Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with quick, interesting facts. Our pick this month is Gordon Bunshaft, a New Yorker lauded for his several Manhattan skyscrapers and his long career at SOM.
(banner image of 500 Park Avenue via NYNesting.com)
In 1909, Gordon Bunshaft was born in upstate New York, and had various health problems as a child, leading him to be confined to his bed for much of his childhood. He often drew and sketched while in bed, and a doctor noted that he should be an architect from an early age.
Proving the doctor’s theory to be true, Bunshaft recovered as a teen and received his bachelors and masters degrees in architecture at MIT, and was awarded a scholarship, allowing him to extend his studies for two additional years in Europe.
Upon returning to America, Bunshaft was hired by notable decorative architect Edward Durell Stone, but left the firm after only a few months, noting that Stone’s work was more decorative than architectural. In 1937, Bunshaft was hired by leading architecture firm Skimore, Owings, and Merrill, where he worked for over four decades.
Following the end of World War II, many returning soldiers were joining the professional workforce. As the need for more office space grew, Bunshaft noticed that corporate clients wanted buildings which were not only spaces to work, but also physical representations of the business leaders’ success and personal pleasure and recreation, much like a palace.
In 1952, Bunshaft’s first major work for SOM was complete; the Lever House on Park Avenue, which stood out among the historic Park Avenue buildings with a large glass curtain wall.
Bunshaft’s major works were in New York, including 510 Fifth Avenue, 500 Park Avenue, and 140 Broadway, which were completed between the 50s and 70s. In Washington, DC, Bunshaft’s design of the Hirshhorn Museum (1974) is one of the most memorable structures in the city.
510 Fifth Avenue
500 Park Avenue
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library interior
One of the only residences he ever designed was the Bunshaft Residence for his personal use in East Hampton, New York. The house, clad in travertine stone, was designed to display large-scale art by artists such as Picasso and abstract sculptures by Henry Moore. Years later, celebrity chef Martha Stewart was the home’s owner, who, when imprisoned, subsequently sold it to a buyer who had it demolished.
Bunshaft Residence rear
After winning the Pritzker Prize in 1988, Bunshaft passed away in 1990. His architectural drawings and models are still under ownership of SOM, the firm at which he spent his career.
“Spotlight: Gordon Bunshaft,” Archdaily; “Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990),” Pritzkerprize.com; “Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library,” Wikipedia; “Gordon Bunshaft,” Wikipedia