Calvin "Cal" F. Lewis, an architect who helped shape what would become the Western Gateway and who marveled at what he called the "string of pearls" that linked the Iowa state Capitol to the Krause Gateway Center, died Nov. 24. He was 72.

Among Lewis’ most recent work was the reshaping of Cowles Commons. The project included the redesign of the walkway around the Des Moines Civic Center, a plan that called for security barriers around the performing arts center. He mused during a public meeting that it was the first time he had taken into account the security of a building as opposed to the functional beauty of its design.

As instrumental as he was in the reshaping of downtown Des Moines, including the Meredith Corp. campus renovation that triggered a renewal from the Western Gateway to the East Village, Lewis played a big role in shaping a generation of designers.

"He was one of the most influential people in my life," said Paul Mankins, a principal at Substance Architecture who worked with Lewis at Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck, the famed Des Moines architecture firm he co-founded in 1987.

"Occasionally I am asked to speak to groups of architects around the country about my firm’s work. I always include three photographs:  One is of Chick Herbert, who taught my partners and me the power of a collaborative team. One is of John Locke. John is less known, but taught a number of us how to put buildings together in a way that is expressive of the ideas that we think underpin them. This is a rare skillset. The last is of Cal," Mankins said. "Cal taught me (and many of the people I work with and have worked with) the importance of architectural ideas. These ideas are rooted in both the functional problem at hand and the potential for creating memorable spatial experiences. Cal was one of the strongest conceptual thinkers I have ever known."

Danielle Hermann, associate principal at OPN Architects, said Lewis was "one of my biggest cheerleaders throughout my career." The Krause Gateway Center was among her recent projects, working with lead designer Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

"While he was dean of the architecture program at ISU, I was completing my bachelor's of architecture," Hermann said. "He knew I was considering leaving architecture after graduation and pursuing a post-graduate law degree. He took me under his wing and would attend my reviews standing in the back for support. He convinced me to give my degree a shot and backed it up by offering me a position at his firm, HLKB. 'Give it a year,' he said, 'if you don’t like it, you can always go to law school then.' The rest is history. I obviously liked it and never left."

Lewis graduated in 1970 from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. He also carried away from the university recognition as a top football player in what was then called the Big 8 Conference.

He started his career at Charles Herbert and Associates in 1969.

The Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck firm received more than 200 awards for design excellence at the state, regional and national levels, and in 2001 received the national American Institute of Architects Firm Award, the highest recognition given to an architecture firm.

According to the ISU College of Design Facebook page, projects he led received more than 70 awards, including three AIA Honor Awards and an AISC/AIA Award for Innovative Design for the Jacobson Athletic Building at Iowa State. He was named an AIA fellow in 1995 and received the AIA Iowa Medal of Honor in 2009.

Two of the AIA Honor Awards, the equivalent of an Academy Award for architects, were were bestowed in one year, a rare fete. What might be even more remarkable is that one was for a welding gas distributor located in an otherwise orderly warehouse in Ankeny, Mankins said. 

"Cal didn’t have a style. Cal had a rigorous thought process. I hope that some of that rubbed off," Mankins said.

Rod Kruse, a partner in Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck, said some of the notable projects, in addition to the Meredith renovation, were Hub Tower and Kaleidoscope at the Hub, a major urban renewal project of the mid-1980s, along with the Drake Legal Clinic.

Architect William Anderson pointed out that Lewis was an "avid proponent of architectural excellence."

Lewis was an advocate of the profession at all levels. He was a part-time adjunct faculty member at Iowa State in the 1980s and led the Department of Architecture Advisory Council for nearly 20 years before serving as department chair from 2000 to 2010. He continued to teach after 2010.

"He’s left a legacy of buildings in Des Moines and throughout the state … but more importantly, the people he supported, taught, and encouraged during his career have gone on to found dedicated practices, to design thoughtful spaces and buildings, and to pass on his caring, challenging studio teaching," ISU Morrill Professor Thomas Leslie said in a Facebook post.

A celebration of life is planned at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Calvin Lewis Memorial Fund at the ISU Foundation.