Kevin Roche, the 1982 recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, is no stranger to awards and praise. With good reason, since the body of work accomplished by him, and with his partner of 20 years, John Dinkeloo, who died in 1981, is truly prolific.
Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1922, Roche received his undergraduate degree in architecture from the National University of Dublin in 1945. He continued his studies in the United States in 1948 with Mies van der Rohe at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, but left after only one semester. His search for the humanist side of architecture led him to the office Eliel and Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His future partner, John Dinkeloo, joined the firm in 1951, shortly after Roche. From 1954 until Eero Saarinen's death in 1961, Roche was his principal associate in design.
Upon Saarinen’s death, Roche and Dinkeloo completed the ten major projects underway, including the St. Louis Arch, the TWA Terminal at JFK International Airport in New York, Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., Deere and Company Headquarters in Moline, Illinois, and the CBS Headquarters in New York.
Roche's first design after Saarinen's death was the Oakland Museum. The city was planning a monumental building to house natural history, technology and art. Roche gave them a unique concept, a building that is a series of low-level concrete structures covering a four block area, on three levels, the terrace of each level forming the roof of the one below—a museum (actually three museums) with a park on its roof. This kind of innovative solution became Roche's trademark.
In Contemporary Architects, C. Ray Smith wrote that Roche "demonstrates a kind of problem solving for each specific situation that has produced works of distinct individuality and stylistic variety from project to project." And further, he called Roche and Dinkeloo, "The most aesthetically daring and innovative American firm of architects now working in the realm of governmental, educational and corporate clients."
Roche firmly believes that architecture should not fall into a rigid mold. There have been a number of attempts to label or categorize his work—all of which he rejects.
Speaking of his recent corporate headquarters for General Foods, in Rye, New York, Roche says, "It is not post-modern or pre-modern. It is simply the most obvious thing I could have done. It is an important center of economic activity. The design began with a need, and it addresses the problem of accommodating office workers in a suitable environment. I think the public will identify with it."
Among Roche's acclaimed designs is the Ford Foundation in New York City. The structure is of glass, rust-colored steel and warm brown granite, providing offices around a spacious 12-story atrium. In all, Roche has been responsible for some 51 major projects over the past twenty years. Critic Paul Goldberger described Roche as "a brilliantly innovative designer; his work manages to be inventive without ever falling into the trap of excessive theatricality."
One of his early honors was the California Governor's Award for Excellence in Design; a similar award came from New York State. There have been honorary degrees—one in 1977 from the National University of Ireland where he had completed his undergraduate studies and another from Wesleyan University. The American Institute of Architects—New York Chapter recognized him with the 1968 Medal of Honor, and in 1974 Roche and Dinkeloo received the national AIA Architectural Firm of the Year Award. The French Académie d'Architecture presented him with their Grand Gold Medal in 1977, and elected him a member in 1979.