Retail pioneer and noted philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman, an alumnus of Lawrence Tech who gave back to his alma mater in many ways, died on Friday, April 17, at the age of 91.
Taubman pioneered the design and development of shopping centers and malls in the 1950s in response to the rapid growth of suburbs during the economic boom that followed World War II. He became a billionaire and branched out into other business activities during a long career.
Philanthropy is another enduring legacy for Taubman, who believed in giving back to the society that gave him the opportunity to succeed so spectacularly. He never forgot where he came from and who helped him along the way, so it is not surprising that he became one of Lawrence Tech’s biggest donors.
LTU President Virinder Moudgil issued the following statement the morning after Taubman’s death:
“With the passing of A. Alfred Taubman, Lawrence Technological University has lost one of its most distinguished alumni and most generous friends and supporters. After attending Lawrence Tech in the 1940s, Mr. Taubman returned again and again to teach classes, sponsor exhibitions and lectures, provide public art on campus, inspire students and faculty, and become one of our university’s most generous benefactors.
“Two of LTU’s major buildings bear, or will bear, the Taubman name. He provided the lead gift for LTU’s innovative Taubman Student Services Center opened in 2006. He also provided the lead gift for the Taubman Complex for Engineering, Life Sciences, and Architecture now under construction and expected to open in late 2016. He took an active role in the design of both buildings and the selection of architects.
“Mr. Taubman’s generosity has assured that many future generations of LTU students and scholars will have access to outstanding educations and facilities and we are forever grateful for his kindness, friendship, and support.
“Our condolences and sympathy are with the Taubman family at this difficult time.”
In addition to the improved services that it provides, the Taubman Student Services Center has reshaped Lawrence Tech’s image and positioned the University for its next period of dramatic growth.
The LTU community can also see the tangible results of Taubman’s legacy as construction of the Taubman Complex shifts into high gear this spring.
Taubman’s generosity of spirit and deep commitment to education – especially at Lawrence Tech – was demonstrated when he returned to a Lawrence Tech classroom in the fall of 2010 not as a student, but as a teacher.
He put together the curriculum for a graduate-level course in the College of Architecture and Design entitled “Real Estate Practice: Land Development.” He gave several lectures himself and invited several world-renowned experts to be guest lecturers.
The course came about when Dean Glen LeRoy offered him an honorary professorship. “I don’t believe in honorary professorships,” LeRoy recalled Taubman’s response. “If you’re going to give me a title, I want to teach a course.”
It quickly became clear that Taubman had not stopped being a student when he left LTU.
In his course, Taubman traced the origins of the shopping mall back to a Persian fabric bazaar more than 600 years ago. He showed examples of shopping centers from European and American cities in the 1800s, pointing out some of the characteristics that played a role in the more than 50 shopping centers that his companies have developed since the early 1950s.
“We certainly didn’t invent the mall, but we have made a lot of positive changes,” Taubman told his class.
During his lectures, Taubman demonstrated practical solutions that seem like common sense in retrospect but only come when someone like him can combine a wide knowledge of his field, a close look at the specific situation, and acute observation of human behavior and shopping habits.
It is a combination of theory and practice that Taubman learned about when he studied architecture at Lawrence Tech. He was glad to return the favor to current LTU students.
“I’m teaching because it’s enjoyable … If you get a chance to enhance someone’s understanding, you’ve accomplished a lot in life … You’ve helped a lot people,” he said at the time.
Perhaps that straightforward statement is a fitting epitaph for his life – he helped a lot of people.