Well-rounded. Inventive. Passionate. Prolific. All these words have been used to describe Jonathan Zimmerman, the late architect known for his love of round architecture. Some of his designs are well known, including the structure known as “Dome of a Home” in Pensacola, Florida. But who was the man behind the designs? Friends and family paint a picture of a loving, friendly man devoted to his craft.
His interest in domes began while studying architecture at Idaho State University, according to his daughter Jane. “He was passionate about the technology,” she stated. “He believed deeply in the value of air-formed structures from an engineering perspective.” Not just from a structural point of view, but his daughter also explained how he loved the aesthetic beauty afforded from the curves and swoops of round architecture.
His love of the craft was evident to all who interacted with him. David Barrett was a close personal friend and shared office space with him. Because domes were the only architecture he wanted to use, “we used to call Jon a dome-maniac,” Barrett said. “We liked talking architecture,” he said of their relationship. “He was one of my closest friends. We were like brothers.”
Barrett also reinforced the characterization of Zimmerman as an admirer of the beauty of domes. “He was the architect who was trying to make beautiful architecture out of this system,” he stated. This quest made its way onto paper, with Barrett remembering Zimmerman doing a lot of sketches. “He had a lot of ideas on paper,” he stated. “He was prolific.”
Robert Skversky, another friend who knew Zimmerman since age 12, remembered him for his passion and love for round buildings. Zimmerman would carry around a slide projector in his trunk and if someone mentioned domes, he would happily give a presentation on the topic. Skversky recalled how ‘Z,’ as his friends called him, had a sense of humor. When asked how he was doing, he would reply, “It’s personal.” Another memory of ‘Z’ involved someone asking him for a pen, which he licked before handing it over.
California was where he called home, and resided part of his life in Fairfax. He lived in a modest apartment, according to Skversky, and did not even have a microwave. He was very frugal and described as humble. “Just a terrific guy,” Skversky recalled. “He didn’t have an ego.” Always willing to talk shop, he would have groups of architects over for dinner and talk about projects.
His character spilled over into his work designing structures for clients. Fellow architect Robert Sandusky described him as a talented designer and practitioner. “He related to the needs and desires of his clients and he interpreted them into unusual and beautiful architectural compositions,” Sandusky recalled.
His innovative life came to an early end, dying from lung cancer in 2005 at age 60. With Zimmerman just days before he died, Skversky said he “held on until the very end. He was hoping to become a consultant and help people with their projects.”
His friends and family look back fondly on his life and keep him in their memories 12 years after his death. “I have never forgotten how his eyes would light up when discussing his appreciation for domes and how completely knowledgeable he was about his area of expertise,” Jane stated. “My Dad loves these designs and his love was catching among all those around him.”
“He didn’t get to fully realize the dreams he was developing in his head because he died too young,” Barrett said. “He touched so many people. He was one special one guy,” Skversky said. “He lives on in our hearts”