Day 309/365 of Steel – James Stewart Polshek

A Quiet giant of modern Architecture.

James Stewart Polshek (b. 11 Feb. 1930 – d. 9 Sept. 2022) Polshek went to Yale in 1950, studied under Louis Kahn and graduated five years later with a Master of Architecture. After graduating, he went to work for I.M. Pei and Ulrich Franzen.

Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas
Fig 1: Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas
Photo: courtesy of the Clinton Foundation.

In 1963 he started his own firm, devoting himself to public buildings, ranging from the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Museum of Natural History in New York to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas
Fig 2: Clinton Presidential Center in Arkansas
Photo: Toniklemm

A contemporary of Richard Meier and Frank Gehry, Polshek is rarely mentioned in the same breath as these global ‘starchitects.’” Yet , unlike his high-profile peers, Polshek was willing to adapt to the needs of an unusual range of clients. And if his work never quite hit the aesthetic highs of some of his contemporaries, it also avoided their tendency to produce franchise-like variations on familiar themes.

Rose Center for Earth and Space, New York (United States)
Fig 3: Rose Center for Earth and Space, New York (United States)

Polshek avoided specialization. While completing the Clinton Library (2004) he began working on the Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant in Brooklyn (2014). The library hovers like a bridge next to the Arkansas River, while the sewage treatment plant drops towering, reflective silver “eggs,” as beautiful as onion domes, into a low-rise neighborhood.

Santa Fe Opera, located 7 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Fig 4: Santa Fe Opera, located 7 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Rose Center (2000) wraps the sphere of a planetarium inside a brilliant glass cube. He could also create excitement on a modest budget: working with industrial materials, he gave the New York Times printing plant in Queens (2001) panache with bright colors, over-scaled windows and supergraphics.

Source: Architectural Record.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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