University of Virginia: School of Architecture

Scholarship, Exhibit Memorialize Blair Phillips (BSArch ’11)

Project Details

By Jenny Abel

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Such was that of Blair Phillips (BSArch ’11), who passed away Jan. 19, 2013, after a fall while skiing in Vail, Colo., that resulted in an unexpected stroke. News of his death has evoked an outpouring of praise, memories, and support from all who knew him.

A gifted student, musician, and architect, Phillips was above all a devoted son, brother, and friend who made an indelible impact on everyone he met—even those he only met once. Aside from his near-permanent smile, blue eyes, and red hair, he is best remembered for his exuding warmth and positivity, unassuming intellect, and gentle humor.

“Blair pushed everyone around him to be better, not only by example, but by having the courage to stand up for what he believed in,” said Witt Nicholson (McIntire ’11), who roomed with Phillips along with John Buttram (Engr ’11) since their U.Va. graduation. “For me, Blair was, and is, a conscience and a force for good within my life.”

Sara Allen Harper (BSArch ’11) agreed: “Blair was a really great, caring friend, always looking out for others in our class.”

A native of small-town Avon in upstate New York, Phillips earned Intermediate Honors in architecture with an urban and environmental planning minor. He was elected into U.Va.’s prestigious Raven Society and a deeply devoted member of the Academical Village People, a male a cappella group at U.Va. As a rising fourth-year, he spent the summer at landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand (near Boston) as part of the highly competitive Steamboat Foundation Scholars program.

“When Blair joined us for his Steamboat Scholar internship, we could all feel immediately and palpably his love of design and desire for knowledge of the visual world,” said Gary Hilderbrand, principal of Reed Hilderbrand and Phillips’ mentor as an intern. “Voracious and tireless, he had the capacity to take anything on, and the conviction and self-awareness to do it with gusto. We missed him immediately upon his departure that August.”

After graduation, Phillips began his architecture career at Perkins Eastman in Washington, D.C., where one of his last projects involved designing a concert hall for “The Wharf,” a redevelopment of D.C.’s Southwest waterfront.

“Blair’s understanding of space, music, and sound was instinctive,” said Earl Mark, associate professor of architecture and chief technology officer at the A-school, as well as Phillips’ academic adviser and four-time teacher.

“He had an impressive knack for anything music-related,” added Buttram, recalling his roommate’s excitement about the problem-solving aspect of his job, especially when it entailed acoustical or other creative challenges. “He was a fantastic pianist and one of the best arrangers and music directors AVP ever had—which is saying a lot.”

A celebration of Phillips’ life was held in Avon on Jan. 26, attended by more than a dozen in the A-school community, and included a music extravaganza featuring an AVP performance.

To ensure Phillips’ legacy endures at U.Va., his friends and family have created a memorial scholarship fund, with plans to endow it in perpetuity, benefiting students who embody Phillips’ traits and spirit. The fund will support two awards presented in the fall semester, one to a fourth-year architecture student and the second to a third- or fourth-year member of AVP. Recipients will be selected by committee.

“Blair loved U.Va. through and through—and both the A-school and AVP were very important to him,” said Paul Phillips, Blair’s father. “His mother, Deirdre, and I, along with his sisters, Kate and Anna, hope this scholarship will help students who exhibit some of the same qualities as Blair live up to their promise and potential.”

The Architecture School is also collecting handwritten notes to or about Phillips, to be added to a memorial exhibit on the second floor of Campbell Hall. Later this spring, the notes will be compiled, documented, and presented as a gift to the Phillips family.

“Chopin said, ‘Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties,’” said Mark. “I think Blair exemplified this—never one to show off, but to better know himself and his friends, to savor the joys of learning, and to help make this School a better place.”


Click here to read a story that NBC29 featured on Blair

All are invited, whether they knew Blair personally or not, to submit a handwritten note for the Campbell Hall display (and eventual gift to the Phillips family). In addition, gifts of any size are welcome to the Blair Phillips Memorial Fund; make checks out to the School of Architecture Foundation, or give online at If you have any questions, please call 434-924-7149.

Both notes and contributions should be mailed to: U.Va. School of Architecture Foundation, ATTN: Blair Phillips Memorial, Campbell Hall, P.O. Box 400122, Charlottesville VA 22904.

Blair Phillips (BSArch ’11) created this video, titled “Learning to Play Variations on Chopin's Prelude in E Minor,” for an independent study on computer animation that he took with four other students from associate professor of architecture Earl Mark. Completed May 12, 2011, it merges Phillips’ creative talents in both music and design. (Note that the sound begins at 24 seconds.)