Hans E. Butzer
University of Texas at Austin
Hans E. Butzer is an award-winning architect and educator and co-founder of Butzer Architects and Urbanism (BAU), together with his wife Torrey A. Butzer, Assoc. AIA. Butzer is best known for his role in the design of key public sites in Oklahoma City, his civic engagement and advocacy, and his role as an educator and leader at the University of Oklahoma. His work has been awarded fifteen awards from the AIA and ASLA. His work has been celebrated among the 10 best designs of 2000 by Time Magazine and listed among the “Top 50 Best Public Art Projects” by Public Art Network Year in Review by Americans for the Arts. The Dallas Morning News twice listed the Oklahoma City National Memorial among the “Ten Best Designs”—once in 1997 and again after completion in 2000.
Butzer was raised in Wisconsin and Chicago but always had a foothold in Germany, where his parents were born and where he spent summers as a child. This early international experience helped Butzer develop an appreciation for the subtle ways in which different cultures shape their environments. Butzer’s attention to place was also framed by seeing the world through the lens of his parents, one a physical geographer and the other an anthropologist. Family field trips took Butzer through the glacially formed landscapes of the upper Midwest while nearly a third of his childhood was spent in Europe. There, he experienced a range of cultures and their built expressions across varied landscapes. “Place” could be defined with topographies of landscape, materially built form and cultural identities over time. Butzer’s understanding of service, community and ethics grew out of his family’s broader history. While his father’s family fled Nazi Germany via England to Montreal Canada in the 1930’s, Butzer’s mother survived nightly bombing raids over Bonn. His parents would emphasize the importance of civic duty, maintaining a clear sense of right and wrong, and the power of diversity. One’s work should contribute to a greater sense of understanding, Butzer concluded, and thereby to a community’s sense of unity, shared values and common ground over time.
While studying architecture at the University of Texas – Austin where he graduated with high honors in 1990, he interned in the Chicago office of Helmut Jahn, working on iconic structures intended to become community-defining places. In 1991, he married his former architecture classmate and sweetheart Torrey, and moved to Dusseldorf where he practiced with JSK-Perkins and Will. Civic projects such as convention centers, rail stations and airports were his focus. A move to Berlin in 1994 heightened Butzer’s awareness again of architecture’s unifying power as he passed Christo and Jean-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag on his daily commute to work. Butzer did not miss the irony that what drove his family from Germany – Hitler’s oppression and distorted nationalism- was now symbolically overtaken by a celebration of plurality and the safeguards a transparent democracy can offer. The newly reunited German capital was now immersed in debates over how the physical structures of the city—the wall and Reichstag most notably—reflected collective memory, trauma, and history.
It was while living and working in Berlin, that Hans and Torrey first conceived of their entry for the Oklahoma City National Memorial competition. The international design competition garnered an astounding 624 entries from around the world. The two-stage competition was juried by community members, survivors, family members, and design professionals who unanimously selected the entry submitted by the Butzers, then just 30 years old. The couple spent the next three years developing the design while Hans also completed his graduate studies at Harvard. Following his graduation, the Butzers permanently relocated to Oklahoma City in 1999 to observe construction of the memorial and its dedication in 2000. A defining aspect of this Memorial process, when compared to those before it, was the community’s commitment to a transparent design, selection and construction process. Identity, history and space were defined not only through the design itself but through an open and inclusive process as well. The Oklahoma City National Memorial has become central to scholarly discussions of memory and landscape in modern America as evidenced by the work of scholars such as Historian Ed Linenthal, Geographer Ken Foote, Cultural Historian Marita Sturken, Art Historian Erika Doss and many others.
Hans embarked on a path of practice and teaching following the completion of the Memorial. The relationships he and Torrey built and the growing clarity of Oklahoma City’s rediscovered potential led them to stay in Oklahoma. He was invited to serve on local committees where he began to actively advocate for urbanism and design in the city through his design collaborations and teaching. In 2001, Hans and Torrey co-taught a course that led students to develop designs for a new landmark boathouse along the river. Hans would eventually present those designs months later with a rowing advocate who embraced this vision of a civically defining boathouse like those situated along the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The work of those students established the vision for what has today become the United States Olympic Rowing Training Facility in Oklahoma City, marked by a series of AIA-award winning boathouses along the Oklahoma River.
Hans established a capstone studio dedicated to Oklahoma City-based urban research studies at the University of Oklahoma Division of Architecture in 2003. Through 2013, his OKC Studio challenged students to envision a more densely, varied and sustainably developed urban fabric for the City. Speculative studio projects have contributed to the redevelopment of what today is Maywood Park (already with over $250M invested), the downtown John Rex Elementary School, the Core to Shore OKC Master Plan, and the proposed multimodal hub at historic Santa Fe Station. Finally, Hans’s vision for an OU Oklahoma City Design Center became reality in September 2015 following 12 years of planning and advocacy. Thus Butzer’s teaching and outreach work has directly helped elevate the quality of Oklahoma City’s rebirth.
In 2008, the Butzers channeled their commitment to the city into starting their own practice in Oklahoma City. Butzer assembled a team of designers and engineers that would win a second high-profile design competition, this time for a new pedestrian bridge in Oklahoma City. True to his place-inspired design approach, the form takes its cues from the Oklahoma State bird, the scissortail fly-catcher. The design and construction process relied on intense collaboration efforts alongside advanced software such as the Rhino plug-in Grasshopper and recent developments in fabrication, to ensure the bridge could be built within its narrow five-month construction window and budget. Once construction was complete in 2013, the bridge immediately emerged as a new unofficial icon for Oklahoma City showing up in logos, souvenirs, and tourist brochures everywhere. It is now the official icon for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors bureau. Most recently, he helped guide the visioning for the $18M redevelopment of a defunct 1970’s mall into a new urban jewel. He and Torrey have collaborated with two other families to redevelop a 1930’s warehouse building into their new award-winning architecture office while helping contribute to the resurgence of Oklahoma City’s historic Film Row District. The range of mediums through which Butzer practices is a reflection of the broad influences of his childhood.
Today, Butzer serves as the Dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma while maintaining his practice. In two and one-half years as Architecture Division Director, Hans has unified his faculty and articulated a new vision for the program focused on a Creating-Making curriculum that emphasizes intellectual criticality and a pragmatic approach towards implementation. He teaches two freshman-level courses and fosters in his students a passion for legacy place-making for people.
Butzer is licensed in the State of Oklahoma and has a German architecture license from the state of North-Rhine/Westphalia. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture with High Honors from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master of Architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Hans is a LEED Accredited Professional. He has been active in the central Oklahoma community through his pro bono work and involvement with various community boards, most recently Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, the Executive Committee of the Oklahoma ULI District Council, and the Board of Directors for Creativity Oklahoma. As Professor and Dean of the College of Architecture program at OU, Hans holds the titles of Mabrey Presidential Professor and A. Blaine Imel, Jr. Professor. As Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, his teaching and research focus on sustainability as an extension of ethics, efficiency, community and high design.
Registered Architect, Oklahoma
Member, American Institute of Architects
LEED Accredited Professional
Architekten Kammer Nordrhein-Westfalen
Selected Exhibitions + Presentations
Butzer, H. E., “City of Yukon Form-Based Code Gateway Plan,” Yukon, OK. (2014).
Butzer, H. E., “Page Woodson Elementary School Redevelopment,” Oklahoma City, OK. (2014).
Butzer, H. E., “Oklahoma City Skydance Bridge.” (2014).
Butzer, H. E., National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds Convention, “The Importance of Place: Resilience of Community in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma City, OK. (November 13, 2014).
Butzer, H. E., Creating_Making Conference, “8 Sessions-1 Purpose,” University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK. (November 6, 2014).
Butzer, H. E. (Presenter), Urban Land Institute Oklahoma District Council, “9+1 Connecting Ideas and Places over Time,” Oklahoma City, OK. (October 2, 2014).
American Institute of Architects Merit Award, AIA Oklahoma. (Oct. 2018)
Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award, National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Oct. 2018)
Outstanding Plan, American Planning Association-Oklahoma Chapter. (Sept. 2018)
State Preservation Award, Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office. (June 2018)
American Institute of Architects Honor Award, American Institute of Architects. (2014).
Top 30 most Admired Educators, Design Intelligence. (December 2014).
Pilat, S. Z., Butzer, H. E., Person, A. M. (2020). Introduction. Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture. OU Press. (In Press)