Israel A. Naman, who graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering (MECH) from Rice University in 1938, and was a pioneer in air-conditioning design, died Dec. 11 at age 99.
In 1947, he founded I.A. Naman + Associates, Inc., a consulting engineering firm in Houston, and went on to design the air-conditioning system for the Houston Astrodome, which opened in 1965.
“Everyone you know, whether they know it or not, has been touched by the genius of I. A. Naman because of the buildings and systems designed by him and his associates. I’m thrilled to have known him and to have benefitted from his knowledge,” said Thomas G. Barrow Jr., president of the company Naman founded.
Naman was born in 1918 in Shreveport, La., and moved as a child to Houston. He earned an M.S. in MECH from the University of Illinois, and during World War II helped design air-conditioning and ventilation for ships at the Naval Yard in Seattle.
In 1955, Naman was a member of the advisory council that proposed a plan for air-conditioning the buildings on the Rice campus. That year, the plan was approved by the Board of Trustees and construction started on a new central heating and air conditioning plant.
Naman considered his most innovative contribution to engineering to be the Astrodome, with its enormous cooling requirement, the filtering of tobacco smoke, ensuring natural light for the growth of grass, and its acoustics. In an article he wrote in 2009 for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Naman described the challenges posed by air conditioning the world’s first domed stadium:
“Specifically, problems arose as a result of the size of the building, which is larger and greatly different from any other that has ever been air conditioned, and thus created design problems not experienced previously.”
Naman served on the board of Houston Industries, as a guest lecturer at Harvard and MIT, and taught at Rice and the University of Houston. He was an ASHRAE Fellow and Life Member, and a Life Member of the National Society of Professional Engineers.
In 1987, Naman was named the Outstanding Engineering Alumnus by the Rice Engineering Alumni. He was an active member of Congregation Beth Israel, and later was a founding member of the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism.
Melissa Kean, the Rice Centennial Historian, said of Naman: “There should be a special Rice Hall of Awesome for people like this.”
Naman is survived by his three children: Arthur Naman, John Naman and Elisabeth Naman; five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and his longtime companion, Marcelle Lieberman.
At a later date his family will gather for a private celebration of life. They request that flowers not be offered. Instead, memorial contributions in his name can be made to Rice University, P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892.