Nathan Shapira

  Retrospect: Nathan H. Shapira May 28, 1928 – May 16, 2009

– R. Gomes June 6, 2009

Professor Dr. Nathan H. Shapira, was a member of the faculty of the Department of Design at UCLA since 1963 in charge of Industrial Design and Interior Design. He was Professor Emeritus in the Design and Media Arts program at the University of California, Los Angeles since 1993. Pro. Shapira died May 16th at his home in Santa Monica, he was 80 years old and a survivor of the Holocaust in Romania. A former Commonwealth Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University (1955-56), he held a Dottore in Architettura degree from the Politecnico of Milan (1954). Before settling in California, he had taught at the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, R.I.), Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.), and Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn.), where he was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies (1959-60). Between 1969 and 1972 he had served as Head of the Department of Design at the University of Nairobi and Director of the University of California’s Education Abroad Program
in Kenya.

In 1992 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Trento (Italy), in 1996 at the School of Architecture of the University of Palermo, in 2004 at the School of Architecture of the Politecnico of Milan, and in 2005 he was invited to be Senior Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study of the University of Bologna. Professor Shapira was also affiliated with the University of Trento and Bologna in Italy. Under the bilateral exchange program between the University of California and the University of Trento, he served as a research fellow in Italy, studying advanced technology and the use of natural materials in the contemporary architecture of northeastern Italy. He was also a research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Bologna. Winner of national and international design awards and holder of eight U.S. Design Patents, Prof. Shapira had conceived and designed the major traveling exhibitions Forms from Israel (1958–60) for the American Federation of Art, Industrial Design from Japan (1964), The Expression of Gio Ponti (1966-68), From Flat to Form (1977), Egypt, Then and Now: Nasr Salem, Art and Design (1978), Design Process: Olivetti 1908-1978 (1979-83), Big Prints from Rome (1980), Posters from Yugoslavia (1983-84), and The Quest for Continuity: Forms from Friuli (1987)for the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. His professional practice had included product design and packaging, interiors and exhibition design, graphic design, visual identity programs and architecture.

A former member of President Lyndon Johnson’s U.S. Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped (1965-68) and President of the Center for Contemporary Culture, Los Angeles (1982-85), he was president and founder of Design Advocacy, Ltd. and held membership in the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), Associazione Disegno Industriale (ADI), Society of Architectural Historians, and the Italian Register of Licensed Architects. Dr. Shapira had conceived and moderated numerous international conferences including Design in Low-Income Economies (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), Ibiza, 1972), Fantasy and Reality in Italian Design (UCLA, 1979), Art and Design: Identities in Transition (Convention Center, Los Angeles, 1992), Los Angeles, End of the Century (Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology, Milan, and School of Architecture, University of Rome – La Sapienza, 1996), “New Blood 101: onehundredone” an exhibition for the new millennium, (WestWeek, Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, CA, March/April 1998), Trendlness and Timelessness in Design and Architecture (Florida
International University, Miami Beach, 1999), The Role of Creativity in the Future of Los Angeles (with co-moderator Dr. Elizabeth McMillian, Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, 2002), and Italian Design: What’s Next? for the Italian Institute of Culture (Pacific Design Center, 2003). In Spring 2003 Prof. Shapira curated and designed the exhibition “Visionary Architecture of Celestino Soddu” at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

Most recently, Prof. Shapira served as consultant to the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. He was also a guest writer for the international architecture and design bilingual monthly Ottagono, published in Italy. For his contributions to cultural exchanges between Italy and the United States, he was awarded the title of Cavaliere della Repubblica ltaliana by the President of Italy in 1994, the Italian equivalent of a knighthood.

A contributor to leading international design periodicals Design Quarterly, Industrial Design, Domus, Abitare, Costruire, Space Design, and Ottagono, he had addressed major international design conferences in Bled (1966},lbiza (1971), Tel Aviv (1973), Copenhagen (1977), London (1982), Venice (1985), Pasadena (1990), Oakland (1992), Detroit (1994), and Cape Town (1995). He had served on the Editorial Board of Design West and R&D Strategist, a journal for developing and protecting new commercial ideas (1989-1993), and was a senior liaison director with the Design Center for Global Needs, San Francisco.

One of the UCLA Design department’s most respected and distinguished professors, Professor Shapira was an internationally renowned design scholar, curator and critic. He was an authority on design for developing countries, architecture and design in Los Angeles, as well as a highly recognized and respected authority of Italian Design throughout the United States and Europe.

Professor Shapira had a special interest in design for social responsibility and its relationship to industrial design and advanced technologies. His research and writings frequently addressed the theory that technology has widened the gap between rich and poor societies and that design could alleviate this problem. Prof. Shapira argued that future designers must concern themselves with the quality of life and not merely the decorative arts. Professor Shapira, brought together many people from all over the world through his love for
design and humanity. He was the quintessential “Goodwill Ambassador of Design” with his affable eccentric and tenacious manner. Truly, “he lived to design and designed to live”. His many former students, faculty, professional colleagues, associates and friends worldwide and the UCLA community of friends and associates will be forever indebted to the years of scholarly teaching service, collegiality and professionalism of Professor Emeritus, Dr. Nathan H. Shapira.


2 thoughts on “Nathan Shapira

  1. Prof. Dr. Nathan Shapira was a fine colleague to work for and I am sorry that I did not get to talk with him before he
    passed away. The department of design in general at Dickson Art Center UCLA did not support my 101 narratives & library material to aid design students on ergonomics and bionics in relation to industrial design. But Nathan was supportive of my efforts to ” think outside the box” to enhance the ID studio course material ( such as the KD furniture project assignment ) which I was given a opportunity to introduce and my dedication to acquire the Texas Instruments CAD computer and Auto Cad software grant during the academic period between 1985-86 ( which an architecture-design undergraduate used in 1986 ) With the proper funding & a progressive design staff at UCLA, there is the possibility to re-introduce industrial design transformed to a full range undergraduate program in the next 5 to 15 years. That would certainly honor all the dedication and idealism that Nathan gave to his students during his teaching career. Bruce W. Munro …February 2016.

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