Gunnar Birkerts

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Gunnar Birkerts
Born(1925-01-17)January 17, 1925
DiedAugust 15, 2017(2017-08-15) (aged 92)
Needham, Massachusetts, United States
Alma materTechnische Hochschule, Stuttgart
ChildrenSven Birkerts
AwardsFellow of the AIA
PracticeBirkerts and Straub, Birkerts and Associates
BuildingsCorning Fire Station, Corning Museum of Glass, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, National Library of Latvia
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, 1992–1994.
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 1973, (now: Marquette Plaza), in its original configuration.

Gunnar Birkerts (Latvian: Gunārs Birkerts, January 17, 1925 – August 15, 2017) was a Latvian American architect who, for most of his career, was based in the metropolitan area of Detroit, Michigan.

Some of his designs include the Corning Museum of Glass and the Corning Fire Station in Corning, New York, Marquette Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.

In 2014, the National Library of Latvia in Riga was completed to his design.[1]

The Corning fire station facade and floor plan. The building has a strict form where small vehicles are placed in the narrow portion at the tip. All function spaces have been baked into the base of the triangle, such as changing rooms, storage room, dining room, dormitory and office, where all rooms are accessed via a wide corridor.[2]


Birkerts was born and raised in Latvia but fled ahead of the advancing Russian army toward the end of the Second World War. He graduated from the Technische Hochschule, Stuttgart, Germany, in 1949. Birkerts came to the United States and worked initially for Perkins and Will, then for Eero Saarinen, and finally for Minoru Yamasaki before opening his own office in the Detroit suburbs.

Birkerts initially practiced in the partnership Birkerts and Straub; after that partnership broke up the firm became Gunnar Birkerts and Associates. The firm received Honor Awards for its projects from the (national) American Institute of Architects in 1962, 1970, 1973, as well as numerous awards from the Michigan Society of Architects and the local chapter.

Birkerts joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1959 and taught until 1990. The ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) honored Birkerts with the ACSA Distinguished Professor Award in 1989–90.

Gunnar Birkerts was selected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1970, and a Fellow of the Latvian Architect Association in 1971. He was the recipient of numerous individual awards including a 1971 fellowship from the Graham Foundation, the Gold Medal of the Michigan Society of Architects in 1980, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981, and the 1993 Michigan Artist of the Year award. He received an honorary doctorate from Riga Technical University in 1990, the Order of the Three Stars from the Republic of Latvia in 1995 and the Great Medal of the Latvian Academy of Sciences in 2000.

Birkerts maintained an architectural office in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

His son is noted literary critic Sven Birkerts. His daughter Andra is an interior designer specializing in residential work.

Birkerts was an honorary professor at The University of Illinois and was the Architect-In-Residence at the American Academy in Rome. He also was a member of the Latvian Union of Architects, honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the Riga Technical University.

Birkerts was commissioned in 1989 to design the new building for the National Library of Latvia in Riga, Latvia. Also known as the Castle of Light, with an architectural form that references and draws inspiration from Latvian folklore, it was constructed over the period 2008 to 2014.[1]

Birkerts built a number of notable buildings in the United States including the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, Corning Glass Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the University of Iowa College of Law, the Duluth Public Library in Duluth, Minnesota,[3] and the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela.

Birkerts received several awards for his architectural work, notably the Arnold V. Brunner Memorial Prize, Michigan Arts Award, awards by the Michigan Union of Architects, the American Union of Architects in Detroit and student organization Tau Sigma Delta.

Birkerts died at the age of 92 on August 15, 2017 in Needham, Massachusetts of congestive heart failure.[4][5]

Architectural work[edit]


Eero Saarinen

Minoru Yamasaki

Personal Work

  • Cultural Center, Leopoldville, Belgian Congo, 1958
  • Technical University, Ankara, Turkey 1959

Work Done while Faculty at The University of Michigan (Birkerts & Straub, Birkerts & Associates)

Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan


  • Birkerts, Gunnar, Gunnar Birkerts – Metaphoric Modernist, Axel Menges, Stuttgart, Germany 2009; ISBN 978-3-936681-26-0
  • Birkerts, Gunnar, Process and Expression in Architectural Form, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1994; ISBN 0-8061-2642-6
  • Birkerts, Gunnar, Subterranean Urban Systems, Industrial Development Division-Institute of Science and Technology, University of Michigan 1974
  • Kaiser, Kay, The Architecture of Gunnar Birkerts, American Institute of Architects Press, Washington DC 1989; ISBN 1-55835-051-9
  • Martin, William, Gunnar Birkerts and Associates (Yukio Futagawa, editor and photographer), A.D.A. Edita (GA Architect), Tokyo 1982
  • Gunnar Birkerts & Associates, IBM Information Systems Center, Sterling Forest, N.Y., 1972; Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1973 (Yukio Futagawa, editor and photographer), A.D.A. EDITA (GA Architecture), Tokyo 1974


  1. ^ a b "Thousands attend National Library's open house celebrations". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. 16 June 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  2. ^ "CHALMERS BIBLIOTEK /All Locations". Retrieved 2014-01-24.
  3. ^ Fallows, Deborah. "A Field Trip to America's Public Libraries". Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  4. ^ Kamin, Blair. "Gunnar Birkerts, acclaimed Midwestern architect, dies at 92". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  5. ^ "National Library architect Gunārs Birkerts dies at 92". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. 15 August 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2017.

External links[edit]