Kevin Roche, No Easy Man to Describe

b. 1922

Architect Kevin Roche
Architect Kevin Roche. Photo by Nathan Benn / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Historical / Getty Images (cropped)

The architecture of Dublin-born Kevin Roche has changed the landscape of his adopted United States. In spite of his many successes—hundreds of award-winning projects and a Pritzker Prize—Roche may be best remembered for his relationship with Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen.

Background:

Born: June 14, 1922 in Dublin, Ireland

Full Name: Eamonn Kevin Roche

Personal Life: Married Jane Tuohy in June 1963; five children.

Naturalized U.S. citizen in 1964.

Education:

  • National University of Ireland, Dublin: B.Arch 1945; Honorary D.Sc. 1977
  • Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago: Postgraduate study under Mies van der Rohe, 1948

Professional Life:

After his 1945 graduation in Ireland, Roche worked in Dublin and London before moving to the United States to study in Chicago in 1948. After running out of money, he moved to New York City and found an office job at the United Nations. By 1950 he was back in America's midwest as an apprentice with Saarinen's Michigan firm.

  • 1950-1966: Eero Saarinen and Associates, Michigan; principal associate designer from 1954 to 1961; took over the practice in 1961 with John Dinkeloo
  • 1966-present: Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC (KRJDA), Hamden, Connecticut

A Selection of Buildings Attributed to Kevin Roche:

  • 1967 to present: Metropolitan Museum of Art additions, New York City
  • 1968: Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), CA
  • 1968: Ford Foundation headquarters, New York City
  • 1969: Knights of Columbus Headquarters, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 1970: College Life Insurance Company Headquarters, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • 1974: University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • 1984-1987: UNICEF Headquarters
  • 1989: Leo Burnett Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois
  • 1989: 60 Wall Street, J.P. Morgan & Company / Deutsche Bank, New York City
  • 1989-1993: Bank of America Tower, formerly NationsBank, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 1990-1998: Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
  • 1997: Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York City
  • 1998: Cummins Newage Assembly Plant, Wuxi, China
  • 2002: Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, MIT, Cambridge, MA
  • 2003: Shiodome City Center, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2006: Bouygues SA Holding Company Head Office, Paris, France
  • 2009: Restoration of Saarinen-designed David S. Ingalls Rink at Yale University, New Haven, CT
  • 2009: Lafayette Tower, Washington, D.C.
  • 2010: Dublin Convention Centre, Ireland
  • Proposed: Enigma Performing Arts Center (EPAC), Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Selected Awards and Honors:

  • 1965: Brunner Award of the American Institute of Art and Letters
  • 1977: Grand Gold Medal, Academie d'Architecture
  • 1982: Pritzker Architecture Prize
  • 1990: Gold Medal Award for Architecture, American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • 1993: AIA Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects

Roche / Saarinen Relationship:

Eero Saarinen expanded his firm in the late 1940s when he was awarded a commission to build a Detroit complex for General Motors—described by architecture Professor Paul Heyer as "a unified campus-like setting carried through in the Miesian manner." Kevin Roche's earlier study with Mies van der Rohe either influenced the design or was a factor in Roche being hired, or both.

Heyer writes:

"Joseph Lacy, project manager, John Dinkeloo, production chief and technologist, and Kevin Roche, chief designer, were the key members of Saarinen's staff recruited for the G.M. project. Roche, with whom Saarinen used to discuss design problems for long hours, worked directly with him on subsequent major design commissions."—Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America by Paul Heyer, Walker and Company, 1966, p. 350

When Saarinen died unexpectedly in 1961, Roche and John Dinkeloo (1918-1981) finished the projects associated with the company, including these structures attributed to Saarinen:

What Others Say About Kevin Roche:

"He is no easy man to describe: an innovator who does not worship innovation for itself, a professional unconcerned with trends, a quiet humble man who conceives and executes great works, a generous man of strictest standards for his own work."—1982 Pritzker Jury Citation

About the UNICEF Building:

"Does this building represent a sea change for Mr. Roche, whose buildings, which also include the Ford Foundation and the additions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have long been celebrated as epitomizing a kind of late-modern crispness? I think not: if there is anything that characterizes most of Kevin Roche's work more than crispness and sleekness, it is a kind of restless formal inventiveness and a tendency to seek to exploit the dramatic possibilities in any urban setting."—Paul Goldberger, "Kevin Roche Finishes a Trio And Changes His Tune," The New York Times, November 29, 1987

SOURCES: Kevin Roche, FAIA, Design Principal and Projects of KRJDA [accessed March 15, 2014]; The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 2005, Vol. 10, p. 118; Who's Who in America, 67th Edition, 2013, Vol. 2, p. 3627