Posts tagged with "Obituary":

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William Saunders, founder of Harvard Design Magazine, passes away

William S. Saunders, educator, founding editor of Harvard Design Magazine, and author, has passed away at 72. Saunders regularly contributed to Architectural Record and served as the book review editor for Landscape Architecture Magazine after stepping down from Harvard Design Magazine in 2012. He also offered his consulting services to various design firms. In his books and publications, he was a thoughtful commentator on architecture and landscape architecture, particularly as it evolved in the 1990s and early 2000s. Saunders was a fixture at Harvard, having conducted his postdoctoral studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in 1980, where he taught until 1982. Saunders then held various communications and advisory posts at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) until his retirement in 2012. In 1997, Saunders co-founded Harvard Design Magazine with Nancy Levinson, a biannual, critical examination of urban and landscape issues and theory meant to help design school graduates stay “in the know.” The magazine relaunched in 2014, helmed by Saunders's successor Jennifer Sigler, and issue 45, Into the Woods, was released earlier this spring.
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Robert Venturi, pioneer of Postmodernism, passes away

The family of Pritzker-prize winner and giant of contemporary architecture Robert Venturi has reported to AN that Venturi has passed away at the age of 93. Venturi was a pioneering author of books on architectural theory (especially Learning from Las Vegas and his introduction to the history of Rome) and, along with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown, founded Venturi Scott Brown Associates—later renamed VSBA. Together they have been credited with ushering in the Postmodern period in architecture. The firm would go on to design a number of important postmodern buildings, many of which are currently under threat, though Venturi himself retired from VSBA in 2016. Venturi accrued a number of architecture’s highest honors during his life and worked with Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn during his early career. Besides his Pritzker win in 1991, Venturi was an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a Rome Prize Fellowship winner, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. AN will follow this announcement up with a more complete obituary and remembrances from friends and colleagues in the coming days. Venturi's family requests that their privacy be respected at this time. See the following statement from Venturi's family on his passing: "Last night, Robert Venturi passed away peacefully at home after a brief illness.  He’s been surrounded by his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown and his son, Jim Venturi.  He was 93.
The family is planning to have a memorial service to celebrate Venturi’s life and this will be announced in the coming weeks."
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MJ Long, beloved Yale architecture instructor and alumna, passes away

Yale University’s esteemed, long-time architecture faculty member and alumna Mary Jane “MJ” Long passed away last Sunday at her home in Sussex, England. She was 79. Born in the United States in 1939, Long moved to England after finishing her master’s degree at the Yale School of Architecture in 1964. She then worked for Colin St John Wilson & Partners, eventually becoming director of the firm and marrying principal Colin “Sandy” St John Wilson. With Wilson she designed many major projects in Great Britain including the British Library at St Pancras, which took 15 years to complete—one of her most famous works. From 1974 to 1996, she also ran a separate practice designing artists’ studios. Alongside her Wilson colleague Rolfe Kentish, Long established a new practice in 1994, Long & Kentish. Together they designed the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, the Jewish Museum in Camden, and an extension to the British Museum in London. Over the last few years, Long taught part of the third-semester core studio at Yale, teaching students how to build detailed daylight models to simulate direct sunlight and interior illumination. “MJ always stayed close to Yale, returning to teach an advanced studio with Colin St John Wilson and then several times as a studio critic,” said Dean Deborah Berke in a statement. “MJ’s legacy will continue through the pedagogy at the school, the generations of students she inspired, and the many pioneering buildings she designed.” Long is survived by her daughter Sal and her son Harry as well as three grandchildren. Her partner, Colin St John Wilson, died in 2007 at age 85.
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Robert Silman, noted engineer and preservationist, passes away

Robert Silman, founder of the engineering firm Silman and expert in the structural stabilization of historic structures, passed away on July 31 at the age of 83 after a decades-long battle with cancer. Following his education at Cornell and NYU, Silman started his engineering career working for ARUP in London and Ammann & Whitney in New York. He began his eponymous firm, Silman, in 1966 as a solo practitioner. As reported by Architectural Record, this early phase in Silman’s career established the engineer as an expert in historic preservation of small-scale projects including the rehabilitation of dilapidated or burnt out tenements across New York City. As his firm grew in stature over the last five decades, Silman worked on an impressive roster of preservation projects, including the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island and Carnegie Hall. The engineer had a particular affinity for the projects of Frank Lloyd Wright; he worked on restorations for Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum, and Wingspread. Silman received a number of accolades for his preservation work, such as the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Leadership Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and his firm has engineered over 24,000 projects including buildings by 14 Pritzker Prize winners such as SANAA’s Grace Farms and Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum. As noted by AIA New York, Robert Silman played a key role in the establishment of the Center for Architecture in 2003. In recognition of his continued support of the Manhattan-based architectural forum, Silman was awarded the AIA New York Chapter Award in 2009. Throughout Silman’s battle with cancer, he continued working at the firm’s Boston office and taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He is survived by his wife Roberta, and their children, Miriam, Joshua and Ruth. 
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Richard Haag, groundbreaking landscape architect, passes away

Richard Lewis Haag, a pioneering landscape architect known for his groundbreaking experiments in post-industrial landscapes and bioremediation, has passed away at age 94. The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) commemorated Haag’s death in a tribute over the weekend, describing his passing as “a quiet but profound blow to the many colleagues, friends, and admirers whom his life and work touched deeply.” Haag passed away on May 9, 2018 and was well-known around the world for the designs of Seattle's Gas Works Park and the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, among the over 500 other built commissions he completed over his lifetime. Haag was born in 1923 and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked for his father, who was a self-trained horticulturist. Having never graduated from high school, the budding Haag enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1945 and served as a radar engineer in the Air Force. After traveling to Morocco, Egypt, China, and India while in the service, Haag returned home to study landscape architecture at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he benefitted from the G.I. Bill. While at U of I, Haag studied under professors Stanley White and Hideo Sasaki, two of the country’s most renowned post-World War II landscape designers. In 1949, Haag transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture in 1950. From there, he worked for the lansdcape architects Dan Kiley, Osmundson and Staley, and Lawrence Halprin before setting out on his own in 1957.  At this point, Haag relocated to Seattle, where he was instrumental in establishing the landscape architecture program at the University of Washington’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  Perhaps best known for his work on Gas Works Park, Haag set a new path in landscape design by choosing to preserve the hulking remains of a disused gas plant on the 19.1-acre site. By converting the hollowed-out industrial shells into a children’s “play barn” and leaving other elements as industrial ruins, Haag blended picturesque and abstract modes into ecologically-minded designs. The designs were among the first in the nation to utilize bio-phytoremediation to clean up the park’s heavily polluted site. The park opened in 1975 and eventually received the American Society of Landscape Architects Presidents Award of Design Excellence. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 and is also listed as a Seattle City Landmark and a Washington State Landmark. TCLF completed a video oral history of Haag’s work in May 2014 that features interviews with Haag at his home and at selected projects in and around Seattle. The history also features written reflections by Haag scholar Thaisa Way and landscape architects Gary Hilderbrand and Michael Van Valkenburgh, among others.  See TCLF’s website for the full tribute. 
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Thomas Todd, former partner of Wallace Roberts & Todd, passes away

Thomas Abbott Todd, a retired architect, planner, and artist who was a partner in the Philadelphia firm of Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT), died on June 14 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 90.

Born in Connecticut and raised in the Philadelphia area, Todd was educated at Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in city planning, respectively. A licensed architect from 1963 to 1991 and professional planner starting in 1970, he was a named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.

Along with David Wallace, Ian McHarg, Bill Roberts, and others, Todd built a large firm that was known for its multidisciplinary approach to design, combining architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Based in Philadelphia, it has a second office in San Francisco.

Among Todd's best-known projects were the master plans for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor renewal area, the U. S. Capitol area in Washington, D. C., and Abuja, the Capitol of Nigeria. He worked on landscape architecture projects for Battery Park in New York and was part of the design team behind Philadelphia’s Liberty Place towers, which broke the longstanding gentleman's agreement that no structure could be taller than William Penn’s statue atop City Hall.

Working in a variety of idioms, Todd also designed smaller works, including three houses for his own family as well as urban sculpture. His 1982 McKeldin Fountain, also known as The Waterfall, was designed to be an explorable waterfall formed by a series of concrete prisms with water cascading down on all sides and collecting in pools below with platforms at different levels containing plants and walkways for people. Both a utilitarian part of the city’s infrastructure and a sophisticated work of Brutalist architecture, it was part of Baltimore’s official inventory of public art until it was demolished by the city in 2016.

Joseph Healy, architect and managing principal of WRT, said employees in the Philadelphia office spoke about Todd last week during a staff gathering, reflecting on the key role he played in the firm.

“To this day, the underlying beliefs and integrated practice that Tom helped shape at WRT hold great value for the talented professionals and aspirational clients drawn to the firm,” Healy said in a statement. “The positive impact of their collective work is more relevant than ever.”

Todd was “a versatile designer, not always a Modernist,” Healy added. “He was very attentive to context and craft.”

Todd’s professional career began with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, led for many years by the noted planner Edmund Bacon. After winning a fellowship that allowed him to travel in Europe for a year, Todd joined the University of Pennsylvania as a campus planner and designer, then started a planning firm known as Grant & Todd, then worked for Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham.

In 1963, Wallace and McHarg hired him to work for Wallace-McHarg Associates, which was taking on land planning projects and other commissions around the country, including a much-publicized plan to control development in Baltimore County’s Green Spring Valley. After Todd and Bill Roberts became full partners, the firm was renamed Wallace, McHarg, Roberts & Todd.

Todd’s penchant for planning and his attention to detail extended to his leisure time activities, including model shipbuilding, music, and painting. He could speak and read Latin, which he studied at Germantown Friends School and Haverford, and enjoyed translating common phrases and quotes into that language. He traced his family history back to the colonial era, discovering that he was related to Benedict Arnold. He made a harpsichord and taught himself to play it. He sang in choral groups. He painted portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes.

After WRT’s master plan for Baltimore called for the USS Constellation to be the sculptural centerpiece of the Inner Harbor, Todd built a scale model of it, down to the miniature cannon balls on the upper deck. His model is on display at the U. S. Naval War College in Newport, R. I.

In 1956 Todd married the former Carol Roberts, who died in 2014. They had a son, Jonathan Christopher “Chris” Todd, and two daughters, Suzannah Elizabeth Arnold Todd Waters and Cassandra Roberts Todd.  Besides his children, he is survived by a sister and four grandchildren.

In 1991, Todd retired from WRT and moved to Rhode Island, where he continued to consult professionally. In 2008 he moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts. He lived in Plymouth, Mass., at the time of his death.

Todd’s son paints a picture of a restless Renaissance man who saw the glass as half full and threw himself into whatever he chose to pursue, whether it was traveling to see the lands discovered by the Norse explorer Leif Erikson or building frames for his own oil paintings.

“He loved bad jokes and good company,” Chris Todd said. “I wouldn’t say he didn’t have his moments of concern about finances or health. But by and large, he led a rich life.

“He was absolutely the most industrious person I have ever met,” his son continued. “TV was uninteresting to him. He would get up after a few minutes. He wasn’t interested in passive entertainment. He wanted something more. He wanted to make things, and he wanted to learn about things in order to make them, to be able to discuss them intelligently. He had a questing mind.”

A memorial service for Thomas Todd will be held on October 27 at 10 a.m. at the Germantown Friends Meeting, a Quaker church at 47 West Coulter Street in Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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In memoriam: Landscape architect Ron Herman

The award-winning San Francisco Bay Area landscape architect Ron Herman has passed away.  The University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design (CED) announced Herman’s passing in a post on its website earlier this week. Herman, an alumnus of the school, graduated in 1964 with a Bachelors in Landscape Architecture. The designer practiced in the Bay Area for over 35 years and created over 400 full-scale gardens during this time. Herman’s designs included some of the country’s largest and most intricate residential gardens, including Japanese garden-inspired designs for the 25-acre site surrounding the home of Silicon Valley billionaire Lawrence Ellison. Herman grew up in Hollywood, where his father owned a plant nursery. As a child, Herman helped his father install gardens at the homes of rarefied clients, including celebrities Phil Silvers and Steve Allen. After graduating from CED, Herman studied Japanese garden design at Kyoto University in Japan for three years. While there, Herman grew inspired by the tension between regimented and organic forms inherent in traditional Japanese garden design. Herman brought this sensibility back home, imbuing his works with a mix of formal and informal sequences of spaces and plantings.  Like his father, Herman’s list of clients included a whos-who of celebrities and prominent individuals and companies, including the professional football player Joe Montana, Neil Young, and Ellison’s company, Oracle. Herman also designed the garden for the East Wing addition by I.M. Pei to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. In a 2002 profile, Herman summed up his philosophy to SF Gate: “A successful garden doesn't show itself all at once...there needs to be an integration or relationship between indoors and out—such as a room that opens onto the garden."
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Remembering Jay Baldwin, experimental geodesic dome champion

May 12, 2013 Penngrove, California Drive north through Marin County, past Petaluma on Route 101, exit onto Railroad Avenue and right onto Old Redwood Highway. Small farm lots, old barns and sheds, prickle hedges and honeysuckle. “It’s not a commune,” says Jay Baldwin, coming out to greet us, but it is a shining hill that rises to the west from Penngrove Valley with seven tiers of chicken coops restored by old hippies and student squatters. Jay and his wife, Liz Fial, have been here longer than anyone else, since 1963. “Is it possible?” he asks himself, counting backward on the fingers of one hand. “Same year that Kennedy got shot, two months earlier,” he says, describing how he moved out from Michigan, driving 2,370 miles from Ann Arbor, through Denver, breaking down outside of Salt Lake City, while carrying all of his worldly possessions in the back of a ‘56 Chevy. Their domesticated coop has a low sloping ceiling, but it’s attached to a larger barn where Jay stores all of his experiments. Old wood planks are nailed vertically, board and batten, weathered and dark, as if oiled and smoked for years over a slow-burn fire. There’s a configuration of short two-by-fours beveled and nailed onto one wall in a radiating asterisk shape with elk antlers hanging from the center, sacred animal vibe, wild roses and ancient Ford, rusted out. Jay and Liz did all the work themselves, and they manage to live on $8,000 a year, happy and fine and low-impact. We eat a lunch of fresh berries, homegrown lettuce, cucumbers, cheese, and lemonade, while Baldwin tells me about his association with Buckminster Fuller, how he first met him in Ann Arbor, after one of Bucky’s all-night, epic lectures that started at 7 p.m. and went till dawn the next morning. They met up again in the fall of 1969 when Bucky came to visit Pacific High School, a free-form hippie school in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Baldwin and his fellow dome-head, Lloyd Kahn, were teaching students how to build domes. Together, they fabricated as many as 17 different versions of Bucky’s geodesic prototype, and one of the most experimental variations was Baldwin’s “Pillow Dome” that was made from clear vinyl pillows inflated with hydrogen. (The vinyl pillows were fabricated by a company in San Francisco that made inflatable female dolls for porn shops.) Bucky liked it so much that he lay down and took an hour-long nap inside the 20-foot-diameter structure. When he awoke, he asked Baldwin to build one on the Fuller family island in Maine. Baldwin said yes, if Bucky would pay for all the material expenses. “He said OK and wrote us a check,” Baldwin says, who prefabricated all the parts at his barn in Penngrove and then packed them into the back of his trusty ’67 Citroën DS wagon and drove from California all the way to Camden, Maine—about 3,300 miles—only stopping in Carbondale, Illinois, to help a friend make a ferroconcrete sailboat. “We were on Bear Island for about a week, living in one of the old barns,” recalled Baldwin. “There was an ancient pool table in there, and we shot pool by candlelight on the greatly slanted table, a challenge. It all went well, though Kathleen [Whitacre] and I were held in obvious low esteem by the New Englanders, probably because we weren’t married.” August 27, 2013 Bear Island, Maine A few months after seeing Baldwin at his house in Penngrove, I make it out to Bear Island, Bucky’s wind-swept, family island in Penobscot Bay, and although I know that one of Baldwin’s domes might still be lying in ruin, somewhere on the island, I’m taken aback when I see it there because I didn’t think it would be positioned so prominently on that first foggy march up from the harbor, up the hill, just past the Eating House, on the way to the Big House, emerging like a specter from a wafting plume of mist, silvery white against a backdrop of deep pine-tree shadows. I’m stunned by its simple, geometric beauty, an unexpected surprise, a hidden gem, and I hold back from looking too closely on this, my first pass, because I want to save it for later when I will return, alone and with my camera, to inspect the structure from all possible angles, inside and out. This is what I do an hour after my arrival, because I don’t want to lose the milky light and mysterious veils of mist, but by the time I return to the site, the light has dissolved into a dull pewter matte and the wind has kicked up to blow all the fog away. Once he’d transported all the parts from the mainland to the island on a lobster boat, Baldwin assembled the Pillow Dome on an old tennis court using three-fourths-inch EMT electrical tubing “because it’s galvanized inside and out,” and filled each opening with a 15-milliliter triangular pillow. It took them about a week to complete the dome, only because of so many distractions, including Bucky himself, who would frequently come by to check on their progress and talk for hours, or insist that they go sailing for the rest of the day. Late one evening, everyone sat beneath the struts of the unfinished dome and waited for a lunar eclipse, but when Fuller’s sister rushed down from the Big House to announce its arrival and said: “Brother, the eclipse is coming up from the bottom!” Fuller snapped back: “The moon doesn’t have any UP, stupid!” Everyone laughed except for Baldwin who felt bad about making Bucky’s sister the brunt of the joke. I walk around the ruins of the Pillow Dome. The vinyl “pillows” disintegrated a long time ago, but the thing itself, the main structure, the galvanized geodesic skeleton, struts, connectors, and bolts, are in surprisingly good shape considering it’s a 43-year-old artifact left to endure the salt air and brutal winters of coastal Maine. Even the star-shaped skylight at the top of the dome is still intact, and you can see how it was hinged around the edges so that the top panels could be flipped open for ventilation. There’s no sense of a roof pressing down, or of walls closing in. It is more of a floating, bubble-like sensation, and reminds me of Fuller’s enormous “Biosphere” that I visited the years before, in Montreal. It felt like a future that hadn’t happened yet, or at the least, a future that hadn’t been fully digested. The tetrahedral poetics of the geosphere, now black and naked, stripped clean of its original acrylic shell, manifested itself as an alternate sky—if that makes any sense—and there was something about looking through its prism-like veil that made the oddly pixelated horizon seem infinitely small. After his experiment on Bear Island, Baldwin worked with John Todd of the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, and together they fabricated a larger version of the Pillow Dome, skinned with Tefzel, an ETFE fluoropolymer resin made by DuPont.
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Furniture artist Wendell Castle passes away at 85

Rochester-based sculptor, woodworker and furniture-maker Wendell Castle has passed away at the age of 85 after a long struggle with leukemia. Castle is best known for his sculptural and elaborate handcrafted furniture, which was produced in a range of materials, including wood, concrete, plastic and bronze. As reported by USA Today, Castle had been in and out of the hospital over the last two months but remained committed to the output of his studio and the production of more furniture and sculpture. Castle was an artist-in-residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and taught at the university from 1962 to 1969. The artist's workshop is located in Scottsville, a town just outside of Rochester, and employs ten people including his son, Byron Castle. The celebrated designer was known for merging the detailing of traditional crafts with the engineering of industrial design, creating unrestricted sculptural furniture that emphasized form over function that allowed for malleability in stylistic genres and materials. Described by RIT as the “father of the art furniture movement,” Castle was awarded a number of accolades during his lifetime, from the National Endowment of the Arts, the American Craft Museum, the James Renwick Alliance and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Castle’s prodigious output can be found across the globe, and is included in the permanent collections of over 50 museums and cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In a design statement for his exhibit at RIT, Wendell Castle Imagined: A Revelation of Creative Process, the artist described the creative process behind his work as “a voyage of discovery,” one set upon “thousands of ideas on paper, before getting an authentic one dragged up from my guts,” subject to continual invention, distortion and exaggeration. Castle is survived by his wife and similarly acclaimed artist, Nancy Jurs, two children Alison and Byron, and two grandchildren, Arabella and Archibald.
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Famed L.A. artist Ed Moses passes away at age 91

The noted and influential Los Angeles artist Ed Moses has passed away. A fixture on the L.A. art and architecture scene for over 70 years, Moses died of natural causes at his Venice, California home at the age of 91 on Wednesday, January 17, 2018. Moses was widely-celebrated for his ever-changing and provocative style of painting and was well-known among the L.A. architects of the 1970s and 1980s who gravitated toward the city’s then-burgeoning visual arts scene. Moses was also member of the so-called “Cool School” group of artists, a motley mix of contemporary visual artists that took root in the 1950s in L.A. and set a trailblazing path in the realm of Pop Art. The group was heavily associated with Ferus Gallery in L.A. and included Craig Kauffman, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Edward Kienholz, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, John Altoon and Wallace Berman among its members. Moses was also a mentor and friend to architect Frank Gehry, who told The Los Angeles Times, “He opened a lot of doors for me, doors of thinking, to a way of looking at life, of thinking about work and creativity and freedom and expressing oneself—taking chances.” Gehry added, “He was the first person that was in that world that sort of took me under his wing. He was very supportive. I think he influenced others by his sense of freedom, his personality, his willingness to step into the unknown. He epitomized that … I think of him as my north star.” Moses is survived by his wife, Avilda, his sons Cedd and Andy, daughters-in-law Pamela and Kelly, and grandchildren Maxwell and Violette.
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Remembering modernist architect Gunnar Birkerts

Latvian-American modernist architect Gunnar Birkerts died at the age of 92 on August 15, just as his legacy is beginning to be reevaluated by contemporary architects and historians alike. Based in the Detroit area for over 40 years, Birkerts designed distinctive buildings in the central United States and taught studios and seminars as a professor at the University of Michigan. His work was characterized by an experimental attitude toward materials, an intuitive approach to space planning, and an uncommon keenness for innovation in the use of daylight. Riga, Latvia’s National Library of Latvia (NLL), Birkerts’s last and greatest building, was completed in 2014 after about 25 years of work on the project. The NLL is a marvelous culmination of his career. Its completion was doubly special because Birkerts—born in Riga and the son of Latvian folklorists Peteris and Merija Shop Birkerts—had long been committed to the maintenance of his nation’s cultural heritage. Birkerts’s renown peaked between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, when he completed a group of buildings that broke open the increasingly stale forms and material palette of modern architecture. These buildings diffused light on matte surfaces or refracted it from polished materials to reduce the glare that too often plagues sheer glass buildings. Birkerts was one of many “displaced persons” who arrived in the U.S. after World War II. He emigrated here after an architectural education at the Technische Hochschule Stuttgart, in Germany, and eventually settled in the Detroit area. Birkerts worked for Eero Saarinen in the early 1950s, as his firm was developing a laboratory-like working method driven by model building and materials testing. He later left the Saarinen office for Minoru Yamasaki’s—also in the Detroit area—where he contributed to that firm’s decorative embellishment of modernism. He often cited Eero and “Yama” as the two most profound influences on his approach to architecture. He left Yamasaki and formed a partnership with Frank Straub in 1962, then founded his independent firm Gunnar Birkerts & Associates in 1964. Even after most of his former colleagues at the Saarinen office—Kevin Roche, César Pelli, and Robert Venturi, among others—had departed for more cosmopolitan locales on the East and West coasts, Birkerts stayed in Detroit because he wanted to remain independent of any particular cadre or school. This individualist spirit was Birkerts’s key bequest to the generation of architecture students and office associates he guided. Because of his individualism, Birkerts was perfectly suited to the Detroit area, with its history of tinkerers, innovators, and entrepreneurs. “We may have been building Ferraris,” Birkerts said in a 2015 interview, “but we were doing it in a garage,” suggesting that the polished, industrial design–like aesthetic of his buildings was not mirrored in his office environment or working method. Indeed, in his later years, Birkerts expressed skepticism about the rising importance of digital design in architecture, believing that it distanced architects from the intuitive, the experimental, and the handmade. Loose sketching and conceptual metaphors occupied an increasingly central position in his creative process during his later years. These attitudes caused him to lose favor in the style- and technology-obsessed culture of the late 20th and early 21st century. Rebuffing the flamboyance of postmodernism and the structural exaggerations of High Tech, Birkerts spent those years laboring on several unrealized megaprojects in Italy, and on unjustly overlooked U.S. work including the Frank Lloyd Wright–infused Domino’s Farms development in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Later designs show Birkerts’s ability to deftly integrate motifs from the national romanticist and art nouveau buildings of his home city without descending into pastiche. Despite these unusual ingredients, he remained staunchly committed to modernism. But his was not the dogmatic International Style of earlier architects. Instead of codifying rules, Birkerts continued modernism’s intuitive tradition of individual expression. We can still learn much from his example.
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Remembering Fred Koetter, 1938–2017

Fred Koetter died August 21 in Boston, Massachusetts, after a long period of illness. Fred’s influence was widespread as the co-author of Collage City with Colin Rowe, as an award-winning architect and urbanist, as an educator for over six decades at Cornell and Harvard, and as the dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University from 1994 to 1998, where he spent over 20 years as a member of the faculty until his retirement in 2013. Fred’s intellectual trajectory moved from a rigorous formal approach cultivated as a graduate student at Cornell to the professional demands of turning those formal tropes into real places—sites for institutions, sensitive background buildings, and urban districts. His encyclopedic knowledge rivaled that of his mentor Rowe. Unlike Rowe’s elliptical peregrinations, Fred’s comments were more terse but equally complex and layered. His projective vision and dry sense of humor made his insights uniquely surprising and always to the point. His most common critique, “Isn’t that just great,” could mean several different things depending on vocal inflection. He could equally wield a single word or add a building to a site so deftly that you would realize only much later that the comment or the architecture had completely changed the situation in which it was cast. As he said to me during a pilgrimage to see Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in Arezzo, Italy: “Look at that guy…no expression as he pierces that other guy with a spear. You really need to know what you’re doing to pull that off.” Fred had the ability to see large forces at work and to distill them into precise, concentrated, and memorable architectural solutions. Born and raised in Montana, Fred’s vision of the city remained an apparition of promise—a dynamic ensemble of peoples, histories, and unpredictable forces, which never failed to fascinate. The office and the studio culture he nourished were similarly dynamic—rambling improvisations, Popperian dialogues, that commenced between the two of us but were gradually ceded to the students as they groped their way through complex urban problems, found their own voices, reaching a broad audience of critics, professionals, and civic leaders. As Fred memorably put it to a class late one night in the streets of Helsinki: in architecture, “you have to walk your pet goldfish even when you are underwater.” When I started teaching with him 20 years ago, his work with his partner Susie Kim was expanding into larger urban projects. The globalization of the world’s economy presaged architecture’s constructive possibilities and its destabilizing effects on historic cities, ecosystems, and cultures. The more conventional notion of “place” ceased to suffice, as he and Susie chased camels across the deserts outside Cairo, saw their City Hall outside Tianjin, China, sold off to a multinational corporation at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and were asked to fully realize cities and complexes six months from the start of a handshake contract. Koetter Kim & Associates were early pioneers in the ecological development of large sites, and remained curious about the marriage between local cultures and global aspirational changes. Sometimes on his weekly circumnavigation of the globe, after stopping by his offices in London and Boston, Fred would appear at the Yale studios looking worn. But one glimpse at the work on an eager student’s desk, and he would pump full of life, sustained by the promise of young talent, a good conversation, and the prospect of drinks and debate at the nearby Irish bar where the best ideas would be fully fleshed out. Fred and Susie demonstrated sophistication and generosity in their inclusiveness and invention. They created the operatic atmosphere of the cities they designed in their home in Brookline. As a frequent guest, I came to expect a parade of writers, architects, artists, doctors, family members, and other strays walking into the living room, or engaging me in an impromptu conversation on the way to the shower. Fred’s mind was like a city, and he encouraged and orchestrated chaos, of which he was the eye of the storm of opinions and talent. In the classroom, Fred always advocated for the most challenging student concepts, often leaving me to figure out how these could possibly be resolved. His former partner told me that Fred would come chuckling into the office the following day. Fred was a trickster. He was deliberately trying to see if I could figure out the solution more than advocating that particular path himself. He always pushed his students and colleagues toward these greater challenges, encouraging us to step beyond our imaginations’ limits. Fred gently challenged colleagues and students to think things anew. One particular criticism he made in a final review comes to mind. While the circus of critics had spent the day acrobatically twisting and turning their rhetoric, Fred made one and only one final comment on the student’s proposal for a train station complex. He related how the designs of the 19th-century English train stations, nodes in a global system that connected numerous peoples and cultures from eastern China to London, “were not designed to show where you were, but where you were going.”