Looking Backward: Gordon Bunshaft, 1962

by / Jul. 11, 2017 11pm EST
“The biggest job of an architect in doing a museum is to leave out his personality. Nothing should distract from the art.” —Gordon Bunshaft, Buffalo Evening News, January 19, 1962
Gordon Bunshaft, 1909-1990, is the most acclaimed architect to ever call Buffalo home. A giant of the modernist movement in architecture, Bunshaft was born in Buffalo to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, attended School 45 and Lafayette High School, and secured his architecture degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1935. A modernist in the tradition of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, he is perhaps best known as the designer—with architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—of Lever House in New York (1951), the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University (1963), and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC (1974). Back home in Buffalo, Bunshaft designed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s 1962 annex, described at its opening by Japanese architect Kenzō Tange as “the most beautiful building in the world for an art museum.” When he died in 1990, a New York Times obituary stated that Bunshaft “was exceptionally proud of one of his smallest buildings, a new wing added in 1962 to the classically styled Albright-Knox Gallery of Art in Buffalo, his hometown. The addition was typical of Mr. Bunshaft’s stylistic leanings: he made no attempt to echo the classical style of the original museum, but instead set a simple, exceptionally elegant glass-and-marble box gently beside it.” Bunshaft is now buried at the Temple Beth El cemetery—the gravestone he designed himself—on Pine Ridge Road. His 1962 wing is now threatened with demolition at the hands of the gallery that once commissioned him as architect.