animated loader logo of butler armsden


In Memory of Lewis W. Butler


Lewis Butler founded Butler Armsden Architects in 1985 and led the firm for 35 successful years. He loved his work so much that he was frequently heard proclaiming, “I’m never going to retire!” He wouldn’t have the chance to, as esophageal cancer stole his “golden years” in September of 2020.

Born in San Francisco in 1957, Lewis lived a life characterized by his joie de vivre, independent spirit, and hard work. He discovered architecture in high school and never looked back. His entrepreneurial aspirations were evident early on; he recruited two Stanford classmates to help him build a house in northern California for a family friend, using a basic carpentry book as his guide. After working for a year at internationally recognized William Turnbull Associates in San Francisco, Lewis completed his master’s in architecture at Harvard, where he met his wife, Catherine Armsden. Lewis and Catherine cofounded Butler Armsden, landing jobs with Lewis’s ever-optimistic mantra, “Yes, we can do that!” And he always did. He was a highly energetic, determined risk- taker who was as confident taking on a complex or controversial project as he was riding no-handed down a hill on his bicycle, racing motorcycles or surfing the waves at Ocean Beach.

Lewis’s work emphasized site-specific responses rather than the repeated application of a singular style. He focused on producing work that was in conversation with its own site, its specific requirements, and most importantly, the influence of human experience and culture. Lewis was a respected communicator of his approach to architecture and was highly regarded for his planning commission performances that went beyond a basic presentation, aspiring to educate the commissioners on the art and humanity that the building intended to bring to each community.

Lewis was passionate about mentoring young designers and would host students at the office each year to teach them about architecture. He served on the board of the Hamlin School, University High School, and the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus, helping remodel projects pro bono. In addition, he was active in building sandcastles at Ocean Beach for LEAP’s sandcastle contest fundraiser, which raised money for art and architecture programs in Bay Area schools.

Lewis’s enthusiasm for his work life and family life with Catherine and his two children, Elena and Tobias, was infectious. He loved his work as much as his play and brought light and laughter into every room. He was an extraordinary boss, a superbly talented designer, and a humble and kind spirit to everyone he interacted with, whether it was his family, friends, clients, or staff. He was truly one of a kind.

Butler Armsden Architects moves forward with the hope and intention of honoring Lewis’s architectural legacy. We speak for all who had the pleasure of knowing him when we say thank you, Lewis, for the generosity with which you treated us, the opportunities, the learning, the fun. You will always be enormously missed, but the memory of your joyful spirit will continue to inspire us.

Visit the Lewis W. Butler Foundation to honor Lewis's commitment to promoting education and expanding opportunities in architecture and design.