Turning a Rearview Mirror on Kevin Roche


Few figures better illustrate the divide between how architects see the world and how the general public does than Kevin Roche. To many people, Mr. Roche’s buildings sum up everything that was wrong with modern architecture in the 1960s and ’70s, a period associated with hulking megastructures that seemed completely out of touch with what was once called “the human scale.” In this view, the recent demolition of his long-neglected New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a raw steel and concrete structure with a four-story parking garage on its roof, was a godsend, another nail in the coffin of an era best forgotten.

But a growing number of architects, especially those who were babies when Mr. Roche, now 88, was at the height of his powers, embrace him as a visionary. His blunt urban forms, conceived on the scale of bridges and freeways, suggest an appealing alternative to both commercial kitsch and the kind of flamboyance often used in contemporary architecture to sugarcoat the brutal effects of the global economy.

“Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment,” an exhibition at the Yale School of Architecture here, is the latest attempt to buff his image, and it makes a convincing case for the deep intelligence of much of his work, as well as for its raw power.

The New York Times