In Memoriam

Kevin Roche, the quiet but bold modernist architect, dies at age 96

Architect Kevin Roche passed away in his home last Friday at age 96. (Courtesy Wavelength Pictures)

Kevin Roche, the Irish-born American architect responsible for the design of over 200 modernist buildings around the world, died at age 96 last Friday at his home in Guilford, Connecticut. His namesake firm, Roche-Dinkelooreleased a statement immediately following his passing.

Roche had a major impact on American architecture. After moving to the United States from Dublin in 1948, Roche studied under Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe, another noteworthy European emigrant and pioneer of modernist architecture. Two years later, Roche joined the firm of Eero Saarinen, a revolutionary architect known for his sculptural and futuristic buildings. As Saarinen’s principal design associate, Roche adopted his employer’s expressionistic style and his belief that architecture serves a higher purpose by uniting people and promoting social and cultural growth among various communities.

Old photo of Eero Saarinen and Kevin Roche

Studying closely for years with Eero Saarinen, Roche’s work echoed the modernist architect’s style and ethos. Pictured here: Saarinen (left) with Roche (right) in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. (Image LC-DIG-krb-00020 Courtesy Library of Congress)

After Saarinen’s death in 1961, Roche and his colleague formed their own architectural firm, Roche-Dinkeloo, in Hamden, Connecticut. Their joint mission was to revolutionize and beautify large spaces and museums in order to attract the masses and bring people together who share common goals and interests. The New York Times reported that Roche was often described as a trusted, modest, and soft-spoken individual, yet, his buildings were far from subtle. His conspicuous and often dramatic projects symbolized his love for glass technology, strong and memorable forms, as well as expressionist and modernist sculpting.

Roche’s forward-thinking philosophies enabled him to adapt his designs to any situation where they proved to be flexible, versatile, and efficient. His works include the iconic TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, designed under Saarinen’s direction, as well as the historic Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, and the Oakland Museum of California.

Interior aerial photo of Ford Foundation offices and atrium

Roche designed the Ford Foundation headquarters in 1967. (Simon Luethi)

Roche was considered “the favored architect” of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to the NYT, where he designed each wing of the museum’s expansion, including the sun-lit Lehman Pavilion in 1975 and the massive glass pavilion enclosing the Temple of Dendur. He also completed the 1970s masterplan of United Nations Plaza, which included the build-out of three buildings, one of which is now a city landmark.

As Roche’s projects flourished—he received the Pritzker Prize in 1982 and an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1993—he became the go-to designer of major arts centers, corporate campuses, and federal sites. He designed the stark-white, geometric headquarters of General Foods in Rye Brook, New York, and the statuesque offices of J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street.

Roche continued practicing architecture in his final years and didn’t slow down his work until his 95th birthday. Today he is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Jane Tuohy Roche, his five children, and 15 grandchildren.

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