Harris J. Sobin
Harris J. Sobin, Professor Emeritus of the University of Arizona, who pioneered historic preservation in the American Southwest, died Monday morning at his home in Sonoma, at the age of 79.
Born in Boston, MA in 1931, Harris grew up in suburban Boston. He earned three degrees from Harvard University in English, law and architecture, and was awarded two Fulbright Scholarships in Tropical Architecture (London, 1961-63) and for study of the iconic modern architect Le Corbusier (Paris, 1976-77). His teaching career included faculty positions at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan (1967-70) and the University of Arizona in Tucson (1970-2000).
While his scholarly interests were broad and varied, it was through his pioneering work in historic preservation that Harris rose to civic prominence. In 1971, he learned that the Arizona State Highway Department planned to demolish the heart of Tucson’s oldest and most historic downtown neighborhood – the Barrio Viejo – to make room for a freeway. Harris led his design students to conduct and publish a historic study of the neighborhood – the first of its kind – which ultimately convinced the State to re-route the freeway and save the Barrio. Now known as the Barrio Historico, this district remains one of the most treasured historic destinations of the American Southwest.
Thereafter, Harris built an architectural practice focused on historic preservation projects and new construction in historic contexts. He was a driving force in the historic preservation efforts of Florence and Bisbee, and made major contributions to other Arizona municipalities including Tucson, Marana and Gilbert. In 1977, he published the 400-page Florence Town site Historic District Study that led to its establishment on the National Historic Register. Several non-governmental projects include a new Parish Center at Florence for the Catholic Diocese that earned him a design award from the American Institute of Architects in 1988.
Beyond historic preservation, Harris’ academic interests ranged widely, encompassing natural lighting and ventilation, architecture of tropical and arid lands, and modern art and architecture, with an emphasis on the work of the Swiss/French visionary Le Corbusier. He has produced numerous publications and lectures on these topics. During his final years as a lecturing professor, his capstone course on Le Corbusier was the most sought-after offering at the University of Arizona’s College of Architecture.
Harris is survived by his wife, Françoise, of Sonoma. He is also survived by daughter, Anne-Christine (Sobin) McKibben; son-in-law, Jeff McKibben; grandson, Trevor and granddaughter, Sophie, also of Sonoma; as well as daughter Isabelle (Sobin) Burkhart; son-in-law, Jonathan Burkhart; grandson, Harris and granddaughter, Rena, of Rhinebeck, NY.
Friends and family are invited to a memorial service at Sonoma Hills Retirement Center, 405 W. MacArthur St. in Sonoma on Saturday, July 30 at 2 pm.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Arizona Historical Society, 520-617-1165 or www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org/donations.asp
Arrangements under the direction of Duggan’s Mission Chapel, Mission Cremation Service, 525 W. Napa St., Sonoma, CA.