Giving to Yale

Ralph Lauren Establishes Professorship in Memory of Architect Charles Gwathmey

 William TauficIconic American fashion designer Ralph Lauren and his wife, Ricky Lauren, have established a professorship at the Yale School of Architecture in memory of the late architect Charles Gwathmey ’62 M.Arch. The Laurens were close friends of Gwathmey and his wife, Bette-Ann.

“The Charles Gwathmey Professorship acknowledges the contributions Charles made as an architect, as well as his unique abilities as an educator to motivate young people,” said Lauren. “It is also a tribute we pay to an extraordinary artist and a dear friend,” he added.

Gwathmey, who died on August 3, was celebrated for the geometrically complex and meticulously detailed buildings he designed in a signature Modernist style. Along with fellow architects John Hejduk, Richard Meier, Michael Graves, and Peter Eisenman—known collectively as “The New York Five”—Gwathmey was identified as a champion of High Modernism, even as many architects, planners, and designers were turning away from its strict tenets.

The School of Architecture recognized his early promise with its highest award for a graduating student—the Winchester Fellowship—and he maintained a lifelong connection to Yale, returning frequently as a critic and visiting professor and to receive the first Yale Alumni Arts Award from the School.

“No architect of our generation had such a master of geometry and such a gift as a constructor, whose every building was considered in terms of specific materials selected, and construction techniques pursued and explicitly expressed. That sense of architecture as a builder’s art was central to his work and set him quite apart from his contemporaries,” said Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern at a memorial service held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in September.

“Charles was one of the most distinguished graduates of our School of Architecture,” said Yale University President Richard C. Levin. “By establishing this professorship, Ralph and Ricky Lauren honor Charles’s achievements and affirm the eminence of each incumbent named to the chair.”

Yale commission becomes architect’s legacy

The capstone project of Gwathmey’s prize-winning career was his selection in 2005 to renovate Yale’s landmark Art + Architecture Building and to design a new, adjacent building—the Jeffrey H. Loria Center for the History of Art. The Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library would be incorporated in the two spaces.

Gwathmey approached the commission as a labor of love for the School and an expression of gratitude for his former mentor Paul Rudolph, who originally designed the A + A Building when Gwathmey was a student in the early 1960s. The original building was renamed Paul Rudolph Hall when the complex opened last fall.

“We asked a great architect to add to the work of a great architect,” said Stern, “and Charles Gwathmey, a towering figure of our generation, rose to the challenge.”

First Gwathmey professor named

Now, less than one year since the dedication of the two buildings and only months since Gwathmey’s death, Dean Stern has named the first Charles Gwathmey Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. Peter Eisenman, a longtime colleague and friend of Gwathmey, will hold the appointment.

Eisenman is the principal of the New York-based Eisenman Architects, and he currently serves as the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at Yale. Known widely as a theorist, educator, and architect, Eisenman has designed large-scale housing and urban design projects, innovative facilities for educational institutions, and a series of inventive private houses. His haunting Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was inaugurated in May 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II. Currently under construction is a six-building City of Culture of Galicia, which he was commissioned to create in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

(November 17, 2009)