Obituary for Astra Zarina

Astra Zarina, Professor Emerita, University of Washington

August 25, 1929 – August 31, 2008

Astra Zarina was a distinguished Professor Emerita of the University of Washington, College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP), founder of the UW Italian Studies programs and of the UW Rome Center. Professor Zarina was also a practicing architect. Along with her husband, Anthony Costa Heywood, and others, she co-founded the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy (NIAUSI), a private, nonprofit organization based in Seattle.

Professor Zarina taught architecture and urban design at the University of Washington for over three decades, both in Seattle and in Italy. She established the Architecture in Rome program and the Italian Hilltowns program. Hundreds of students enrolled in these programs developed by Professor Zarina to expose young architects and designers to the lessons of continuity and change in Italian architecture, urban planning, design and culture. She influenced thousands of students throughout her career, inspiring many who have gone on to become internationally influential architects and designers in their own right.

Professor Zarina was born in Riga, Latvia and immigrated to the United States with her family after World War II. She enrolled at the University of Washington in 1951, after beginning her architectural studies in Karlsruhe, Germany. At a time when there were very few women in university architecture programs, Zarina emerged as one of the most talented students in the UW architecture program, studying under professors such as Lionel Pries, Wendell Lovett and particularly with her primary mentor Victor Steinbrueck; she received her Bachelor of Architecture in 1953. She was fluent in English, Italian, German, French and her native language, Latvian. After graduation she worked in the office of Paul Hayden Kirk.

In 1954 Zarina moved to Boston to enter the architecture program at MIT; she received her Master of Architecture in 1955. She subsequently moved to the Detroit area to work in the office of Minoru Yamasaki. She contributed significantly to the design of the Detroit School of Arts and Crafts and the First Methodist Church, located in Warren, Michigan.

In 1960, Zarina was awarded the American Academy in Rome Fellowship in Architecture, the first in the Academy's history to be awarded to a woman in architecture, together with a Fulbright grant for study in Italy. As a practicing architect, she worked on restoration projects in Italy, as well as a neighborhood of 5,000 inhabitants in Mårkisches Viertel, a new town in Berlin.

Zarina taught as a Lecturer in the UW Department of Architecture in Seattle in 1965 and 1968. In 1970, working with the Department, Zarina initiated the Architecture in Rome program, hosting a small number of students from Seattle in her apartment in Rome. The first year’s success led to the program becoming a regular offering of the Department (Rome I). In subsequent years she added a second quarter in Rome (Rome II) and in 1976 taught the first summer program on Italian Hilltowns based in Civita di Bagnoregio. In 1979 Professor Zarina was recognized with a University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award. In 1985 she received a permanent joint appointment as a Professor in the Department of Urban Design & Planning.

In 1983-84, supported by the University and after many years of directing and teaching the Architecture in Rome programs, Professor Zarina worked with UW Provost George Beckmann and CAUP Dean Gordon Varey in negotiating a lease for several floors of the historic Palazzo Pio, located in the center of Rome and built upon the ruins of the Roman Theater of Pompey. This facility is now the University of Washington’s Rome Center, a hub of activity serving students and faculty from a variety of U.W. programs. She coordinated the design of both instructional and residential spaces in this building. During the construction process she oversaw the discovery and restoration of the remains of a medieval tower that had for centuries been hidden within the walls of the Palazzo Pio. She served as Rome Center Director from 1984 to 1994.

Professor Zarina wrote about architecture, design and culture over the course of her career, including a book published in 1976 on the roofscapes of Rome, titled “I tetti di Roma: Le terrazze, le altane, i belvedere” (co-author Balthazar Korab).

In 1994 Professor Zarina was recognized for her many contributions when she became an Honorary member of AIA Seattle.

Her passion and love for architecture, urban planning, design and culture was matched by her passion for cooking and the art of celebration. Great people, great food and great conversation were the necessary ingredients in all her meals.

Since the late 1960’s, Professor Zarina and her husband Anthony Costa Heywood, also an architect, have collaborated on the restoration of numerous buildings in the ancient hilltown of Civita di Bagnoregio, located 60 miles north of Rome. These buildings served as the center for the U.W. Italian Hilltowns program. Their latest acquisition and restoration was completed in 2007.

Zarina and Heywood worked closely with NIAUSI to add Civita di Bagnoregio to the World Monuments Fund (WMF)’s 2006 List of “100 Most Endangered Places.” In May 2008, they hosted an international symposium with the WMF and NIAUSI to address the pressing geologic and cultural sustainability issues of Civita and nearby towns. For the past several years, they have been working with NIAUSI to establish the Zarina-Heywood Civita Institute, a research facility housed in several restored buildings in Civita, which is continuing their work in cross-cultural education while allowing professionals in architecture, art, and design to participate in fellowship programs in Italy organized by NIAUSI.

Professor Zarina is survived by her husband, Anthony Costa Heywood; her sister, Vija Rekevics; her brothers, Uldis and Valdis Zarins, her nieces Elizabette Grove and Carmen Gudz, her nephew Karlis Rekevics and a legacy that lives on through her former students, her architectural work and her teachings.

For those wishing to make donations and remembrances in honor of Professor Zarina, her preference would be the Zarina-Heywood Civita Institute Fund of the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy (NIAUSI). Mailing address: 1326 Fifth Avenue, Suite 654, Seattle, WA 98101. Web address: