Gordon Bunshaft, American Modernist

(1909-1990)

Black & white photo of middle aged white architect Gordon Bunshaft
American architect Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990). Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Gordon Bunshaft's long relationship with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) enabled the company to become one of the largest and most well-respected architectural firms in the world. Although known for his modern, International Style office buildings in New York City, Bunshaft also designed a variety of non-urban functional buildings for corporations, museums, universities, and airports.

Background:

Born: May 9, 1909 in Buffalo, New York

Died: August 6, 1990 in New York City. Buried in Buffalo.

Education:

  • 1933: BArch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
  • 1935: MArch, MIT, Cambridge, MA
  • 1935-1937: Rotch Traveling Scholarship, travel to Europe and Northern Africa

Professional Experience:

  • 1937: Office of Edward Durell Stone, NYC
  • 1937-1942: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), NYC
  • 1942-1946: US Army Corps of Engineers during World War II
  • 1946-1983: SOM; Partner in 1949

Selected Projects Credited to Bunshaft:

    Awards:

    • 1955: Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize, American Academy of Arts and Letters
    • 1958: Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA)
    • 1984: Gold Medal, AIA
    • 1988: Pritzker Architecture Prize (shared with Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil)

    What Others Say About Gordon Bunshaft:

    "Bunshaft's reputation and contribution rests on his pioneering influence on American corporate and industrial architecture....He was able to persuade the community of American corporations that contemporary American architectyure could serve them as a signature."—Paul D Spreiregen, FAIA, Contemporary Architects, p. 137
    "Bunshaft was thus among the first American architects to embrace European Modernism, but unlike others, such as Edward Durrell Stone, Phhilip Johnson and Eero Saarinen, he never rejected its machine-agwe imperatives. More pragmatic and vernacular in his approach, he never entered the arena of architectural theory, history or criticism."—Professor James D. Kornwolf (1936-2005), The Dictionary of Art, V. 5, p. 175
    "Gordon Bunshaft took his name and reputation, founded on the skin and bones of Lever House (1952), Manufacturers Trust (1954), and Chase Manhattan (1961), and developed a new architecture of concrete. He listened and questioned and learned. He was still gruff, occasionally crude, prone to pipe-sucking silences, pushing questions away with the same brief answers....Though he was no longer the only design partner at SOM and often scorned his fellow partners, Bunshaft was its acknowledged leader. He joked that the only reason his name was not on the masthead was that then the initials of the firm would be S.O.B."—Professor Nicholas Adams

    In His Own Words:

    "A bold idea, plus precision, care, and thought make a good building."—attributed to Gordon Bunshaft in Architects on Architecture, p. 370
    "I am an architect. I express what I believe through the buildings I have done over the past 30 years. They are the language I use—not the written word."—from Contemporary Architects, p. 137

    Architects and Architecture of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill:

    Learn More:

    Sources: Gordon Bunshaft entry by James D. Kornwolf, The Dictionary of Art, Vol. 5, ed. by Jane Turner, 1996, Grove, pp. 175-176; Contemporary Architects, Third Ed., 1980, St. James Press, Gale Research, pp. 136-137; Biography, The Hyatt Foundation; Gordon Bunshaft: What Convinces is Conviction by Nicholas Adams, SOM Journal 9, online 1/14/15 [accessed May 7, 2015]; Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America by Paul Heyer, Walker, 1966, p. 370