Modern Designers

Gunnar Birkerts

Design Profession: Architect

Building Types: Commercial, Educational, Recreational, Religious, Residential

Gunnar Birkerts was born in Riga, Latvia, On January 17, 1925. The son of scholars and folklorists, Birkerts was surrounded by the history of his country from an early age. The stories his parents shared with him became a source of creative inspiration that influenced Birkerts' work throughout his career as both an architect and an educator.

Birkerts attended the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, Germany, where he earned degrees in architecture and engineering. It was during this time that he first became aware of the work of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. After graduating in 1949 he moved to Michigan to seek employment in the Saarinen office. He was hired by Saarinen in 1951 and was subsequently assigned to work on the General Motors Technical Center commission with Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and Robert Venturi. After leaving the Saarinen office, Birkerts worked for a short time with Minoru Yamasaki before partnering with Frank Straub in 1959 and starting his own firm, Gunnar Birkerts and Associates, in 1963.

Birkerts began teaching at the University of Michigan School of Architecture in 1959 and continued to do so until 1990. The year prior to his retirement, Birkerts was awarded the Distinguished Professor Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

Birkerts' work is signified by the use of dramatic, expressive shapes, innovative use of glass, and metal accents. Among his most acclaimed works are the Federal Reserve Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Corning Glass Museum in Corning, New York; and the Modern Art Museum of Houston, Texas. In Michigan his work includes the IBM office building in Southfield; the Livonia Public Library; the University of Michigan Law Library addition; the University Reformed Church and the Domino Farms in Ann Arbor; 1300 Lafayette in Detroit, part of the Lafayette Park housing complex originally designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; the buildings at Bald Mountain State Recreation Area in Lake Orion; and the Freeman Residence in Grand Rapids.

Birkerts is the recipient of fifty-eight major architectural awards including American Institute of Architects Fellow in 1970, American Academy of the Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981, and the Order of Three Stars from the Republic of Latvia in 1995.

Mr. Birkerts passed away on August 15, 2017.  He was 92.

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