Jim was born in Philadelphia and raised in Audubon, New Jersey. He also spent time on the Maryland Shore, where he enjoyed building boats with his brother. Jim received a Bachelors degree in architecture from Rice University in Houston, and a Masters degree in architecture from MIT where he trained under master architect Louis Kahn.
Recruited by Dean Roger Bailey, Jim came to Utah in 1956 to teach at the University of Utah. While he taught for nine years, he co-founded Brixen & Christopher Architects. His projects at the firm have received numerous regional and national design awards. While historic preservation was not Jim’s specialty, he was a champion for older buildings in rehabilitation projects and always considered them when designing adjacent, new construction. His mantra could be said as “reuse and respect.” And Jim often used historical references as precedents in new construction.
In 1978, Jim & Martin Brixen renovated a historic building off 200 East as their offices and he received his first Utah Heritage Foundation Heritage Award – one of many more to come. The list of projects Jim led ranges from large to small, homes to cathedrals, including:
- House rehabilitations and additions in Marmalade and the Avenues;
- Libraries including Sprague and Chapman in Salt Lake City;
- Two buildings on President’s Circle at the University of Utah: addition to the Emery Building and Renovation of the Talmage Building
- Renovation of St. Mark’s Cathedral;
- the production of one of Salt Lake City’s earliest preservation plans in 1983;
- and a revitalization plan for downtown Lehi in 2005.
Jim was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (the prestigious FAIA) in 1981 for his outstanding contributions in architectural and urban design. Jim had an outstanding national reputation for his work as a member and chairman of the RUDAT National Task Group which provided design assistance to communities throughout the country, guiding their revitalization efforts and providing key vision for the future. These projects took him all over – from Rockford, Illinois to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
As a trustee of Utah Heritage Foundation between 2004 and 2012, Jim held leadership roles on the Executive Committee and was a committed board member who exceeded expectations. He was recognized for those commitments as Trustee of the Year in 2006. Jim took firm positions on advocacy. On the City Creek Center redevelopment project, he disagreed that the foundation should only take a position on one building but instead should be stepping up to save all the historic buildings and advocate strongly against the bridge over Main Street. Jim was a leader in creating our strategy in advocating for a rehabilitation by The Leonardo that would maintain the original design character of the former Main Library – a design by Edwards and Daniels architects for which Jim really has a love.
As time tells, two of Jim’s self-defined favorite new construction projects he’s ever worked on – Nunemaker Place at Westminster College, and Snowbird – are now considered historically significant as part of the mid-century modern movement to identify and recognize important architecture after 1949 in Utah.
James W. Christopher has been contributing to making Utah communities great for sixty years. Jim has understood that what makes communities great is the ever-evolving mix of historic buildings and new construction designed appropriately for its context. We believe that his philosophy is what we should all aspire to follow.
Many places across the nation have better communities because our 2016 Lucybeth Rampton Award winner Jim Christopher.