Rafael Viñoly, global architect of landmark buildings, dies at 78

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Rafael Viñoly, global architect of landmark buildings, dies at 78
The architect Rafael Viñoly, center, discusses his team’s plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site with reporters in New York, Jan. 1, 2003. Viñoly, a Uruguayan-born architect whose New York-based firm was responsible for major commercial and cultural buildings in nearly a dozen countries, died on Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Manhattan. He was 78. (Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times)

by Fred A. Bernstein

NEW YORK, NY.- Rafael Viñoly, a Uruguayan-born architect whose New York-based firm was responsible for major commercial and cultural buildings in nearly a dozen countries, died Thursday in Manhattan. He was 78.

His death, at a hospital, was caused by an aneurysm, according to his son, Roman, who is a director at the firm.

Viñoly was not known for a particular style, but he did have a penchant for enclosing large spaces under glass, creating luminous interior courtyards.

In New York, he may have been best known for 432 Park Ave., a condo tower that, at nearly 1,400 feet, was briefly the tallest residential building in the world. Its gridded exterior has been praised by critics for its restrained elegance.

But residents, some of whom paid tens of millions of dollars for their apartments, have complained of creaking, banging and clicking noises and a trash chute “that sounds like a bomb,” one said, when garbage descends. The swaying of the building left a resident trapped in an elevator for more than an hour. The problems have fueled a stream of reports, including one on the front page of The New York Times, on the travails of owning such superluxury properties.

Viñoly was at once a 24/7 architecture geek and a bon vivant who employed a cook who studied at Le Cordon Bleu. He wore multiple pairs of black-framed glasses around his neck so that he always had the right pair with him, and he was ready to sketch the most arcane architectural details.

He was also a classically trained pianist who gave recitals in a music pavilion on his property in Water Mill, New York, on Long Island. In 2011, he told the Times that he owned nine pianos, including one that he helped develop, with a curved keyboard making the highest and lowest notes easier to reach.

“Not many people thought the piano needed to be reinvented,” said architect David Rockwell, who worked with Viñoly on several projects. “He was voraciously curious.”

After the World Trade Center towers in New York were destroyed in 2001, Viñoly and architect Frederic Schwartz helped form the Think Team, which took an innovative approach to reconstituting the 16 acres of ground zero. Its key proposal was for a new pair of twin towers to be built as skeletons, vast filigree structures into which cultural buildings would be inserted over time.

The proposal was the first choice of the committee convened to pick a scheme for rebuilding the World Trade Center, but its decision was overturned by Gov. George Pataki, who chose a scheme by Daniel Libeskind.

In New York, Viñoly was responsible for the snazzy home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, overlooking Columbus Circle, and the conversion of a historic high school into the campus of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

His other U.S. projects included a football stadium at Princeton University. In Philadelphia, his Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts placed several auditoriums under a vast, vaulted glass roof. He designed a large extension to the Cleveland Museum of Art and convention centers in Pittsburgh and Boston.

His building for the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago includes a huge atrium under glass and a roof that descends almost to the ground, across the street from Frank Lloyd Wright’s low-slung Frederick C. Robie House.

His most acclaimed building was the Tokyo International Forum, a convention center that resembled, in part, a ship inverted under glass. When it opened in 1997, Herbert Muschamp, then the architecture critic of the Times, called it “lucid, whole and completely straightforward, qualities that have not enjoyed wide favor in architecture for some time.”

Rafael Viñoly was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, on June 1, 1944, to Román Viñoly Barreto, a film and theater director, and Maria Beceiro, a math teacher. He studied architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, but even before graduating he had founded what became one of Argentina’s largest architecture firms. In 1978, he obtained a teaching position at Harvard University and moved his family to the United States.

The following year they settled in New York, where he founded Rafael Viñoly Architects in 1983.

In addition to his son, survivors include Viñoly’s wife, Diana, an interior designer; his stepsons Nicolas and Lucas Michael; a granddaughter, and three step-grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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