UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Louis P. Inserra, a beloved professor emeritus in the Stuckeman School’s Department of Architecture and a Penn State alumnus, died on June 16 in State College. He was 85 years old.
Inserra, who was known for his dedication to the arts, served as a faculty member at Penn State for 39 years, earning numerous teaching awards and distinctions before his retirement in 2000. He was a recipient of the University’s Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Undergraduate Teaching, the College of Arts and Architecture’s Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching and was named a distinguished professor by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He was also one of the first faculty chaperones for the architecture study abroad program that is required for undergraduate students.
“Lou accrued many accolades and titles that are a testament to his excellence as an educator, but it was his mastery in the classroom that I am grateful to have witnessed firsthand, teaching alongside of him in third-year studio,” said Dan Willis, a professor in the Department of Architecture since 1987.
Katsuhiko Muramoto, associate professor of architecture, also taught studio alongside of Inserra and described his former colleague’s belief in the importance of teaching precedents to students.
“He was a firm believer of learning from the masters. Dan [Willis] and I were less organized in our approach to teaching at the time, but Lou always treated us as equals and took the time to mentor us,” Muramoto said. “He didn’t try to force us to have his same philosophy, rather he encouraged us to explore what we found to work best for ourselves and our students.”
In 2018, Penn State architecture alumni William Dahn and Robert Krieger, who both graduated in 1980 and are principals of Dahn & Krieger Architects Planners, PC, in Rochelle Park, New Jersey, established the Louis P. Inserra Endowment Fund in the Department of Architecture in honor of their former professor. The endowment will fund a scholarship for outstanding graduate and undergraduate architecture students who have achieved excellence in design based on research and discovery of architectural precedents.
“He really did make a lasting impression on his students with his wonderful knowledge and the real interest he took in each student’s design ideas,” said Dahn. “He had the uncanny ability to find a historical precedent with an application to the problem on which you were working that could help clarify your thinking — and sometimes totally change the way you were thinking. It was always done with a subtle touch that encouraged further investigation and discussion.”
Krieger echoed Dahn’s comments about the influence Inserra has had on his own life, both professionally and personally.
“I hear his words often in my head when I’m alone with my thoughts,” said Krieger. “He was truly a great educator and as fine a man as one could hope to meet. I believe most, if not all, of us were touched by Lou’s steady hand during our years at Penn State.”
In addition to his accomplishments in academia, Inserra designed a number of buildings in and around State College including the previous iteration of Schlow Centre Region Library, several modernist homes in the Vallamont neighborhood and his own house in the Pantops development of Port Matilda.
“Lou Inserra had a tremendous interest in what was happening in architecture,” said Craig Zabel, associate professor of art history in the College of Arts and Architecture who teaches several courses on architectural history. “In the old Architecture Library down in the Engineering Units I often saw him sit down and carefully go through all the books in the New Book Rack on a regular basis.”
Inserra is remembered by former students and colleagues for his rigorous studios, his dedication to learning from the greats in the disciplines of both architecture and education, and his insatiable thirst for knowledge. Willis and Muramoto recall that Inserra would eagerly consume every new architecture book that came into what was then the Architecture Reading Room in a tribute to their former colleague.
“He always carried a little black notebook, in which he meticulously cataloged articles and books about the buildings he valued as teaching tools. During studio, Lou would guide individual students on ‘safaris’ to the library, pointing them to exemplars applicable to their projects,” they said.
Inserra graduated from the five-year professional bachelor of architecture program at Penn State in 1958 and earned his master of architecture degree from Yale in 1959.
An avid tennis player and a true lover of nature, he is survived by his wife of 62 years, Patricia; his four children: John, Anne, Mark and Michael; and eight grandchildren.
Plans for a memorial tribute at Penn State are still being arranged and will be announced on the Stuckeman School website when they are available.