Eric Gartner

Reunion Sparks Alumnus’ Bequest to Architecture

Eric Gartner (Arch ’82, ’85)

Eric Gartner was 5 when he told his kindergarten teacher he wanted to be an architect when he grew up.

“I was always drawing buildings as a kid and building little cities in our playroom,” he said. “I don’t think I even knew exactly what an architect was, but it sounded right.”

Gartner (Arch ’82, ’85) has now worked as a professional architect for more than two decades, most of the time with SPG Architects, a midsized firm in New York City. Gartner’s business partner, Caroline Sidnam, encouraged him to explore environmental elements of design.

“Once you get environmentalism into your head and realize the custody of the world is at least partially in your hands, the idea sticks,” said Gartner, a partner in the firm since 1993. “When our practice got to the point where we could shape more fully what our goals were, environmentalism became one of the major tenets of our projects.”

The firm, which has designed environmentally responsible homes from Fire Island, N.Y., to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, recently received a design award for a residence near Asheville, N.C., from the New York chapter of the Society of American Registered Architects.

A LEED AP+ certified architect, Gartner is most proud of a pro bono project central to the firm’s mission in the central African country of Rwanda. He collaborated with the villagers of Banda, a remote village in the southwest; and Kageno, a relief organization, to design a collection of eight community buildings, among them a library, a health center and pharmacy that serve 1,000 people a month and classrooms that serve 300 local children a year.

“It has probably changed more lives than any other project I’ve worked on, maybe all the other projects I’ve worked on put together,” Gartner said.

While attending the 25th reunion of his undergraduate class, Gartner decided to change the lives of future students at the University of Virginia as well by making a bequest to the School of Architecture.

“There was a moment where I thought, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t be who I am or have done anything that I’ve done for the past 25 years if I hadn’t gone to this place and learned in this place,’” Gartner said. “Truthfully, my education is totally inseparable from my career.”