A man fueled by a deep curiosity, Eberhard’s legacy is best explained by the arc of his lifelong career, which ended with as much ambition as the day it began.
“He was very much a believer that one should never stand still, that you should always try to be improving,” said Barbara Eberhard, his youngest daughter. “And he wanted that for his profession, as well.”
At 67 years old, almost five decades after he applied for his first design patent, John Paul Eberhard emerged from his second attempt at retirement to unite the fields of neuroscience and architecture. He founded the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture in 2003 to explore how neuroscience can teach architects to construct spaces that improve the health of their occupants.
“It was the combination of everything he had worked on in his career and his skills as a Renaissance person,” said Alison Whitelaw, a senior principal at the Platt/Whitelaw Architects who was part of the founding team for the academy. “And I know that he would want the academy to be able to achieve his dream.”
Born in Chicago and raised in Louisville, Eberhard’s foray into architecture began in his 20s when he applied for a patent on prefabricated churches, which can be deconstructed and rebuilt if a congregation decides to move its location. He liked to joke that he had “designed 100 churches by the time he was 30” and by that point was fed up with conventional architecture.
But his imprint on the field had only just begun.
In the decades that followed, Eberhard would manage a team that developed preliminary models of a guest registration computer system, teach great literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan program and serve as a special assistant to John Herbert Hollomon Jr., assistant secretary of commerce. Under Hollomon, he helped establish and later directed the Institute of Applied Technology. By 1968, he had become the first dean of the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning.
Always evolving and ever determined to marry disparate fields of research, Eberhard turned his focus to renewable energy in the 1970s and ’80s. He transformed the American Institute of Architects Research Corp. before taking over the Building Research Board at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. In both roles, he wielded his work ethic to merge energy conservation and urban planning into “energy conscious design.”
Of all that he perfected, Eberhard never quite mastered retirement. When he first tried to retire in 1988, he took over the department of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Eight years later he tried again, succeeding for a few months before finding himself as the new director of discovery at the American Architectural Foundation. That work led him to his final frontier with the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.
In the wake of his death, tributes poured in calling Eberhard a “futurist” and a “maverick.” But to Michael Holtz, who first met Eberhard at the University of Buffalo, he was a mentor.
Throughout their years together in Buffalo and later at the American Institute of Architects Research Corp., Holtz would travel cross-country and play hours of tennis alongside Eberhard. They developed a close personal relationship, as Eberhard was inclined to do with a select group of young architects whom he mentored.
“He was very intellectual but also very emotional,” Holtz said, reflecting on the late architectural thinker. “I have seen him cry on many occasions when he thought things were slipping out of hand and he just couldn’t let it happen. He genuinely would try to win people over by the intellect of his arguments.”
Through all his intellectual pursuits and years of travel, Eberhard was grounded by his wife, Lois Caroline Saxenmeyer Eberhard. The two wed soon after they met at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, immersed in what their daughter Barbara described as a “fast and intense love.”
They raised four children and pushed each other to new professional heights. When Lois decided she wanted to go back to school in the 1960s, Eberhard encouraged her. She went on to earn a master’s degree and work in government regulation of health care.
And she fueled his professional success as well, always hosting his colleagues and sending out hundreds of Christmas cards.
“They were a team,” Barbara Eberhard said. “It was Dad’s ambition, but it was their relationship that allowed them to have that ambition.”
In his 50s, John Paul Eberhard discovered his talent for drawing and went on to produce hundreds of handmade images of buildings. He would sign each picture with two little birds that represented him and his wife.