Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) has been credited with opening a whole new era of skyscraper design with his first major design project in 1952, the 24-story Lever House in New York. Many consider it the keystone of establishing the International Style as corporate America's standard in architecture, at least through the 1970s. In recent years, it has been declared a historic landmark, New York's most contemporary structure to hold that distinction.
The late Lewis Mumford described Lever House in The New Yorker in glowing terms, "It says all that can be said, delicately, accurately, elegantly, with surfaces of glass, with ribs of steel...an impeccable achievement."
In reviewing the Johnson Library for The New York Times, Ada Louise Huxtable described it as a new form of memorial, saying, "Architecture as art and symbol is one of civilization's oldest games, and Mr. Bunshaft is one of its most dedicated players."
Gordon Bunshaft was born in 1909 in Buffalo, New York. He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his bachelor's degree in 1933 and his master's degree in 1935. Bunshaft was awarded both the MIT Honorary Traveling Fellowship and the Rotch Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to travel in Europe from 1935 until 1937. Upon his return to the United States he took a job in the New York with Edward Durell Stone. After a brief stint with Stone, he joined Louis Skidmore of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where he worked until 1942. One of his earliest assignments was to work on designs for some of the buildings for the New York World Fair of 1939. World War II intervened with Mr. Bunshaft serving in the Army Corps of Engineers and upon his return in 1946 he rejoined SOM, where he remained until 1979.
He was a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and served on the President's Commission of Fine Arts (1963-72). Bunshaft was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1958. He received the Brunner Memorial Prize, the Gold Medal from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1984), the Medal of Honor from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1988).
His last project before retiring from SOM was the National Commercial Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, completed in 1983. At three different levels, on each side of the building are loggias that Mr. Bunshaft called "gardens in the air." He acknowledged, "I think this is one of my best and most unique projects."