Kevin Roche (born 14th June 1922) was born in Dublin, but grew up in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, and educated at Rockwell College, before studying architecture at University College Dublin. According to The Irish Times, ‘years later, he recalled having to draw acanthus leaves and fluted classical columns as part of the Beaux Arts training then offered by the UCD School of Architecture – at a time when most US students were “taught to distain the past”.’
After graduation in 1945, he worked with Michael Scott on the Busáras project. According to Wilfrid Cantwell, Roche only worked on the design for a short time but contributed to the external appearance of the finished building on the pavilion storey. He joined the practice at the same time as Patrick Scott who was in his class at college, and who had a large role in the project through the design of the mosaic tiling. He left Dublin in 1948 and worked with Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew before he emigrated to the United States to study with Mies van der Rohe.
Instead of returning to Ireland, he got a job with Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) and Associates from 1951 until 1961. Here he worked in the planning department before becoming chief associate in 1956. After Saarinen’s death he continued the practice in partnership with the structural engineer John Dinkeloo (1918-1981) under the name Roche and Dinkeloo. Here, he completed such projects as the Gateways Arch at St Louis, Missouri, and the TWA Terminal ar JFK Airport.
Some of his more famous buildings are the Oakland Museum in California and the Ford Foundation headquarters in New York, which along with the TWA Terminal has been listed for preservation, and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Knights of Columbanus Building. His firm has for some time being one of the preferred firms for large corporate headquarters and have built offices for General Foods Corporation and others from cities from Toyko to Atlanta to Kuala Lumpur. He has also been responsible for many buildings for the Cummins Engine Corp. in Columbus, Indiana. In 1982, he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most prestigious award in architecture, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize and one of many awards that he has received.
In all, Roche has been responsible for some 51 major projects in the period 1962-82. Paul Goldberger, a New York Times architecture critic, described Roche as “one of the most creative designers in glass that the 20th century has produced,” and “a brilliantly innovative designer; his work manages to be inventive without ever falling into the trap of excessive theatricality.”
In 1982, when Roche was awarded the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, the $100,000 prize money was used to create a chair of architecture at Yale in memory of his former mentor Eero Saarinen. The following is the text of the citation from the jury.
In this mercurial age, when our fashions swing overnight from the severe to the ornate, from contempt for the past to nostalgia for imagined times that never were, Kevin Roche’s formidable body of work sometimes intersects fashion, sometimes lags fashion, and more often makes fashion.
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.
In this award to Kevin Roche we recognize and honor an architect who persists in being an individual, and has for all of us, through his work and his person, made a difference for the better.
First is the act of thanksgiving:
To the Pritzker family for its extraordinary foresight and generosity in establishing this prize, and for its intention to “stimulate creativity and contribute to a deeper sensitivity” to the environment.
To Carleton Smith whose energy and imagination brought this prize into being and who sustains it with an extraordinary intensity of commitment.
To those who have the need to build, who select the services of architects and make architecture possible in the first place. To be a good client requires a great deal of patience, courage and stamina.
To those who write about architecture, both those who have been supportive and those who have been critical. Your voice is always heard.
To those fine architects who have constituted our office over the years and who are responsible for much of what is being honored here tonight.
To John Dinkeloo, dear friend for thirty years, without whose strength and skill and many talents this work would never have happened.
To Eero Saarinen whose short life described for many of us the full dimension and the true role of an architect and whose memory will be honored by the generous gift which accompanies this prize.
And finally, to this great free community, the United States, and those other free communities which make it possible for us all to live and work in freedom in a world where the concept of individual freedom is given much lip service but where it exists as a reality only in a few fortunate places.
Now, notoriety brings with it a certain amount of fan mail and there has been much attending this event. It is stimulating, uplifting and rewarding to receive such approbation. Let me read you a random sample so that you may share my pleasure.
This letter comes from a lady in Las Vegas, New Mexico. She is one of those people who likes to get to the heart of the matter in her opening paragraph””
“I think the members of the Pritzker Committee must be out of their minds””to honor, in the year 1982, an architect who is designing in glass and masonry/steel. Such energy wasters are dated, old, dull and boring. Yes, I read all that hot air about `sensual public space’ and ‘exploring elegant works'””etc., etc. And what is still more maddening to one who loves her country and art””is that this prize will affect the teaching at architectural schools and so promote more such moribund designs.”
All this came in a large envelope across which was boldly handlettered the question”””What have you done today to prevent a nuclear war?”
Well, I was a little taken back by that. I didn’t feel I had done anything to prevent a nuclear war that day.
But such is our human nature that I immediately began to justify my actions.
Is not the act of building an act of faith in the future and an act of hope?
Hope that the testimony of our civilization will be passed on to others?
Hope that what we are doing is not only sane and useful and beautiful, but a clear and true reflection of our own aspirations.
And hope that it is an art which will communicate with the future and touch those generations as we ourselves have been touched and moved by the past.
That Architecture is an art we have the evidence of history; that it is an art in our time we cannot yet judge. We can only desire to make it so. It is presumptuous of us to will Architecture into being an art without fully understanding its nature, and dangerous to speak so much about art lest we confuse it with fashion. Art comes hard. It is the conclusion of profound thought on the nature of things rather than on acceptability and acclaim.
It is so easy to forget that we build buildings for people””people who must see them and people who must use them.
It is so easy to forget that those people are individuals with a variety of needs and tastes and it is hard to remember that they are not just numbers.
We should accept the responsibility to create our environment and use the opportunity we have to lead and educate society into improving its habitat, and let other times judge what was art and what was fancy.
Let other times measure our civilization.
We should, all of us, bend our will to create a civilization in which we can live at peace with nature and each other.
To build well is an act of peace.
Let us hope that it will not be in vain.