MIT Professor Tunney Lee, an Architect, Urban Planner, and Historian of Chinatown, Dies at 88

Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, immigration, urban history, urban planning, urban renewal, Chinese American history

As an MIT professor, an architect, and an urban planner, Tunney Lee could look at buildings — particularly in Chinatown, where he grew up — and see much more than bricks and mortar.

“He could tell you about the history of the building, what organizations had been in the building, the families who lived there,” said Shauna Lo, a former board member of the Chinese Historical Society of New England. “He could tell you the histories of all the people and what they did for a living.”

A historian who was still at work on an extensive project to preserve the heritage of his childhood neighborhood, Mr. Lee died Thursday of complications from cancer treatment. He was 88 and lived in Cambridge.


Topper Carew, a filmmaker, architect, and longtime friend, said Mr. Lee believed that “people should be involved in making decisions about their space, about their architecture. It shouldn’t just be an ivory tower approach.”

Mr. Lee viewed the design process as “a tool to be used in the interests of citizen empowerment and citizen realization,” said Carew, who lives in Cambridge.

“That was his special gift. That’s rare,” Carew added. “For him, it wasn’t about building the buildings. It was about building the people.”

Read entire article at Boston Globe