Christopher Arnold

October 1925 – January 2021

Christopher Arnold passed away on January 18, 2021. The cause of death was COVID-19. A prominent architect and longtime resident of Palo Alto, he designed several houses in town as well as some of the dormitories at Stanford. He also designed the unique building on Pampas Drive which was a prototype for schools and which now houses the Stanford Federal Credit Union. A specialist in seismic retrofitting, he was a member of the committee that oversaw the re-design of the Bay Bridge after the Loma Prieta earthquake. In addition to his work as an earthquake expert, he taught at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. An active member of the seismic community, he traveled extensively to earthquake sites, and served as president of Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) in 2000.

He was born on Christopher Columbus Day, 1925, in London, England, the youngest of 4 boys. They all attended St. Paul’s school, on scholarship; during the Blitz, the school was evacuated to Broadmoor, the famous mental asylum, from which they would cycle home on weekends. He attended the Bartlett (school of architecture) – University College London.

In 1944, he volunteered for the RAF and was eventually sent to America to learn to fly at Falcon Field in Arizona. The war ended before he saw action but instilled in him a desire to move back to the United States. After completing his undergraduate studies at Cambridge, he came to Stanford on a Fulbright Scholarship, where he met his wife Jodie; they married in 1953 and have lived in Palo Alto ever since: this past December, they celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary. In 1965, he co-founded the architectural firm Business Systems Development with Ezra Ehrenkrantz to further the then-new principles of systems design.

Christopher had a life-long interest in fine art and studied painting with David Bomberg. He was an accomplished water-colorist, and his hand-drawn yearly Christmas card was prized by friends and family, as were his other paintings and drawings. The vacation home he designed near Watsonville is also a much-beloved memorial to his creativity and love of mid-century modern architecture.

Christopher is preceded in death by his three older brothers, Patrick, Hugh and Michael, and their spouses, and is survived by his wife, Jodie and children Vivien, Corry (Sharon), and Gina, grandchild Caitlin, as well as numerous nieces and nephews in London, the Bay Area and elsewhere. He will be greatly missed.

19 Comments

  1. A life well lived. He met challenges to survival, like World War II and the earthquake with an acute mind that has benefited and even saved many so that art and beauty could thrive. Sorry for the family and world’s loss.

  2. Your lives and the world is so much richer for your father’s having lived. Wonderful self portrait, vibrant and true. I know you will all miss him immensely and carry him in your hearts.

  3. Always the ‘cool dude’ of an uncle, we always thought he sounded and talked like an American yet he always said the Americans thought him English…Great life and man
    One of his many nephews in the UK, Tony Arnold

    • Thanks Tony – yes, he passed in both worlds! Americans definitely thought he was English – right to the end. I don’t think he believed in nationalities however and enjoyed both.

  4. I taught with Chris at Cal in graduate school (mid-1970s) and we were friends thereafter. Some time since I saw him, but we had lunch in Palo Alto and then went to his house to see Jodie, too long ago. A wonderful man who had two careers, in essence, both successful and influential. – John Parman, Berkeley

  5. Chris was an inspiration for me, when I came to Berkeley in 1967 to study with his partner Ezra Ehrenkrantz. We remained friends after I returned to the UK, and even authored articles togethe for the architectural press. His fine quirky intelligence remains inspirational; he will be much missed.

      • Vivien, is there an address to send condolences to your mother? Andrew Rabeneck and I both tried to find an address to send Christmas cards to them, without success.

        • Hi John:
          Yes they moved to Assisted Living late 2019.
          Jodie Arnold: 4075 El Camino Way, Apt. 212, Palo Alto, CA 94306.
          So glad you and Andrew found this obit, I cannot find your addresses either. Can you send me your and Andrews email? I am at: vivienarnold@yahoo.com. (415-420-5309) One day I hope there will be some kind of event for him, summer maybe?- want you on list.

      • That’s the least I could do. Can you put me in touch with Jodie? I saw them at home just before they moved in, around Oct 2019, but never got the new address. You could email me via my Academia.edu page.
        Al my best. A

  6. One of my much missed uncle’s favourite anecdotes concerned what was maybe his first architectural adventure. While St Paul’s School was evacuated during WW2, the school buildings in London were occupied by the armed forces as the allied headquarters for the planning of D Day. General Montgomery, Eisenhower’s deputy, and a former pupil at the same school requested the then school principal to provide him with the detailed architectural drawings of the school. A panic ensued as no one at the school knew where the drawings were kept or even if they existed. Rather than embarrass Montgomery, it was decided that whoever was best qualified for the task should be immediately dispatched to London to recreate the drawings. It was Chris, who was chosen. He then set off alone to London and over several days meticulously recreated the school plans. They were duly presented to Montgomery. The rest is history. I asked Chris whether he ever heard back from Montgomery or his staff. He said he never heard of any complaints so assumes that his work had satisfied their requirements. And so a great architectural career began.

  7. Good story! Addenda: he, or perhaps whole school, or his class, were invited to St Paul’s for some event or service, while Montgomery et al still in residence. Perhaps at end of war? Anyway, all of a sudden it became necessary to fetch some bigwig a taxi. Chris as head boy was sent to do this minor task. BUT he’d never hailed a cab! (the family barely ever used one I imagine). So he was a bit nervous, having only seen in books or movies. BUT it went off without a hitch – relief.

  8. I began working for BSD in 1966 amid the ‘systems planning’ enthusiasm we all had. Chris, to me, was a friend and often the adult in the room providing informative, helpful and supportive views to several projects I worked on in the SF office. Humane, intelligent, I’ll miss him.

  9. I would like to join the many of those who knew and worked with Chris in extending my condolences to Jodie and family.
    Between 1968 and 1974: I worked in the team at BSD in San Francisco, Washington DC and London and Chris was always the “go to” man with his spirit, helpfulness, ideas and process.
    Back in New Zealand since 1975, I have followed and much respected Chris’ involvement in earthquake research including his visit here, catching up with this great man at that time..

  10. Dear Jodie, Vivien, Corry, Gina and families.
    I am saddened to hear of Chris’ passing. He was a unique character, one that was beyond the definition of a “renaissance person.” I met Chris in El Centro, California after 1979 earthquake. Professionally, he had moved beyond just architecture (it was never “just architecture”) to documenting architectural influences on building performance and occupant responses to being in a partially collapsed building. He needed someone to do field interviews of 120 building occupants and I was looking for a job. He parlayed a National Science Foundation grant on the impact of earthquakes on hospitals into one of the earliest documentations of occupant behavior in an earthquake in the US.
    For several years thereafter he mixed architecture with research on community preparedness in the US and Japan, published Building Configuration and Seismic Design, a seminal work that was critical in identifying the role of architectural design decisions in defining the performance of buildings during earthquakes. Bridging building design and human behavior he was one of the few architects in the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, a small professional group of engineers, earth scientists, urban planners and social scientists who documented and studied earthquake damage.
    Chris, in addition to his eclectic professional interests was also a talented performer and entertained annual EERI meetings with narratives employing his wry British wit to liven the driest of engineering presentations.
    He was also an ardent adventurer: returning from a 1980s visit to Japan on a Continental Airlines flight that “island hopped” across the Pacific, starting in Tokyo, heading to Guam, and visiting Kwajalein, Turk, and the Marshall Islands before arriving in Honolulu two days and nights later. Why? For the adventure!
    When I asked him how he managed to survive his adventures, he muttered in a true Brit accent, “I’m British. That is what we do. We muddle through”
    Working with Chris was like being in a continuous seminar, challenging ideas, trying to identify solutions beyond individual behavior, beyond a single building and beyond communities. He was my friend, mentor, guide and model as I transitioned from architect to planner to disaster preparedness bureaucrat. I miss him.
    Warm regards to the Arnold clan and fond memories of a life well lived!

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