When Kevin Roche went to the US embassy in Dublin as a young architect in 1948 he just wanted a visitor’s visa. “I really had no intention of staying in the US, but the fellow behind the counter asked if I wanted a green card. ‘Why don’t you take one anyway? I’ve got lots of them,’ he said. So I took it, and then one thing led to another.” Roche, who will be 89 in June, went on to become the favourite architect of corporate America, designing huge headquarters – megastructures in the woods of New York’s hinterland – for the likes of General Foods and Union Carbide.
Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, aka KRJDA, did great work over the years, notably the much-loved Ford Foundation in New York, which was the first office block with a plant-filled atrium, and a series of glazed extensions to the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the remarkable Temple of Dendur pavilion. Roche still works five days a week at the firm’s offices in Hamden, Connecticut. And now, just down the road in New Haven, Yale University’s school of architecture is hosting a retrospective exhibition, Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment, to celebrate his achievements, including Convention Centre Dublin.
During a recent symposium that I attended at the university, his work is respectfully dissected by a slew of academics. It must be like having an out-of-body experience. “You can say that again,” he says. “It seems as if I died about 20 years ago and didn’t know it” – a reference to the fact the discussions ignored most of his recent projects.