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Gordon Bunshaft

Lever House, 1951-1952; Gordon Bunshaft at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 999.
Lever House, New York City

Gordon Bunshaft, FAIA (May 9, 1909 – August 6, 1990), was an American architect, a leading proponent of modern design in the mid-twentieth century. A partner in the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Bunshaft joined in 1937 and remained for more than 40 years. The long list of his notable buildings includes Lever House in New York, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the National Commercial Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 140 Broadway (Marine Midland Grace Trust Co.) and Manufacturers Hanover Trust Branch Bank in New York; the last was the first post-war "transparent" bank on the East Coast.


  • Career 1
  • Awards and honors 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Buildings 4
  • Gallery 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Bunshaft was born in Buffalo, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents,[1] and attended Lafayette High School. He received both his undergraduate (1933) and his master's (1935) degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studied in Europe on a Rotch Traveling Scholarship from 1935 to 1937, and worked briefly for Edward Durell Stone and industrial designer Raymond Loewy before joining SOM. Bunshaft's early influences included Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.[2]

In the 1950s, Bunshaft was hired by the State Department's Office of Foreign Building Operations as a collaborator on the design for several U.S. consulates in Germany.

Awards and honors

Bunshaft was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and was the recipient of numerous other honors and awards, including the American Institute of Architects Twenty-five Year Award for Lever House, in 1980, and the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 1988. In 1958, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full member in 1959. He served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1963 to 1972. Upon receiving the Pritzker Prize, for which he nominated himself,[3] he gave the shortest speech of any winner in the award's history, stating:

In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I've been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That's it.


Bunshaft's only single-family residence is the 2300 square foot (210 m²) Travertine House, built for his own family. On his death he left the house to MoMA, which sold it to Martha Stewart in 1995. Her extensive remodelling stalled amid an acrimonious planning dispute with a neighbour. In 2005, she sold the house to textile magnate Donald Maharam, who described the house as "decrepit and largely beyond repair" and demolished it.[4][5]

Bunshaft's personal papers are held by the Department of Drawings & Archives in the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University; his architectural drawings remain with SOM. He is buried next to his wife and parents in the Temple Beth El cemetery on Pine Ridge Road in Buffalo, New York.


Exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum, facing Independence Avenue



  1. ^ Vanity Fair: "Forever Modern" October 2002
  2. ^ Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 541.
  3. ^ How to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize: Practice, practice, practice (and don't be shy about nominating yourself)
  4. ^ Martha's Gordon Bunshaft House Gets the Shaft - Hollywood's Fear of Flying - Warner Music Gets Murder Inc. - Ivy League Beauty Pageants - Bill Weld's Uphill Battle for Albany. (2005-05-23). Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  5. ^ [2] Archived April 11, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Public Works: Harry Bertoia for the Public". Harry Bertoia. Retrieved March 2015. 

Further reading

External links

  • "Oral history interview with Gordon Bunshaft". Chicago Architects Oral History Project, The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved October 13, 2005. 
  • "Wrecking Ball". MetaFilter. Retrieved October 12, 2005.  Discussion and links about preservation and rebuilding of the Bunshaft Residence, aka "Travertine House.".
  • "Gordon Bunshaft 1988 Laureate". The Pritzker Architecture Prize. Retrieved October 12, 2005. 
  • Gordon Bunshaft architectural drawings and papers, 1909-1990 (bulk 1950-1979). Held in the Dept. of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York City
  • Gordon Bunshaft at Find a Grave
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