Charles Gwathmey, 71, an architect known for his influential modernist home designs and famous clients, died Aug. 3 in Manhattan. He had cancer.
The architect formed the firm of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates with Robert Siegel in 1968. Along with homes, their projects included a controversial overhaul and addition to New York's Guggenheim Museum and other museum designs.
Mr. Gwathmey's homes, many of them in Long Island's wealthy Hamptons area, are notable for their unorthodox geometrical designs and complex use of space. Gwathmey believed that even a relatively small home could be as important a work of architecture as a palace or skyscraper. One of his most famous was a modest dwelling he designed for his parents when he was in his 20s.
The Guggenheim Museum project, a remodeling of and addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's original, opened in 1992 after years of disputes and revisions. The first version of the design would have placed a boxy rectangular building beside and above Wright's cylindrical building. It was widely ridiculed, even likened to the shape of a toilet.
After the design was revised, the addition became less imposing. But it was the firm's changes to the interior, improving the experience for museum-goers, that drew the most praise. "The slab [addition] is a bland and only slightly annoying intrusion, while Gwathmey's intelligent, intricate, loving work inside is a revelation, making it a far, far better museum than it has ever been," Time magazine wrote.
The New York Times said the architects had restored Wright's vision and "now the glory of his joyous, sensual, intricate, mischievous and finally uplifting interior spaces can be perceived as never before."
\The firm also worked on the International Center of Photography in Manhattan and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., among other projects.
Mr. Gwathmey said he tried to make museum interiors as interesting as the works on display. "I think the experience is enriched by having both the architecture and what is exhibited strong," he told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose in 2000. "So I'm not one of these sort of 'background architecture' advocates for museums."
Mr. Gwathmey was born June 19, 1938, in Charlotte, N.C., the only child of painter Robert Gwathmey and his wife, Rosalie, a photographer. His parents were noted for their social consciousness; his father painted laborers and sharecroppers, and his mother took a notable series of photographs in the 1940s of Southern black communities. "My exposure to visual art all my life was intensive," Mr. Gwathmey told the Times in 1993. He recalled drawing lessons where he had to redo his work again and again, and a sabbatical in France where "we visited every cathedral and every chateau." He received a master's degree in architecture in 1962 from Yale University. One of his first design projects was a home for his parents, built in Amagansett, N.Y., in the mid-1960s. It brought wide notice to the young architect and helped launch his career.
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