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ARCHITECTURE: looking back at Kevin Roche

Kevin Roche, a man and his skyscraper

You might not think that any architect dubbed the darling of corporate America in the 1960s and 70s would also be well-respected by his colleagues and the greater architectural community, but Kevin Roche’s most notable designs had the unique ability to bring technological know-how, innovative design and the corporate workforce together in harmony. Roche won the Pritzker Prize in 1982 for his unflinching commitment to improve upon humdrum corporate architecture through modernity. In his mostly large-scale projects (he called it “the scale of the future”) he sought to create “more understandable environments” and happy, more productive workers by encouraging their interactions with nature in large, open, communal spaces.

Roche is one of very few architects who was actually able to execute his idealistic concepts through technology, learnt mostly during his time working for the noteworthy architect/industrial designer Eero Saarinen. Roche shares his fondness for sweeping, glass-paneled skyscrapers and use of light. But Roche also saw all structures, corporate or otherwise, as “utopian communit[ies] of like-minded individuals.” To encourage interconnectivity, transparency and a free-flowing sharing of ideas, Roche commonly used glass-walled offices. You can see his methods at work in the pod-shaped IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1961-64) and, most notably, in the Ford Foundation Headquarters in New York (below), which also includes a magnificent plant-filled atrium.

The exhibit “Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment” is currently on view at the Yale School of Architecture until May 6, 2011, at which point it will travel, though no dates or locations have yet been named.