In Memoriam

Looking back on the great architects, designers, and curators we lost in 2019

The late César Pelli in front of his seminal work, the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California. (Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects)

As 2019 draws to a close, we’re looking back on some of the events that made it memorable. We’ve rounded up this year’s funniest, most important, and most controversial stories, as well as homages to some of the people we lost. The world is a little less bright without these iconic designers, but from the Louvre pyramid to a series of architecturally-diverse cancer care centers, their legacies live on.

I.M. Pei 

Black and white photo of IM Pei smiling

I.M. Pei in 2017 (Courtesy Pei Cobb Freed & Partners)

Louvre pyramid designer I. M. Pei passed away at 102, bringing an epic career of international acclaim to a close. Born in 1917 in Guangzhou, China, Pei moved to the U.S. to attend architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania and later MIT, following by the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He founded Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (formerly I.M. Pei & Associates) in 1955 and decades later won the 1983 Pritzker Prize for projects such as the Mile High Center in Denver, Colorado. Among Pei’s other notable projects is the National Gallery of Art, East Building, in Washington, D.C., and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.

Kevin Roche

Up close photo of Kevin Roche in black turtlneck

Kevin Roche (Gerald Wenner/Courtesy of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates)

Legendary Irish-born American architect Kevin Roche passed away at age 96 in March. His namesake firm, Roche-Dinkeloo, was founded in tandem with partner John Dinkeloo after the death of their boss and mentor Eero Saarinen in 1961. A modernist architect trained by Saarinen and Mies van Der Rohe, Roche designed over 200 buildings in his lifetime including the Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan and the Oakland Museum of California. He was the 1982 Pritzker Prize Laureate and won an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1993. 

Florence Knoll Bassett

Black and white image of woman designing at a table

Florence Knoll Bassett (Courtesy Mies Van der Rohe Society)

Midcentury modern designer Florence Knoll passed away at age 101 this January. Considered one of the most influential furniture designers in history, her sleek and minimal pieces became commonplace throughout American postwar office spaces and later in homes. In 1955, she took over Knoll Inc, the company started by her husband Hans in 1938, which continues to manufacture furniture by designers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and Knoll herself, among others. 

Phil Freelon

Image of Phil Freelon in front of National Museum of African American History and Culture

Phil Freelon (Courtesy The Freelon Family)

Phil Freelon, one of the lead designers of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, died at 66 this July. The Durham, North Carolina-based architect founded his eponymous firm, The Freelon Group, in 1990 and was responsible for projects like Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and Houston’s Emancipation Park. The studio was acquired by Perkins+Will in 2016 and Freelon stepped in to lead its regional office.

Henry Urbach 

Up Close photo of man smiling

Henry Urbach (Sarale Guy Lavy)

Former SFMOMA curator Henry Urbach passed away at 56 this summer, and his friends and family are opening new dialogues on the subject of mental health in his memory. Urbach, who more recently served as director of Philip Johnson’s The Glass House, suffered from Late-Onset Bipolar Disorder. He was an accomplished curator, having started his own New York-based experimental design gallery in 1997 in which he hosted over 55 exhibitions. At SFMOMA, he accumulated hundreds of works for the museum’s permanent collection and collaborated with Diller Scofidio + Renfro on one of his most famous shows, How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now

Cristiano Toraldo di Francia

Cristiano Toraldo di Francia with camera

Cristiano Toraldo di Francia (Courtesy Peter Lang)

Superstudio cofounder and iconic Italian architect Cristiano Toraldo di Francia died in July. In his 78 years, his work helped shape generations of avant-garde designers such as Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. Best known for starting the radical collective Superstudio in the late 1960s, Toraldo di Francia produced highly regarded drawings, videos, and lithographs through the practice, eventually exhibiting work in the Milan Triennale, the Venice Biennale, and at the Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions. Up until his death at age 78, Toraldo di Francia designed and built several projects throughout Italy and taught at various universities throughout Europe, Japan, and the U.S. 

César Pelli 

César Pelli in his studio standing in front of models

César Pelli in his studio (Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli)

César Pelli passed away in July at the age of 92, leaving behind the legacy of an international firm and a monumental portfolio. Considered the father of the modern skyscraper, the Argentine architect designed some of the most famous towers in the world: the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, The Landmark in Abu Dhabi, and the recently completely Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Pelli moved to the U.S. in 1952 and worked for Eero Saarinen in Michigan for a decade. From 1977 to 1989, he served as dean at the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven. During that time, Pelli received the commission for the 1984 expansion and renovation of the Museum of Modern Art, which more or less forced him to open his own studio, Cesar Pelli & Associates. After over 20 years designing projects like the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., among others, Pelli renamed his practice to Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in honor of his long-time partner Fred Clarke, and son Rafael.

Charles Jencks

Black and white image of man smiling in white shirt

Charles Jencks (Courtesy Sean Griffiths)

Landscape architect and historian Charles Jencks died this October at age 80. Remembered for his embrace of theory, built practice, and connecting the cosmos, Jencks designed whimsical gardens and earthworks that promoted tranquility and play. He is best known for founding Maggie’s, a cancer research institute named after his late wife and whose patient rehab centers have attracted architects like Steven Holl, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. In the middle of his career, Jencks authored several books on the subject of “Post-modernism before taking up landscape design.

Stanley Tigerman

Image of man sketching

Stanley Tigerman at work (Courtesy Margaret McCurry)

Chicago architect and theorist Stanley Tigerman died in June at 88 years old. Known as a member of the Chicago Seven—a group of architects that rebelled against the doctrine of modernism—his design style was fairly eclectic in his early years, gaining a reputation as an iconoclast, until later when he adopted a more organic approach to architecture. He established his own eponymous firm, Stanely Tigerman and Associates (later renamed Tigerman McCurry Architects), in the early 1960s and completed over 175 buildings in his six-decade career. Among his most prominent works were the Daisy House in Indiana, Lakeside Residence in Michigan, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and the POWERHOUSE Energy Museum in Zion, Illinois.

Related Stories