Joseph Miller; Prolific Architect And Catholic University Stalwart

Joseph Miller was involved in the management or design of more than 110 projects and helped guide the architecture program at Catholic University.
Joseph Miller was involved in the management or design of more than 110 projects and helped guide the architecture program at Catholic University. (Family Photo)
By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

Joseph Miller, 88, an architect and university professor who designed and advocated projects -- from low-income housing to military facilities -- that benefited the community, died Sept. 26 at the Washington Home and Community Hospices. The cause was reported as failure to thrive.

For more than 35 years, Mr. Miller worked in private practice, many of those years with preservationist Grosvenor Chapman and later with Kay Layne. He was involved in the management or design of more than 110 projects, including community and charitable organizations, inner-city and county public schools, low-rent housing, synagogues, facilities for the disabled, historical preservation projects, office buildings and military facilities.

A former architecture student at Catholic University, Mr. Miller helped guide the university's architecture program as a professor, director of the urban design program and associate dean of graduate studies. He also championed the effort to create an autonomous School of Architecture and Planning at Catholic and helped raise money to refurbish the spacious old gym that became its home.

Stanley Hallet, a Catholic University professor and former dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, said Mr. Miller was "the stalwart of the school for 50 years." Hallet added that Mr. Miller was "so involved in every aspect of the school's activities that the school had become an extension of himself."

Mr. Miller believed strongly that the architecture program at Catholic had an obligation not only to train students to be creative designers and be technically competent but also to help neighboring communities solve urban-planning problems. He mentored generations of architects and urban planners.

"As a teacher and practitioner, he sought work that responded to the social and economic challenges facing American cities, such as the lack of affordable housing or the need for various social services," said his son, Max Miller of Columbia.

Projects selected by Catholic's Urban Design Studio included work on the 14th and Park corridor in Northwest Washington, the Capital Children's Museum and housing for senior citizens and for the terminally ill.

In 1984, Mr. Miller noted that over the years his interest in architecture had become more diverse. He said: "Similar to most teachers, I want to address the broad responsibilities and challenges, which are critical to the future of this profession: issues of historicism, regionalism, preservation/restoration, energy considerations, computers in architecture and so on."

Mr. Miller was born in Norfolk and moved to Washington in 1933, where his parents ran a small grocery store at Sixth and L streets NE. He graduated from the old Central High School at 15.

The elder Miller grew concerned that his son would not be accepted to Catholic University because he was Jewish and young. So he called the university. In response, Tom Locraft, dean of the architecture department, visited the Millers' apartment and assured them that the teenager would be welcomed. In 1938, a couple of months shy of his 19th birthday, Mr. Miller graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in architecture.

After college, he worked for the Department of War until 1945. He then joined the architecture firm of Eggers and Higgins to manage the design of a project housing a wind tunnel where American and German scientists conducted research on rocket technology.

In 1948, he opened a small office in downtown Washington and took on his first job -- designing a storefront. He teamed up with Chapman in 1963 and established the firm of Chapman and Miller in a Georgetown office.

The firm, in addition to building design, also performed landscape design, energy conservation studies and development of design proposals for master plans for Prince George's County, College Park and the administrative complex at Andrews Air Force Base.

Mr. Miller served for 17 years in the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency and was an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association on matters related to the architectural profession and construction industry.

He became professor emeritus at Catholic in 1988 and held that position until suffering a stroke in 1997.

Mr. Miller, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, received more than 40 awards. His honors included the 1997 Centennial Award from the Washington chapter of the AIA and awards recognizing his designs for projects such as Cold Spring Elementary School in Potomac, Mamie D. Lee School in Washington, residences in upper Northwest Washington and the Agudas Achim Synagogue in Arlington.

For his work with students, he received awards for excellence in teaching, including the Bene Merenti papal medal and the C.C. Chang Award for Distinguished Faculty Service.

Besides his son, survivors include his wife, Betty Chafets Miller of Washington, whom he married in 1948; two other children, Rebecca Angel of Albany, Calif., and Danny Miller of Philadelphia; and four grandchildren.

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