Green architect creating eco-friendly buildings was ahead of his time

Kevin Roche was creating eco-friendly buildings long before they became the norm, says Eve Kelliher.

Green architect creating eco-friendly buildings was ahead of his time

Kevin Roche was creating eco-friendly buildings long before they became the norm, says Eve Kelliher.

He was a prizewinning architect who was still working well into his 90s.

But although Irish-American Kevin Roche reached the pinnacle of his profession, he eschewed the label “starchitect” and was regarded as something of an enigma.

Born in Dublin, Roche was raised in Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

He passed away on March 1, 2019, in his home in Guilford, Connecticut (US), at the age of 96, after producing a lifetime of acclaimed work that included the Ford Foundation and Oakland Museum of California.

Kevin Roche’s architectural philosophy focused on creating “a community for a modern society” and he has been credited with creating green buildings long before they became part of the public consciousness.

Despite his impressive portfolio — which included 40 years designing new galleries for The Met in New York — the Pritzker Prize winner had no intention of ever retiring.

His road to fame began in Ireland. He graduated from UCD in 1945 and worked for two years for Michael Scott where he contributed to the distinctive design of Busaras. After more than 60 years in the USA, his only Irish project, the Convention Centre Dublin, opened in 2010.

Made in association with the Irish Film Board and the Ford Foundation, Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect will be screened on Tuesday, March 19, at 11.10pm on RTÉ One.

The production details how Kevin’s father Eamon Roche, after being imprisoned during the Civil War, turned his back on politics and became a prominent local businessman. In fact, one of Kevin Roche’s first architecture projects was to design a piggery for his father.

he interior of the Ford Foundation.
he interior of the Ford Foundation.

After short spells working for Michael Scott in Dublin and Maxwell Fry in London, he completed postgraduate studies under Mies Van der Rohe at the prestigious Illinois Institute of Technology.

He has won innumerable awards for his designs of over 300 major buildings around the world, among them the Pritzker Prize in 1982 (the highest honour given to a living architect), the American Institute of Architects – Gold Medal Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters – Gold Medal Award for Architecture, and the French Academie d’Architecture – Grand Gold Medal.

Some of his best-known work includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which he worked on for almost 50 years, the Ford Foundation and United Nations Plaza in Manhattan, A Center For the Arts at the Wesleyan University, corporate campuses for Bouygues in Paris and Banco Santander in Madrid.

His work has been featured in every major international architectural journal. Roche has been described by New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger as “a brilliantly innovative designer; his work manages to be inventive without ever falling into the trap of excessive theatricality”.

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