By Diane Fiske
The architectural office of Runyan & Associates Architects, run by Stan Runyan and his associate, Jean McCoubrey, closed at the end of 2019 so the two architectural designers could retire.
Runyan, who closed the office at 8511 Germantown Ave. after working in Chestnut Hill for 30 years, said he intends to pursue photography and travel. McCoubrey worked with Runyan since 1998 and now intends to go back to “working with her hands” in painting and printmaking.
The pair had designed many of the iconic structures in the area, including the building on the northeast corner of Gravers Lane and Germantown Avenue, housing for the University of Pennsylvania archives, and many institutional and residential buildings in the city.
When people ask Runyan, who received a master’s degree in city planning at the University of California at Berkeley, which of his building designs is his favorite, his favorite answer has always been: “the next one.”
Before opening the Germantown Avenue office, his studio was above the former Wawa on Highland Avenue, which is now Univest Bank. Prior to that, Runyan had a small office in Center City.
McCoubrey received a bachelor’s degree from Yale and then earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. She received further training at L’Ecole Superieure D’Arts Graphiques, Paris.
In a recent interview at the Chestnut Hill Coffee Shop, both architects, who have received many awards and worked with other architects and planners throughout the country, including the famed Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown Architects started by Robert Venturi, said they felt Chestnut Hill was a good place to work.
“Our office on Germantown Avenue was one of the best studios ever,” Runyan said. “It was light and allowed us to have as many co-workers, up to 16, as we needed.”
“I think it was the right thing to do,” Runyan said of his retirement. “I don’t miss the process, which was rewarding but challenging in terms of trying to meet the expectations of our clients.”
“One gets worn out looking for the next project and we have a sort of optimism that the next one won’t be so hard.”
Runyan said working with clients has been one of his favorite parts of the process, but it is important for clients to realize that producing a house is different from any other product.
“There is no test product for a house,” he said. “The final house is what the client gets, and there is no trial to see if they like it.”
He and McCoubrey would first go over the expectations of the potential product with clients and the costs, which are often $300 a square foot, and the price would sometimes be astounding to the client. He said when the firm worked for the University of Pennsylvania or other institutions, there would be “cost estimators” available.
“Even when a process was begun, we can’t estimate the cost of contractors and builders,” Runyan said.
Still, he always thought house design was integral to architecture and he tried to involve it in his practice as much as possible.
He remembered as a child working with blocks to design play houses and he thought it was important that the kitchen was related to the dining room and the dining room was related to other areas.
“I could have joined some larger firms, but they didn’t do houses and I felt that was important,” Runyan said.
McCoubrey said she is anxious to get back to doing things with her hands, like painting and sculpting.
When she began in architecture, she recalled, practitioners made models of their work and worked at tables with T square rulers.
“Now everything is working with computers,” she said.
Both said they are proud of their work and the projects they completed.