Gwathmey honored with professorship

When renowned architect Peter Eisenman entered the Yale School of Architecture’s Paul Rudolph Hall to teach “Formal Analysis” Thursday, his title was still the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Professor of Architectural Design.

But starting in January, Eisenman will be the first Charles Gwathmey Professor of Architecture.

University President Richard Levin announced today that American fashion designer Ralph Lauren has endowed a permanent professorship in honor of the late architect Charles Gwathmey ARC ’62, whose last project was the renovation of Rudolph Hall and the design of the Loria Center last fall. Eisenman will be the first appointee to the position. The University did not disclose the amount of Lauren’s donation, but the minimum required for a permanent professorship is $3 million, according to the Yale Tomorrow Fundraising Campaign’s Web site.

“I and my son are very, very proud that there will be a professorship in Charles’s name that will honor him and his vision and his talent forever,” the architect’s widow, Bette-Ann Gwathmey, said in an interview with the News.

Eisenman said “there was an immediate void” last Aug. 3, when Gwathmey passed away.

“It felt like we had to do something,” Eisenman added.

Robert Siegel, Gwathmey’s partner at the architecture firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, took the initiative. He began creating a list of potential donors who could help create a professorship in Gwathmey’s name at the Yale School of Architecture. At the top of the list were designer Ralph Lauren and his wife, Ricky Lauren — close friends of the Gwathmeys. Bette-Ann worked for Lauren as the vice president of corporate affairs and philanthropy.

As soon as Siegel called the Laurens to discuss the possibility of contributing along with five other donors to the founding of the professorship, the Laurens immediately said they would fund the entirety of the position, regardless of costs, Eisenman said.

Lauren called the Charles Gwathmey professorship “a tribute we pay to an extraordinary artist and a dear friend,” in a press release today.

School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ’65 said the legacy of a great architect like Gwathmey’s deserves commemoration. At Gwathmey’s September memorial service at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Stern called Gwathmey a unique talent in his generation for his mastery of geometry and his gift as a constructor..

“It’s very nice that his legacy will continue with this professorship,” he said in an interview last week.

Eisenman said he is honored to be appointed the Charles Gwathmey “I was always a Jiminy Cricket on Charles’s shoulder, telling him ‘Charlie do this’ or ‘Charlie don’t do this,’ Eisenman said. “But now that I’m carrying his name, he’s sort of become my conscience.”

Walking through the corridors of Loria Center, Eisenman said he felt at once sorrow and joy at the announcement of the position.

Eisenman and Gwathmey first met while the two were teaching at Princeton University in the 1960s. For a long time, their relationship remained strictly professional, Eisenman said, even after they began meeting weekly with three other acquaintances practicing architecture in New York City during the mid-’60s. But as the group gained prominence — eventually acquiring the nickname “The New York Five” coined by then-New York Times writer Paul Goldberger — he said the two also began to cultivate an exceptional friendship that would last through the decades.

Eisneman emphasized that the two had a relationship that was “very special”; as time passed, Eisenman said the two began depending on the other for advice on more than just their professional projects.

“We spent an immense amount of time together,” Eisenman said, recalling how the two would drive together from New York City to Yale in Gwathmey’s black SUV to teach classes. These drives, which started in the 1970s when Eisenman first began teaching at the School of Architecture, became a tradition that allowed them to talk about their theories, practices and lives — something the two rarely had the opportunity for in New York.

Eisenman is a practicing architect at his New York-based firm Eisenmen Architects, which designed the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. While the Charles Gwathmey professorship is only a five-year appointment, he said he will pursue a renewal of the position “for the rest of [his] life.”

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