Benjamin C. Thompson

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For other people named Benjamin Thompson, see Benjamin Thompson (disambiguation).

Benjamin C. Thompson (July 3, 1918 – August 21, 2002) was an American architect.

Early life[edit]

Thompson was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, graduated from Yale University in 1941, then spent four years in the United States Navy fighting in World War II. After the war he moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, where he participated in the design and creation of Six Moon Hill, a neighborhood of modern houses (his first wife Mary Okes Thompson lived in the Moon Hill Home through 2004).


Thompson began his career as an architect in 1946 when he helped persuade Walter Gropius to form The Architects' Collaborative along with six other colleagues in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Design Research[edit]

In 1953 he founded Design Research, a company that provided interior furnishings and accessories. Design Research is often noted today for being the first U.S. proprietor of the Finnish clothing and textiles of Marimekko. The firm eventually added stores in New York (1964) and San Francisco (1965). In 1969, he designed the company's revolutionary second Cambridge store, notable for its extreme openness and use of glass. In 1970 Ben lost financial control and ownership of Design Research, many years later, before Ben's death, that large financial loss was transferred back to his five biological children.

Practice and teaching[edit]

Thompson's interest in modernism was balanced by appreciation of older architecture. In the late 1950s, he renovated Harvard Yard's historic dormitories by updating their interior arrangements without visible exterior effect. Shortly thereafter he persuaded Harvard to remodel Boylston Hall (built 1857) rather than demolish it.

During those years, Thompson taught architecture at Harvard University, and served as Department Chairman 1964-1968. His 1966 essay, “Visual Squalor and Social Disorder,” argued for an urban architecture that would encourage, rather than discourage, joy and social life. To this end, in 1967 he proposed reviving Boston's historic markets with food stalls, cafes, restaurants, and pushcarts.

Thompson separated from the Collaborative in late 1966, and started his own firm, Benjamin Thompson and Associates (BTA) in 1967. His five-story, all-glass showcase for Design Research opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1968.

He is probably best known for a series of collaborations with the developer James W. Rouse, including the Faneuil Hall Marketplace (1976), Harborplace (1980), South Street Seaport (1985), Bayside Marketplace in Miami (1987), and Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida (1987).


Thompson received honorary doctorates from Colby College, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 1987 BTA received the AIA Firm Award and in 1992 Thompson received the highest honor in American architecture, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects.[1]


Personal life[edit]

Benjamin Thompson was first married to Mary Okes Thompson from 1942 to 1967. The Thompsons lived on a seven acre waterfront property in Barnstable Harbor MA that they purchased together in the mid-1950s. They had five children.

His second marriage was in 1969, to Jane Fiske McCullough, a writer and design critic, who handled his public relations and later became a collaborator on certain of his planning projects. Ben was Jane's fourth husband.

Thompson later moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he spent the rest of his life.


  1. ^ Branch, Mark Allen (January 1992). "Benjamin Thompson Wins AIA Gold Medal". Progressive Architecture 73 (1): 21. 

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