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Harold L. and Mary D. Cohen papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 44-3-1301

Scope and Contents

Collection of materials from former Dean of the State University of New York at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Environmental Design, Harold L. Cohen and his wife Mary D. Cohen. Includes extensive project files (sketches, reports, designs, and photographs), business and professional correspondence, publications, personal papers, exhibits and exhibit plans, and audio/visual materials.

The Harold L. and Mary D. Cohen papers were largely maintained, organized, and described by Mary Cohen. Much of her organization and description was maintained. As such, users may need to consult multiple series and/or subseries for complete coverage of a topic.

Bibliographic records document the Cohen’s professional work complementary to that completed for their main employers, and include writings on and by the Cohens, lectures, teachings, awards and honors, conferences, portfolios, publicity, and exhibits (each its own subseries). The Cohen’s prolific writings on design and education are well-documented and cover the expanse of their professional life.

School of Architecture records consists of two subseries: A to Z files and Courses and Lectures. Files includes calendars, correspondence, schedules, public relations materials, photographs, appointment paperwork, retirement papers, lecture notes, course materials, and publications. See also "HLC correspondence" in Series III for more correspondence relating to HLC's position as Dean of SAED.

Series III. Correspondence contains personal and professional correspondence with contemporaries and colleagues in the world of design, notably Serge Chermayeff, Magda Cordell, Leonard Farb, and Misch Kohn. Series also contains Mary D. Cohen's letters for friends and family documenting the more than fifty countries in as many years that they have visited (personal and professional), travel itineraries, photographs, and notes.

Professional Work, Series IV, documents the main professional lives of the Cohens and is the largest series in the collection. Topics include various research and development projects for Health in Housing (a collaborating World Health Organization center); exhibits and research for the Buffalo Museum of Science; research and publications for the Institute of Behavioral Research; various projects and designs for the City of Buffalo, New York; and materials regarding Harold Cohen as Chairman of the Department of Design at Southern Illinois University. A small amount of material pertains to R. Buckminster Fuller. Note: Research notebooks and diaries are located in Series V, folders 31.19-22.

Biographical records contain calendars, curriculum vitae, passports, schooling, and property records relating to Harold and Mary Cohen; Harold Cohen naval service, notes, and research notebooks and diaries.

Series VI mainly contains photographs related to the Cohen's professional work; a small amount concern family. Some photographs have corresponding negatives and are noted as such.

Slides, Series VII, offers comprehensive coverage for Harold and Mary Cohen's professional work across six decades. Most folders include identification on the slide itself, on a slide identification list, and/or on notes provided by Mary Cohen. Note: From 2013-2014, the University Archivist conducted a series of oral histories (see Series VIII) with the Cohens. Slides were often used as prompts for discussion of specific projects, their origination, and importance.

The last series, Audio/Visual includes DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes, master broadcast VHS tapes, reel to reel film, audio cassettes, super 8 film, 3.5 inch floppy discs, 8 mm film, and 35 mm film. Topics include exhibits, memorials, travel, and professional work that was completed for Health in Housing, Institute for Behavioral Research, Museum of Science, University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Environmental Design, Southern Illinois University and others.


  • 1939-2018
  • Migrated: 2019


Language of Materials

The majority of the collection is in English. Contains some Spanish and Chinese.

Terms of Access and Use

The Harold L. and Mary D. Cohen papers are open for research.

Privacy protected information (including but not limited to certain educational, medical, financial, criminal, attorney-client, and/or personnel records) may be revealed during use of archival collections, particularly in collections that are unprocessed or have been minimally processed. Researchers agree to make no notes or other recordation of privacy protected information if found within the archival collections, and further agree not to publish, publicize, or disclose such information to any other party for any purpose if found within the archival collections.

Special Viewing Instructions

Access to digital material provided via the University Archives’ Digital Archives online repository.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and University Archives before requesting photocopies and/or publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Once permission is obtained, most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Biographical Note

Mary Della Kohn (MDC) was born in Indiana, and earned a BA in English from Indiana University in 1951. An avid writer during high school, MDC worked on her school newspaper for four years, serving as news reporter, editorial reporter, feature writer, managing editor, and news editor. In 1959, she graduated from Southern Illinois University with a Masters of Fine Arts and completed 2 years of post-graduate study at Catholic University in Washington D.C.

In the late 50s and early 60s, while at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, MDC’s professional work centered around 3 areas: lecturer in the English Department, researcher/lecturer for the Experimental Freshman Year (EFY) project, and editor/consultant to R. Buckminster Fuller. From the late 60s to early 70s, MDC served as lecturer and assistant chair of the English Department at Northern Virginia Community College, and researcher at the Institute for Behavioral Research (IBR). At IBR, MDC created the Teenagers’ Rights and Responsibilities (TARR) curriculum. In 1975, MDC was named research associate for the Buffalo Museum of Science, where over the next decade, she created curriculum resources and exhibits for Beauty in the Beast and The Insect World.

Harold L. Cohen (HLC) was born May 24, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. His education includes the Pratt Institute (1940), followed by Northwestern University (1946), and the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology where he received a B.A. in 1949. HLC and MDC married in the 1950s and collaborated extensively throughout their professional lives.

*The following is adapted from “Numbered List and Brief Description of Selected Works of Harold L. Cohen,” (Box 33.1) and provides an overview of the projects and accomplishments of HLC and MDC:

The Chicago Years (1949-1955)

Institute of Design (ID)

After he completed a tour of duty in the US Navy... fellow artists encouraged HLC to apply to the Art Institute of Chicago. Inadvertently, he applied to the Institute of Design (ID) which had just changed its name from The New Bauhaus.

At ID he met people who became role models influencing his direction in design: Laszlo Moholy Nagy, the Director; John Walley, Davis Pratt, R. Buckminster Fuller, and Serge Chermayeff. Upon graduation he was invited to remain on as a staff member, teaching basic workshop, the sculpture studio and product design. After three years he left ID to work as a product designer. He returned to ID in 1954 to become Chairman of the Product Design Department. At the same time, he was a partner in Designers in Production.

Designers in Production (DinP)

Along with Davis Pratt, HLC formed DinP where they produced home furnishings that they co-designed. Their work was exhibited in many places and they received five Good Design awards from the Museum of Modern Art in NY. Their nylon chair was selected by the US government design board as one of one hundred best American products. They also received a special award from the Merchandise Mart Design Jury Selection for their showroom. Chairs and tables are in permanent collections at MOMA in NY, Brooklyn Museum, and Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Carbondale Years (1955-1963)

Design Department

Disappointed over the change in direction that the Institute of Design had taken and determined to develop a design education curriculum that included the philosophies of Moholy-Nagy, Walley, Chermayeff, and Fuller, HLC took a position at Southern Illinois University (SIU) where he created a new Department of Design. He was appointed chairman. In a short time, the students and staff grew into a strong department which included such faculty as R. Buckminster Fuller, Davis Pratt, Elsa Kula, and Herbert Roan.

Work with R. Buckminster Fuller

HLC first met Buckminster Fuller in 1947 at the Institute of Design. By 1955, HLC and MDC left Chicago for SIU. HLC brought Fuller to Carbondale the following year as a professor in the Design Department. Mary edited two of Fuller’s books, Education Automation (1962) and No More Secondhand Good (1963). The Cohens remained close friends with the Fullers for the ensuing decades.

Experimental Freshman Year (EFY)

In response to an all-university request from President Delyte Morris at SIU, HLC designed and carried out a new one-year program for Illinois high school students who had graduated from the lower one-third of their class. The EFY was met with great antagonism from many faculty and administration who felt that students with poor grades and low ACT test scores should not be accepted into the university. President Morris refused to accept the fact that one-third of the youth graduating from the Illinois high schools was wasted and the program went forward.

HLC was joined by MDC and three former students Donald Glickman, David T. Miles, and Howard Cotton. They designed new curricula based upon a holistic approach to education and designed and constructed a new learning environment to house the program.

During HLC’s seven years at SIU as chairman of the Department of Design, a philosophy of education for designers evolved that transformed a previously limited concept of design into a comprehensive approach for dealing with the multiplicity of issues in our contemporary society. It was this revolutionary experience that provided the impetus for HLC to initiate this educational research project.

General Studies Course 120 "The Contemporary Environment"

After spending a summer at the Institute for Behavioral Research where he studied behavioral principles and worked with Drs. Joseph Brady, David McKenzie Rioch, Charles Ferster, and Israel Goldiamond, HLC returned to SIU to develop the first large programmed instructional course. He took the largest auditorium which held 250 students and set up a pre-sequenced lecture series where the students had to pass an examination on assigned homework and forty minutes of programmed visual instruction before they were permitted to enter the live lecture unit.

The Washington Years (1963-1974)

Institute for Behavioral Research (IBR)

HLC first became Educational Director and then Executive Director of the IBR, a private, not-for-profit multidisciplinary research and educational organization. Its mission was to increase scientific understanding of behavior and to formulate this understanding into a socially applicable technology of behavior.

CASE I: Contingencies Applicable to Special Education

The objective of this 8-month half-day pilot demonstration project (1965) was to design an educational environment which could be effective in developing and maintaining educational behaviors in each of a group of fifteen student-inmates at the National Training School for Boys (NTSB). The project staff set the condition that the methods developed be of a type which could work within the constraints of such an institution.

CASE II-MODEL: Contingencies Applicable to Special Education-Motivationally Oriented Designs for an Ecology of Learning

On March 4, 1966, CASE II MODEL was officially opened on the NTSB campus. It expanded from the original pilot of half-days, 5 days a week to a 24-hour learning laboratory. It was carried out in a 4-story building, completely under the control of the CASE staff.

The system used extrinsic reinforcers to increase the academic, vocational and acceptable social behaviors of 41 selected inmates to achieve a variety of terminal objectives generally subscribed to by the "normal" external society. Initial motivation was provided with payments of money for correct answers and other evidence of academic achievement. Gradually, other reinforcements were added, and the immediate payments were deferred until the schedule of payments-reinforcements matched conditions in the outside world.

PREP: Preparation through Responsive Educational Programs

Encouraged by the increased learning of the youths at the NTSB, HLC solicited funds from the National Institute of Health to start a program with adolescents presently experiencing problems with law and falling behind in school.

A behavioral environment was designed and students were bussed from three different schools for an afternoon program which dealt with increasing mathematics and English skills and a special course and classroom which was designed to shape up interpersonal skills. The results of the PREP two-year program became the basis for application into the public school. The new project became PICA.

PICA: Programming Interpersonal Curricula for Adolescents

HLC and James Filipczak opened a remediation program in a public junior high school in Silver Spring, Maryland (1971-75). The purpose of the project was to develop remedial procedures for adolescents with scholastic problems that are part of a larger pattern of problem behaviors. Their academic deficiencies were associated with inadequacies in interpersonal relationships, manifested as disruptive behavior in school, unsatisfactory relations with their parents and other family members and antisocial behavior in the community. The basic premise of the PICA project was that learning behaviors are related to their consequences and that by establishing specific learning procedures and environmental controls, these learning behaviors can be developed, maintained, and extended.

TARR: Teenagers' Rights and Responsibilities

The TARR program was written and developed by MDC, educational programmer, with Saul Baernstein, attorney and Deborah James, psychologist. The course explored social and legal problem-solving skills and objectives. It was a four-volume programmed course: "What Is a Community?" "Why Communities Need Laws?" "How Laws Are Made and Changed?" and "How Disputes Are Settled?" The texts included a teacher's manual and a student's manual. In addition, a volume, "Insights: Issues in Literature" used short stories, excerpts from fiction and non-fiction, films, and videos to illustrate legal issues.

The Buffalo Years (1974+)

School of Architecture and Environmental Design (SAED) at State University of New York at Buffalo (UB)

HLC left IBR and became Dean of SAED, a small fledgling school whose programs were mostly carried out at night. He created three departments: design studies, architecture, and planning. He brought Peter Reyner Banham from England to chair the Department of Design Studies; George Anselevicius from Harvard to chair the Department of Architecture, and Himi Jammal as chair of Planning.

SAED's reputation grew in strength and both the architecture program and planning were accredited. As Dean and Professor, HLC taught a course for sophomores, "GSC 205: The Contemporary Environment." The lecture series provided the basis for the book, The Whole Is the Particular (1986). The book explores his principles and demonstrates how designers can help make the world work.

Buffalo Projects: Theater District

In November 1977, the newly elected mayor, James Griffin, asked HLC what could be done with the 600 block on Main Street because of the boarded up storefronts and deserted downtown. HLC recommended a full analysis of the area (which had been the old entertainment district) and its relationship to the rest of the city.

After one year of collaborative work with many members of both SAED and the Law School, the "Entertainment District Master Plan" was submitted to the city's Department of Community Development. To maintain community participation in the Entertainment District plan, HLC made presentations at many meetings held across the city and in the suburbs, seeking involvement and ideas from the public. The final report was in the form of a newspaper, crediting all who had participated in its development.

Buffalo Arts Council

Contacts within Buffalo's cultural institutions and political groups were diverse. Robert T. Buck, Jr., then Director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, involved HLC in a problem regarding the placement of a Kenneth Snelson sculpture that had been commissioned by the city government. The mayor rejected the sculpture. HLC met with the mayor and upon his recommendation, Mayor Griffin created a committee, "Buffalo Arts Commission" to handle selection and placement of all public works of art. The mayor appointed HLC as its first director.

Health in Housing Center - Concept and Formation

Although based at UB, the Center for Health in Housing acts as a world resource and is a World Health Organization collaborating center. The major basic research work is carried out in Buffalo, while specific applications are cooperatively developed, produced and researched in selected sites in developing countries. All projects are carried out with the cooperation and support of national and world-wide agencies along with the participating governments.

The Golden Box

Chagas' disease is the most common form of Trypanosomiasis in the Americas. An estimated 65 million people are at risk, and an estimated 20 million people are currently infected with the disease. It is usually transmitted by large, blood-sucking insects (triatomids) which live in the dwellings of the poor throughout South and Central America. The triatomids prefer housing structures which provide them shelter. These are often made of adobe and bahareque (a building technique using woven twigs, leaves and mud), wood and poorly constructed concrete blocks.

Over a period of fifteen years, the Cohens researched and developed the Golden Box as a device to control triatomines, the main vectors of Chagas' Disease. It was field-tested in Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina.

The Housing CORE

Alternatives to ordinary housing, appliances and utilities must be developed to address the unmet needs of low income families, the handicapped and institutions such as schools and hospitals. Renovating existing housing and apartment stock with an inexpensive core unit is one solution to the problem and is also beneficial to urban renewal efforts.

The core equipment is organized into a central system. Each area is controlled by a computer: the kitchen area and the bathroom/lavatory area. Along with some lighting and air control the core can operate as the main household delivery center. Materials and labor savings in production are matched with energy efficiency and well-coordinated services.

The Silver Box (CIIRC)

In May 1985, WHO/UNEP awarded HLC a six-month contract to begin a pilot program entitled, "Community Intervention in Insect and Rodent Control" (CIIRC). HLC designed a kit as part of a primary health care training program for health workers, women, and children in the developing world. Along with products and information for public awareness teaching, the kit's information is communicated with simple and direct language and many illustrations. It employs a simplified card-sort system of information sheets with description of eleven vectors and the interventions necessary to control and prevent infestation.

Insect World Exhibit Hall

Generally, the role of insects in the balance of nature goes unnoticed. The hall is designed so that the visitor can see the intricate world of insects close-up. It was designed by MDC and HLC to engage both young and old, the reader and the non-reader, for those who have a casual interest, and for those who wish to study insects in some depth. The hall opened May 25, 1984. It was the first museum exhibit hall to be totally dedicated to the study of insects in different environments.

Flor del Campo: Honduras

The Flor del Campo project was designed by the Health in Housing Center with participation by the officials and residents of the Flor del Campo community organization, the Honduran Minister of Public Health, Dr. Cesar Castellanos Madrid, and the Pan American health Organization in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It was designed to reduce illness and control the spread of disease through primary health care training and by increasing the availability of health care services presently provided to them by their government through the Ministry of Public Health; and build new housing or upgrade, repair and maintain the interior and exterior of existing dwellings by participating in hands-on training programs.


50 Linear Feet (47 cartons, 2 oversize boxes, one manuscript box)

16.468 Gigabytes (Approximately 2,650 files, 150 folders)


Collection of materials from former Dean of the State University of New York at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Environmental Design, Harold L. Cohen and his wife Mary D. Cohen. Includes extensive project files (sketches, reports, designs, photographs), business and professional correspondence, publications, personal papers, exhibits and exhibit plans, and audio/visual materials.


This collection is organized in eight series:

I. Bibliographic 1949-2013

II. School of Architecture and Environmental Design, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974-2003

III. Correspondence 1952-2014

IV. Professional Work 1949-2018

V. Biographical 1939-2013

VI. Photographs, 1950-2013

VII. Slides, 1950-2012

VIII. Audio/Visual 1950-2014

Related Digital Material

Digital material is located throughout the collection. Access to digital material is provided through the UB Digital Archives.

Acquisition Information

This collection was given to the University at Buffalo Archives by Harold L. and Mary D. Cohen between July 2013 and February 2014.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected for this collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Rebecca Cobb, 2018. Digital materials processed by Sarah Cogley, Spring 2019.

Digital files created by Harold and Mary Cohen were transferred to the University Archives on various types of storage media including compact discs and floppy disks. Where possible, digital content saved on storage media was migrated from the storage media, normalized to preservation and access-standard formats, and transferred to a stable preservation environment following the University Libraries' Digital Preservation guidelines. Some folder titles were altered and file arrangement reorganized to assist researchers in locating and identifying digital content.

For more information, see

Finding Aid for the Harold L. and Mary D. Cohen papers
Finding aid prepared by Rebecca Cobb.
6 October 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)