A legacy built by work, vision

Architect Nelson designed many Cd'A structures

The Hagadone Corp. building in downtown Coeur d'Alene was among the structures designed by R.G. "Bob" Nelson.

COEUR d'ALENE - Prominent Coeur d'Alene architect R.G. "Bob" Nelson, who was known for his work designing the Hagadone Corp. headquarters building and The Coeur d'Alene Resort, died Thursday. He was 76.

Kootenai County Commissioner Jai Nelson, his daughter, said his favorite project always was the one he was working on.

"He'd be completely absorbed by the challenge of that project," she said. "He was completely passionate."

He designed several buildings on the University of Idaho campus, including the award-winning student recreation center.

Jai Nelson said she always admired his tenacity in life as well as his dedication to his profession.

"I loved working with him," she said. "If you stand downtown in Coeur d'Alene you can see so many of his buildings. He's really had an impact in his work."

R.G. Nelson was born in Spokane to Swedish immigrants C. George Nelson and Freda C. Nelson.

He attended Washington State University before later graduating from the University of Oregon in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in architecture.

He did post graduate studies in architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Monte Miller, senior partner at Miller Stauffer Architects of Coeur d'Alene, said, "He was my mentor. I learned so much from him."

Miller spent his summers from the University of Idaho in the early 1970s working for Nelson, and went to work for him right out of college.

"He would celebrate the structure" of the buildings he designed, Miller said. "He wouldn't cover it up with drywall and siding; he would detail it so it wouldn't need to be covered."

He recalled Nelson's hand-drawn designs looking like today's computer-generated versions.

"He taught me that good architecture is in good detailing," Miller said.

Of the Hagadone corporate headquarters, Miller said, "It was a lot of fun to watch him design that building."

Nelson also paid close attention to the interiors, he said.

"A lot of his projects weren't conventional," he said.

Scott Fischer, a principal at Architects West Inc. in Coeur d'Alene, said Nelson made some great contributions to the profession.

"I was impressed with Bob's use of natural and artificial lighting," Fischer said. "That's a skill or talent that's difficult to master."

He said Nelson was long a member of the American Institute of Architects.

In 1994, Nelson was appointed to the Idaho state Board of Architecture, and served as president for time.

Nelson entered private practice in architecture in 1965 with the founding of his firm R.G. Nelson, AIA, Architect, Coeur d'Alene.

Since the inception of the firm, his practice encompassed higher education student housing projects, recreational facilities, financial institutions, multi-family, office, educational facilities, hospitality facilities, private residences, as well as interiors of watercraft and jet airplanes. He did work in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and California.

He established a reputation for extraordinary design, which became a trademark of the firm for more than 30 years.

In 1988, Nelson was appointed distinguished professor of architecture at the University of Idaho. In recognition, Nelson received the American Institute of Architecture students "Outstanding Practitioners in Education" award, and was chosen as one of the most influential members on the UI campus.

Nelson served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War era.

Jai Nelson said her father always loved the short poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about architecture. It starts with the words, "Ah, to build, to build! That is the noblest art of all the arts."

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Coeur d'Alene with a reception to follow.

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