World renowned KU architecture professor Wojciech Lesnikowski dies

Wojciech Lesnikowski was a distinguished professor of architecture at Kansas University. He died of cancer on April 17, 2014.

At times the life of Wojciech Lesnikowski read like a novel.

After growing up in Poland during World War II and the Cold War, Lesnikowski left to live in Paris during the 1960s before settling in the United States.

He spoke Polish, English, French and Russian. In his career he found global success, working on major projects in international cities. As a distinguished professor of architecture at Kansas University, he would use his success and connections all over the world to help his own students succeed.

Lesnikowski died of cancer on April 17 at the age of 75.

Colleagues at KU remember Lesnikowski as a larger-than-life figure with an impressive, sometimes intimidating intellect.

“He was a mentor to many, a deeply respected and admired member of our faculty, and a teacher beloved by his students,” John Gaunt, dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, said in a statement.

“He just lived a big life,” said KU architecture professor Stephen Grabow, who lived next door to Lesnikowski and at times co-taught a studio class with him. “He thought if you did something, why not go further… He just made things happen.”

Lesnikowski grew up in Poland under Nazi occupation, before seeing his country come under control of Communists during the Cold War.

He earned a master’s degree from the Krakow School of Architecture and Urban Planning and worked in Poland for several years as an architect. But to flourish in his career, he saw he would have to leave his native Poland and head west, Grabow said.

And so in 1965 Lesnikowski walked in to the Paris office of Le Corbusier, one of the most famous architects of the 20th century, where he would intern. From Paris he moved to New York, working at the firm Harrison and Abramovitz beginning in 1970.

As an architect Lesnikowski worked on large conceptual buildings — skyscrapers, airports, courthouses and cultural centers. He often dove right into grand, sometimes whimsical concepts. “He had no fear,” Grabow said.

Before accepting a distinguished professorship at KU in 1988, Lesnikowski taught at L’ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris, the Pratt Institute in New York, Yale University, Cornell University and other schools.

He used his connections to architects in Paris to develop an overseas program for KU students and also helped develop a program in China.

As a teacher Lesnikowski worked hard to help his students get ahead, though he could be frank, even “naively aggressive,” as Grabow describes him. “He challenged people to think.”

A prominent figure in Poland, Lesnikowski was awarded the Krakow Laurel Award from the city of Krakow in 2013.

A public service for Lesnikowsky will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Warren-McElwain Mortuary is handling arrangements.