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Happy 90th Birthday Kevin Roche

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy 90th Birthday Kevin Roche

By Tony Reddy

Kevin Roche, the Irish-born, Pritzker prize-winning architect, celebrates his 90th birthday on 14 June.Even at 90, Kevin Roche is still working on new projects – just as Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius did and Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia, is still doing at the age of 104.

In September 1961 Roche was launched on a trajectory that would see him recognised as one of the great architects of the late 20th century when his boss, world-famous Eero Saarinen, died suddenly at the age of 51, leaving Roche and John Dinkeloo to finish such iconic projects as the TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport, New York, the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri and the CBS Tower, New York.

Kevin studied architecture at UCD from 1940 to 1945 where the education philosophy was firmly embedded in the Beaux Arts tradition. He graduated from UCD in 1945 and joined Michael Scott. Projects on which he worked included Busáras and  Donnybrook bus garage. In 1948 Roche decided to go to Chicago to study under Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He realised he had learned all he could from the great master when, having produced a pitched roofed concept for a project, in contrast to the Miesian boxes of the other students, Mies dismissively remarked, as he inhaled slowly on his ubiquitous cigar, “you might do it that way but I would not do it that way”.  In 1949, Roche went to New York where he worked for Harrison Abramovitz, the firm overseeing the construction of the United Nations building. Chance rather than a grand plan led him to join Eero Saarinen and Associates in the Spring of 1950.

With an increasing number of projects the office was divided into its distinct design and production wings led by Roche and Dinkeloo. Their clients were some of the most powerful in corporate America – CBS, IBM, TWA, Cummins Engine Co and John Deere. After Saarinen’s death, all of them appointed Roche Dinkeloo as their architects for later projects. The practice quickly built upon Saarinen’s reputation as the favourite architect of corporate America to complete projects such as Aetna Life headquarters, Hartford; College Life Insurance headquarters, Indianapolis; Union Carbide headquarters, Connecticut; Bouygues headquarters, Paris, and Banco Santander headquarters, Madrid. The practice also completed major public and educational projects such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, Rochester Institute of Technology and Denver Centre for the Performing Arts. 

Kevin Roche is surely one of the most significant architects of the late 20th century. His Ford Foundation and Oakland Museum are epoch-defining buildings and the entire body of his work is a testament to his place in the architectural firmament.  Let us celebrate his achievements in his ninetieth year and marvel at his continuing commitment to his work and profession.

Tony Reddy's full article on Kevin Roche will appear in the forthcoming issue of Architecture Ireland.

Categories: Architecture

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