Jaquelin Taylor Robertson, Architect and Passionate Urbanist, Dies at 88

Jaquelin Taylor Robertson, an architect who grew up on a grand classical property in Virginia earlier than turning into considered one of New York’s most outstanding and impassioned advocates of city design, died on Saturday at his residence in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 88.

The trigger was Alzheimer’s illness, his spouse, Anya Robertson, stated.

The scion of an aristocratic Virginia household, Mr. Robertson designed a variety of buildings in a number of kinds, however he by no means misplaced his love of classicism, which he known as “the symbolic hard currency of architecture.”

“It’s gold in the bank,” he stated in a 1996 interview with Town & Country journal. “The other stuff is leveraged buyouts and soybean futures.”

Mr. Robertson first got here to public discover not as an architect of particular person buildings, nonetheless, however as one of many keen and formidable younger designers who clustered round John V. Lindsay when he was elected mayor of New York in 1965.

Mr. Robertson later served as the first director of the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development, whose projects included devising zoning provisions that allowed new skyscrapers to house a mix of offices, apartments, retail stores and, in the case of the theater district, new Broadway theaters.

To Mr. Robertson, there was no inconsistency between his love of grand classical architecture and his passionate belief in cities: It was all about finding ways to turn time-tested ideas to the benefit of modern life, and he would spend much of the rest of his career promoting better urban design.

“I think architects, having abrogated the role of designing cities, are to blame for the cities that we have, which are a real mess,” he said at a conference at the University of Virginia in 1982. “Architects must have in front of them some notion about the order of the whole, not just the parts.”

After a stint with the New York City Planning Commission, Mr. Robertson worked briefly for Arlen Realty in New York, helping to develop Olympic Tower in Midtown, one of the first mixed-use skyscrapers to emerge from the regulations he had shaped.

In 1975, he accepted an invitation from the shah of Iran to move to Tehran to design a new city, Shahestan Pahlavi, in which he sought to integrate elements of traditional Persian design into modern architecture. The project was never built — it was cut short with the fall of the shah in 1979 — and Mr. Robertson returned to the United States.

Over the next decade he divided his time between New York, where he established a practice in partnership with the architect Peter Eisenman, and Charlottesville, Va., where he served as dean of the architecture school at the University of Virginia. For years he resided on the university’s campus, which was designed by one of his heroes, Thomas Jefferson.

When he stepped down as dean in 1988 and returned to New York full time, he and Mr. Eisenman, a confirmed modernist, parted ways, and Mr. Robertson formed a new partnership with Alexander Cooper, his fellow Lindsay alumnus, to form Cooper Robertson and Partners. Now called Cooper Robertson, the firm continues to have a large national presence as a designer of schools, university buildings, civic structures and museums.

He also maintained a popular practice as an architect of private residences. He was known for designing houses for prominent clients that were both elaborate and understated and evocative of older structures without being directly imitative of them.

The house he designed for Mr. Rose in East Hampton won a national design award in 1991 from the American Institute of Architects; at the same time, another of Cooper Robertson’s projects, the design for Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan, won one of the institute’s urban design awards. Cooper Robertson was the first architecture firm to win national awards for both architecture and urban design in the same year.

Mr. Robertson was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture in 1998 and the Driehaus Prize, an international award for distinction in traditional architecture, in 2007.

Jaquelin Taylor Robertson was born in Richmond, Va., on March 20, 1933. He was named for his grandfather Jaquelin Taylor, who founded Universal Leaf Tobacco, now the Universal Corporation. His father, Walter S. Robertson, a diplomat, was John Foster Dulles’s assistant secretary of state in the 1950s and played a central role in shaping the Eisenhower administration’s anti-Communist China policy. His mother was Mary Dade (Taylor) Robertson.

Jaquelin’s childhood years were divided between Virginia and China, where his father served as a special envoy in the Foreign Service in the 1940s. The sprawling urbanity of Beijing would come to have as great an influence on Mr. Robertson as his family’s genteel estate in Virginia had.

“I am a child of two architectural settings,” he said years later, “one a provincial, rural, Anglo-American, Georgian-Palladian one, the other an exotic, foreign, imperial and highly cosmopolitan one.”

Mr. Robertson married Anya Sohn in 1964. In addition to her, he is survived by his sister, Catherine Claiborne.

Even when he returned to private practice, Mr. Robertson was reluctant to see architecture primarily through a commercial lens. Courtly and elegant in his dress, he reveled in the intellectual discourse of the academic side of the profession as much as the public discourse of the civic side.

In his Southern drawl, which he never lost, he would lecture real estate developers on their responsibility to build structures that would enrich the city and not just their own pocketbooks.

Mr. Robertson took issue with what he saw as his colleagues’ obsession with parochial concerns. He was struck, he wrote later, “by how cut off we as architects are from the world around us.”

“This seems particularly true of the ‘thinking architects,’” he wrote. “We don’t seem to understand very well yet how our society works or what our people want or need, and we are continually caught up in a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland situation of either giving answers to questions no one is asking or ignoring completely some of the more pressing and obvious problems.”

Jefferson remained a touchstone for him. “On the Sunday after the conference a small group of us made an early morning pilgrimage up to the ‘little mountain,’ Monticello,” he wrote, “and there, in the clear, cold air of the November morning, we were able to look out over what had been the wilderness promise of the New World and to experience again the mystery and power of the architectural statement — of the ‘built idea.’”

Source link Nytimes.com

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