NEW YORK — Charles Gwathmey ARC ’62, the modernist architect who tenderly restored the Art & Architecture Building as the capstone of his career, died Aug. 3 in Manhattan. He was 71.
The cause was esophageal cancer, Gwathmey’s stepson, Eric Steel, told The New York Times.
Gwathmey, a principal of the New York firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, is best known at Yale for shepherding through the herculean renovation and expansion of the decaying Art & Architecture Building, the masterpiece concrete behemoth on York Street that was designed by Gwathmey’s former teacher and lifelong friend, Paul Rudolph.
Gwathmey was among a breed of architects who seized upon the high modernist style of Le Corbusier, and he designed a number of well-known public buildings and museums, including the International Center of Photography in New York City and expansions to Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum and the Guggenheim Museum. He also was known for his work on lavish modern residences, for clients ranging from Jerry Seinfeld to Steven Spielberg.
But Gwathmey’s final major work, at Yale, stood out even in a career marked by high-profile projects. “The building has gone through hell,” Gwathmey said in an interview in February 2008. “But it’s an indestructible building, and we all love it and acknowledge its eccentricities.”
School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 called Gwathmey “one of the towering talents of his generation” at the ceremony in November renaming the Art & Architecture building as Paul Rudolph Hall and christening the addition Gwathmey designed. University President Richard Levin described Gwathmey as the most responsive architect he has ever worked with, calling him a “fabulous partner.”
Gwathmey said in a speech at the dedication that from the time he walked through the Yale campus with his father at the age of 11, he knew he wanted to be “a Yale man.” Although he was rejected by Yale College, Gwathmey was later accepted to the Yale School of Architecture, where he assisted Rudolph –then the school’s dean – as he designed the Art & Archistecture building.
“I love Yale and now I feel like a Yale man after all these years,” Gwathmey said.
Gwathmey said designing the addition — known as the Loria Center for the History of Art — was a “complex, challenging and humbling project.”
The building “both supported the new history of art program while revealing and enriching Rudolph’s building in both its original and new context,” he said, calling it “both an extension and a contextual bridge to the historic campus, simultaneously establishing its own presence.”
His wife, Bette-Ann Gwathmey, described the three-year project as a “wonderful journey” for her husband, albeit an intense one.
“The most difficult part was that Stern kept saying we had to finish it on time [for the 45th anniversary of Rudolph Hall] and Charles thought we couldn’t make it,” she said.
Indeed, Gwathmey made it on time. And although some critics derided his addition, the Loria Center for the History of Art, as uninspired, the praise for his restoration of Rudolph’s building was universal. At the dedication, architecture student Yasemin Tarhan ’09 said the building had finally been returned to its original glory, echoing an assessment that could be heard in conversations all around.
“The building was a diamond covered in mud,” Tarhan said. “Gwathmey scraped it clean.”
Harrison Korn contributed reporting.