September 6, 2021

Alan Stacell was a dreamer who had a unique way of seeing the world.

Although he was known for teaching late-night philosophy over coffee and pie at the Ramada Inn, waking up at 5:00 a.m. to paint before class and being a smart dresser with an old-fashioned pipe, Alan Stacell is best remembered for the way he made others feel. He cared deeply for those around him, and he invited students into his unique way of seeing the world. He was a dreamer; his eyes were constantly looking upwards while his hands painted, wrote and taught.

Former students remember Stacell as a brilliant man who applauded hard work and creativity both in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, his students’ ambitions became his own, and he did everything in his power to help them realize their dreams. By all accounts, he was the teacher that every student needed in their lives: supportive, yet constantly encouraging growth.  

Robert Riggs ’71 was not Stacell’s typical architecture student: He wanted to work in politics on Capitol Hill and was intrigued by filmmaking. Now a Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist and recipient of the College of Architecture’s Outstanding Alumnus Award (the only non-practicing architecture graduate to be honored), he recalls Stacell’s steadfast encouragement and mentorship. “He said, ‘I’ve got an 8 mm film camera here. I’m going to readjust some things for you, and this will count as one of your architecture classes. Start making movies. I'll critique them.’”

To honor Stacell’s impact, Riggs spearheaded the creation of the Alan Stacell Student Creativity Fund in 2005, four years after the professor’s passing, and invited Stacell’s former students, friends and colleagues to continue his legacy.

Colleagues and Friends Remember Alan Stacell

When we asked several of Stacell’s former students, colleagues and friends to share their thoughts on him, his influence in each person’s life was evident. Enjoy the thoughts and recollections of those he touched most:

Who was Alan Stacell?

Rodney Hill: Mentor, friend, somebody I could trust. I could go to him with any kind of wild story or idea.

Rodney Hill is a friend and colleague of Stacell. Since he came to Texas A&M in 1969, he has ascended into the ranks of the most beloved professors in the school’s history. Hill recently retired after a five-decade career at the university.

Dick Davison: Artist, philosopher, teacher—perhaps in that order. 

Richard “Dick” Davison ’75 is a former student, friend and colleague of Stacell. When he first returned to Texas A&M to teach, the two artists shared an office. Davison recently retired from a four-decade  career as a professor at Texas A&M.

Robert Riggs: He has been the hand on my shoulder throughout my life. He was brilliant and analytical, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met (and I was a correspondent at the White House). He was also a great advice-giver. When I was struggling with questions like, “Who am I? What’s my purpose?” I could walk into his office and have a conversation with him. He wouldn’t tell me what to do; he’d just try to help me understand.

Robert Riggs ’71 is a former student, friend and colleague of Stacell. Today, he is an investigative reporter and a recipient of the College of Architecture’s Outstanding Alumnus Award, three duPont-Columbia Awards and a Peabody Award for Investigative Reporting.  

David Dacus: He was a visionary. He asked himself, “What must we do now to get the kind of environment that we wish to have 20 years from now?” And so he developed the programs within the College of Architecture to be a cornucopia of multidisciplinary thought.

David Dacus ’73 is a former student and friend of Stacell. After his time at Texas A&M, he received a Master of Architecture from University of California – Berkeley in 1981. Today, he is a design review consultant for Mountain House, California—a newly developed area in California’s Central Valley that has grown to nearly 25,000 people today. He credits many of the skills he uses to Stacell's teachings.

What made him special?

Jim Foster: He just cared—not only about the students, he cared about people. He was an empathetic, compassionate individual who loved what he did and wanted everyone else to love what they did. You don't see that in everybody.

Jim Foster ’66 is a former student, friend and colleague of Stacell. After graduating with a master’s degree in architecture from Texas A&M, he stayed with the College of Architecture as its assistant dean and worked closely with Stacell as design and architecture curricular paths transitioned. Jim Foster, FAIA is a recipient of the College of Architecture’s Outstanding Alumnus Award.

Patrick Winn: He wasn't afraid to live his life, and he encouraged others to live their lives with passion. Architecture school has a way of making you feel like you're not good enough, and Alan never gave that kind of feeling to any student.

Patrick Winn ’02 is a former student, friend and colleague of Stacell. Today, he is an architect at Total Art and Design in New Braunfels, Texas. In 2002, he led the team that erected the Alan Stacell Memorial Tower, the design for which was based on Stacell’s sketches and inspired by their shared love of tensegrity structures. 

David Dacus: He was extremely kind to all levels of people within the program. He could lift up a struggling student, or he could help an accomplished individual get to the next level. He didn't limit himself to the big stars.

What did you learn from him?

Dick Davison: Although I have had some great teachers and colleagues in my career as a student and later as an artist and teacher, Alan is truly the one I would call my “professional father.” At times, when I was between schools or jobs, and was beginning to doubt if I was on the right track, a letter or visit with him would be like a glass of water in the desert. He had a way of encouraging and challenging me at the same time, and he was a perfect artistic role model. There are work habits I have to this day that can be traced directly back to Alan’s own artwork and work ethic as well as his teaching approach.

David Dacus: At the grandest level, it was to just be open. Before speaking, he would wait and hear what everyone had to say. And then he would ever so slightly reframe it so that you might see something in a new way.

Patrick Winn: A piece of advice that he gave me was, “Patrick, don't let them change you.” And I said, “What do you mean? Who are they?” He replied, “You're going to know it when you get there.” That's all he said, and it has been so true during every stage of my life.

Interested in contributing to the Alan Stacell Student Creativity Fund? Donate online today or email Angela Throne ’03 to discuss planned giving options to support this fund after your life. To learn about other ways you can support students and faculty in the College of Architecture, contact Erik Baker using the form below.