through so many different kinds of areas. It was stunning to me that he could pick up the BioBE partnership and open a new chapter of ground-breaking work so late in his career. And then he invited all the faculty to tour his house at the coast, and many of us were surprised to learn that such an accomplished building science expert was also a talented designer! A very full life. Rest in peace, Charlie.

  11. The passing of Charlie has profoundly saddened me. He will always be one of the pillars of architectural education. His research, teaching, and writing influenced several generations of designers and building scientists in the USA and abroad. May he rest in peace!

  12. I’m eternally grateful to Charlie, and all that he gave to Oregon students and researchers at the ESBL (including myself). To this day, I find myself using concepts and strategies that I learned working at his side, and those years and opportunities were hugely influential in my life. I like to think I’m passing a bit of what I learned from him to the next generation, his influence continues to grow. Thank you Charlie, but also everyone else who is continuing to influence and push the important work related to sustainable and healthy architecture.

  13. I remember walking into ESBL and meeting Charlie like it was yesterday. ESBL was a quirky place, much like the man himself. Publications stacked to the ceiling, contraptions scattered throughout the lab, every edition of SWL, post-it notes everywhere, and a cast of loyal colleagues collectively seeking to improve the world we live in. He was the chairperson on my dissertation and after digesting my research, he came back with two simple words that defined my work. How did he do that? Two words – really!… and yet he was spot on. He could see through the thick of it, scatter the noise, and offer simple and concise brilliance. Thank you Charlie. Thank you for your patience, guidance, and the root beers we shared. You will be missed but never forgotten.

  14. I loved collaborating with Charlie. He helped me through my formative years as a lighting designer and changed the way I looked at and approached the design of daylight systems. Daylight to Charlie was an integral part of a much larger, holistic story and process that shapes how buildings should be designed. Daylight is not about the sun or the glass or the building. It is about the people who will live, work and visit the spaces we build. Light, air, and materials were the media charlie used to shape environments and constantly help improve the human condition.
    There were times Charlie would walk into a room during a design charrette on a project I had provided the daylight analysis and I would get nervous, but REALLY interested in his interpretation and critique. Very few people have that effect on me. His critique was never harsh, but always meaningful and no matter the observation, criticism or praise, would always make me want to learn more and do it better next time.
    Charlie taught me how to teach, how to explore deeper, how to look beyond my field of expertise to become a better expert, to always remember that architecture is for people, not the ego of others and to always find moments of joy in design.
    Charlie, you are part of so many people, experiences and structures in our world and I am grateful for the brief moments I was able to be part of that legacy. Thank you.

  15. Along with Kent Duffy, I worked with Charlie and the ESBL team on several projects during my 17 years at SRG, starting with UO Lillis Hall in 2000. I didn’t always agree with 100% of his concepts, but he pushed you and made you think and improved every project as a result. Things I learned found there way into every project, even when he was not involved.

    He was a gentle soul who was always pleasant, even when dealing with his physical challenges. He is one of those people who makes the short list of people who have had major positive impact on you.

  16. Professor Brown reviewed my final thesis studio project. He was incredibly insightful and a great balance of criticism and praise. His criticism was always on point and made me think about how I could not only better the project, but better my design process. I learned more from his short review than I thought possible in that short window.

    I realized, shortly before I graduated, years ago, that my biggest regret of my college career was that I met him so late and never had him as a professor. Even though I’ve only been able to spend less than an hour of my life talking with him, the news of his passing has been a tough pill to swallow. This by itself, I think, is a testament to how profound a person and professor he was.

  17. Charlie, as my professor at Wash U ’74 to ’77, with his wit, enthusiasm, humor and rigor-by-example engaged my brain at a time when I truly needed it, and honestly help propel me into this profession. To then get to work with him as colleague here in Portland, and to have him amplify our special projects with his vision always felt to me like an honor, as grasshopper to the Master. Profoundly influential, lovable, and unforgettable man.

  18. I agree with Greg Williams comment above: Charlie is on my short list of people who had a significant impact on my architectural career. He was a delight to work with, full of patience and persistence. He transformed the way we design low energy buildings. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him!

  19. I worked in the Department of Architecture from 2007 – 2015. My interactions with Charlie were always so sweet and kind. He was incredibly helpful and he enjoyed seeing how I was doing at the front desk. I appreciated that as he knew how busy the office would get. A fond memory I have is meeting him for lunch one day and he showed me his collection of comic strips. We talked about design, text, humor and how he really enjoyed making these comic strips too. I will always cherish and treasure our interactions. Charlie, you will be missed! Sending you lots of love wherever you are! Much love to your family.

    Sophie Navarro

  20. I am deeply saddened to learn just now of Charlie’s passing. We have lost a visionary leader, tireless thinker, author and innovator, and a respected teacher and mentor for so many. I had the great privilege to be a research fellow at the ESBL as an architectural graduate student (1992-1996). The experience forever changed the way I learn, and think, and work. Charlie’s quiet focus, deliberate words, and generous collaborative spirit inspired everyone there. I still remember our weekly morning meetings and the ‘Idea czar’ presentations where Charlie’s sharp and witty responses would have the whole room laughing together. What a wonderful time.
    You will be missed immensely, Charlie. Love to your family, friends, and colleagues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *