Gunnar Birkerts, acclaimed Midwestern architect, dies at 92


Gunnar Birkerts, an acclaimed Detroit-area architect who designed major buildings throughout the Midwest, including the former Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and an addition to the University of Michigan Law Library, died Tuesday.

Birkerts, 92, died at home in the Boston suburb of Needham, Mass., where he had moved to be near family, according to his daughter-in-law, Alison Ranney of Chicago. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Birkerts was best known for light-filled modernist buildings that reflected the Scandinavian architectural tradition that influenced him. Many were essays in bold curves or angular, irregular shapes.

One of Birkerts’ major works, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank of 1973, was among a series of projects around the nation that departed from the staid, neoclassical bank buildings of the past. It used suspension bridge technology, boldly expressed in an arch on its glass exterior. The bank later was converted into a commercial office building.

Among Birkerts’ other buildings are the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., the south wing of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo., the University of Iowa’s Boyd Law Building and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the small-town architectural mecca of Columbus, Ind.

In 2014, Birkerts realised a work of great personal meaning, the Latvian National Library in Riga. That design, inspired by the mythical Glass Mountain of Latvian folklore, is know known as ‘The Castle of Light.’

Birkerts was a professor at the University of Michigan’s architecture school and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

His honors included a gold medal from the Michigan Society of Architects and awards from the American Institute of Architects.


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