We’ll Miss You… Malcolm Wells 1926-2009

4 Dec

Malcolm Wells – 1926 – 2009

A True Friend… especially to anyone who ever thought about Architecture…  has left us.  And I for one am feeling kind of hollow right now…

Malcolm Wells, the veritable “Father of Underground Architecture” has left us, to go to that big drafting table in the sky.

Malcolm Wells died Friday, at the age of 83. Mac was truly a Renaissance man. And if that wasn’t enough to dazzle and amaze us, he was also a premier architect, author, illustrator, artist and intellectual. He was an “original”…

Mac was “one of the sages of the age.” And now he’s gone. The hole that he left  is going to be impossible to fill by another mortal man.

Mac once said:

“In 1964, after 10 years spent spreading corporate asphalt on America in the name of architecture, I woke up one day to the fact that the earth’s surface was made for living plants, not industrial plants. I’ve been an underground architect ever since.”

I’ve been sitting here, trying to write an obituary to run on the blog, about Mac’s passing, for days…

… but I’m being defied by this blank page. His loss has left me speechless. I have to say “something.” I can’t say “nothing.” Mac is the reason I harbor this affection for “Architecture in a different color.”

Malcolm Wells changed my life.

Actually meeting him in the 70’s  put me on the road to “alternative and environmental architecture” in the first place.

Even attending Architectural School at UCLA,  where architectural professors expected a student to draw “steel and glass”, I was drawing “underground habitats” that echoed Mac’s dreams for a new world…

I started saying things like “MACTUALLY…” referring to the way HE would have done it, as opposed to guys like Stern…

And, I’m still staring here at this blank page, that continues to taunt me, trying to find a way to express my grief at his sad passing…

So, I’m going to turn this over to a “friend far away” who was lucky enough to know Mac in a way that many of us only wished we had.

That said, please welcome the words and thoughts of Mac’s friend… John Anthony Moran, from a very sad Scawby, in the UK.

John knew Mac in a way I only had dreams about.

John says;

What do you say …

I have had the honour and pleasure of knowing Mac for over 20 years, exchanging irregular letters over all that time.

His letters say it all – they are a cross-section of the man we all know and love.

I have two box files bulging with his eclectic writings, liberally sprinkled with delightful sketches and water colours. Many of them are written on the backs of letters I wrote to him, scraps of paper, brown wrapping paper, utility bills, and magazine articles … all personifying his innate greenness – recycle everything.

After the first few years, when he started re-cycling my letters to me by writing in the margins, we started a game whereby I stared shrinking the margins and leaving less space between the paragraphs. He responded by writing smaller … and I responded by shrinking the spacer smaller. He eventually gave up when I managed a 5mm margin all round and filled both side of the page tightly … except his last riposte was a minimalist reply that wove all the way round the margins on both sides of the page!

His next letter was on a utility bill …

A few years ago I finally managed to meet Mac and Karen at The Underground Art Gallery and he was one of those rare people who have that `at peace with the World’ aura about them. The only other person I have met like that was a Buddhist monk in his temple. Thinking about it … Mac was in his very own temple – an underground structure extolling the virtues he has preached about for most of his life.

His inner peace remains with me to this day and I can only hope to achieve that personal level of contentment one day.

Mac was a remarkable man who led a remarkable life aided by his remarkable wife Karen. The best we can do is spread the word about his dreams and ideals.

Rest in peace Mac.

John Anthony Moran

In a personal message to me, John went on to say;

“Mac was a really nice man – even in his last year when he was nearly blind and walking 40 yards was a major achievement –  ‘so long as there was something to grab hold of at the end’ …

… he took time to write instant replies in his unique handwriting style, albeit very shaky at the end.”

The World needs to know more about him – spread the word.”

Thanks, John. And thanks for letting me share your words about Mac with my readers. I’m grateful to you.

Never one to leave anything unfinished, Mac wrote his own obituary. You can read it here:

Malcolm Wells Self-Written Obituary

Goodbye Mac. You did your job well. So well, in fact, that no one will be able to fill your shoes…  it was hard enough just trying to follow in your footsteps. You were “that” big.

To some of us, Mac was the Sun that we tried to simply orbit around. And, now that light has been extinguished.  He inspired us, he influenced our projects, and he made us dream… He is… irreplaceable. It’s going to be harder now…

This kind, gentle man taught us to believe in the land, and to believe in ourselves… and he did it with humility, and strength of conviction, and  the knowledge that he was making the world a better place for all of us.

Mac, we’ll miss you.


4 Responses to “We’ll Miss You… Malcolm Wells 1926-2009”

  1. Madrigorne December 4, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    May he rest in peace.

    • renaissanceronin December 6, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

      If ever a man earned the right to rest peacefully, Malcolm was the man.

      I heard from his wife Karen, and they’re going to hold a memorial in the Spring. I’d give almost anything to be there…

      He was “one of a kind.” It’s just too bad that is the case. With a few more like him, the world would be a much better place.

      I hardly knew him yet, he was a big influence in my life. We’ll miss him.

  2. Jeffrey S. Ray January 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    His work was fantastic and helps those of us who lack his aptitude to understand…

    Malcolm Wells was a true “educator”



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