Kevin Roche, the prominent Dublin-born, American architect who brought his modernist style to many significant buildings, passed away on Friday, March 1, at his home in Guilford, Connecticut, at the age of 96.
Though he was a soft-spoken man, his work spoke for itself, broadcasting to the whole city his confidence and talent. His bold, innovative buildings include the J.P. Morgan Bank headquarters on Wall Street, the expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the skyscrapers of United Nations Plaza, the redesign of the Central Park Zoo, and the Ford Foundation headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, to name a few.
Roche was raised in Mitchelstown, County Cork, and graduated from University College Dublin in 1945. In 1948 he left Ireland for graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In 1950 he joined Eero Saarinen and Associates, where he met his future architectural partner, John Dinkeloo, as well as his partner in life, his wife Jane. In 1966, after Saarinen’s death, Roche and Dinkeloo formed Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC and completed 12 major unfinished Saarinen projects, including St. Louis’ famous Gateway Arch.
In 1982, Roche became one of the first recipients of the Pritzker Prize, the highest architectural honor, generally regarded as architecture’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. In 2017 Irish filmmaker Mark Noonan released a feature documentary entitled Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect. Roche was interviewed by Irish America in 1989, and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. His remarks on his induction were used in Noonan’s documentary.
The New York Times called Roche “one of the rare architects who was admired and trusted by corporate executives, museum boards, and government officials, who allowed him wide leeway in expressing his restless formal imagination.”
In a true testament to Roche’s character, he befriended his critic, Yale architecture historian Vincent Scully, who once criticized Roche’s New Haven buildings for exuding a “paramilitary dandyism.” Roche even was one of the people to eulogize Scully at his memorial service in 2017.
In his Pritzker acceptance speech Roche asked, “Is not the act of building an act of faith in the future, and of hope?” Indeed, it is. He is survived by his wife Jane, five children, and 15 grandchildren. ♦ Maggie Holland
Click here to read Roche’s profile in Irish America from 2012, when he was inducted into our Hall of Fame.