Benjamin Thompson (architect)
Thompson was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, spent early years on his family's farm, and received his early education at St. Paul Academy and Avon Old Farms School, a progressive school founded by architect Theodate Pope Riddle in Avon CT. His interest in architecture was nurtured by travels in Europe with his mother, an artist and art collector. In the fall of 1938 he entered the Yale School of Architecture, from which he earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1941. He served for four years in the United States Navy during World War II as a Lieutenant aboard a Destroyer Escort in the North Atlantic and Pacific theaters. He completed his service in the Office of Strategic Services, and provided design services at the United Nations founding conference in San Francisco.
Near the end of the war, Thompson's ship docked in Boston and he was introduced to Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School and then head of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. After the war, he moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, where he participated with Gropius and others 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 house through 2004.
In 1953, he founded Design Research in Cambridge, a company that provided interior furnishings and accessories. Design Research was the first U.S. importer and retailer 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, Thompson lost financial control and ownership of Design Research.
Practice and teaching
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 the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and served as Chairman of the Architecture Department 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.
As TAC grew, Thompson objected to the firm's acceptance of a number of large commissions, including the Pan Am Building, atop Grand Central Station, and the University of Baghdad project, for Iraq's military regime. He separated from TAC 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 (Boston, 1976), Harborplace (Baltimore, 1980), South Street Seaport (New York, 1985), Bayside Marketplace (Miami, 1987), and Jacksonville Landing (Jacksonville, 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.
- Google images
- Design Research Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Harborplace in Baltimore, Maryland
- South Street Seaport in New York, New York
- Bayside Marketplace in Miami, Florida
- Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida
- Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, Massachusetts
Benjamin Thompson was first married to Mary Okes Thompson from 1942 to 1967. The Thompsons lived in a house designed by him and built in 1949 on Moon Hill Road in Lexington, MA. They had five children. In 1959, they purchased a seven-acre waterfront property in Barnstable where the family spent summers together.
Thompson's 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. He was Jane's fourth husband. They lived in Cambridge and Barnstable. Ben died in 2002 in his Cambridge home.
- Benjamin Thompson, "Visual Squalor and Social Disorder—A New Vision of a City of Man" Architectural Record 145:4:161-164 (1969)
- Branch, Mark Allen (January 1992). "Benjamin Thompson Wins AIA Gold Medal". Progressive Architecture. 73 (1): 21.
- "Ben Thompson", Architecture Boston, Spring 2011 issue, Boston Society of Architects. Issue is dedicated entirely to Ben Thompson with articles by various authors.
- Dunlap, David W., "Benjamin C. Thompson, 84, Architect Of Festive Urban Marketplaces, Is Dead", The New York Times, August 20, 2002