Archival Collections
Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library

Gordon Bunshaft architectural drawings and papers, 1909-1990 bulk 1950-1979 

Creator: 
Bunshaft, Gordon, 1909-1990
Phys. Desc: 
20 linear feet
Location: 
Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

GORDON BUNSHAFT (1909-1990) Gordon Bunshaft received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), and was awarded the Rotch Travelling Scholarship shortly after graduation in 1935. Bunshaft used his scholarship to travel through Europe, where he sketched and photographed many sites of architectural significance. After a brief period at the office of Edward Durrell Stone, Bunshaft joined the New York office of the young architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in 1937. With the onset of the Second World War, Bunshaft took a leave of absence between 1942 and 1946 to serve in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In 1943, Bunshaft married Nina Wayler, an actress originally from the Los Angeles area. After World War II, SOM was to become one of the most influential architecture, planning, and design firms in the United States. Bunshaft was named a partner in SOM in 1949, directing the New York office until his retirement in 1979. Bunshaft's impact on American architecture was largely in the arena of large-scale corporate architecture. In 1952, he completed the design of Lever House in New York City, a landmark of Post-War International Style glass curtain-wall skyscrapers. Among his other noted designs are the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City; Connecticut General Headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut; the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas; and the National Commercial Bank and Haj Terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Bunshaft also received many awards, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the American Institute of Architects’ Medal of Honor and election to the College of Fellows, and the National Institute of Arts and Letter's first prize in architecture (Arnold W. Brunner Memorial). Bunshaft and his wife Nina were also passionate art collectors, maintaining long-standing friendships with such notable artists as Henry Moore and Jean Dubuffet, and collecting various works of modern and “ancient” art throughout their travels. Additionally, through SOM’s work with corporate modernist architecture, Bunshaft worked to incorporate modern art into the public spaces of these projects, often using artists like Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, and Isamu Noguchi. Such an interaction between art and architecture can be seen most notably between Noguchi’s cube and the Marine Midland Bank Building in Manhattan. Bunshaft also served as a member of the Fine Arts Commission in Washington, D.C. and as a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Bunshaft died in New York City in 1990. NINA ELIZABETH (WAYLER) BUNSHAFT (1914-1994) Nina Bunshaft was born in Connecticut in 1914 to Russian parents. By the late 1920s they had relocated to California, settling in the Los Angeles area. As an adult, Nina was a dancer and briefly pursued a career as an actress. She is known to have had a small part in the 1942 film Four Jacks and a Jill. In 1943, after choosing not to continue to pursue an acting career, Nina married Gordon Bunshaft. In regards to this collection, Nina Bunshaft played an active role in the formation of the Bunshafts’ art collection. Their numerous international travels were a source of inspiration for their collection that reflects not only an interest with modern art but also with older, “ancient” artifacts from Asia and Africa. Their home in East Hampton was intended to showcase their collection and allow for the intimate enjoyment of the objects that they curated. Yet, it was not merely a place to exhibit works by renowned artists, it was also a place where Nina could pursue her own amateur painting and sculpture work. Her small, painted stone sculptures can be seen in Gordon’s personal snapshots of the home and garden, and her brightly colored paintings are visible in snapshots of the home’s interior. Following Nina Bunshaft’s death in 1994, their substantial art collection, which included a number of works by Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Joan Miró, and Jean Dubuffet, was given to the Museum of Modern Art. In addition, their East Hampton home was sold and the proceeds established an endowment, the Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Fund, for the acquisition of new works to the museum’s collection.

Scope and Contents

Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) was an American architect who, as a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, had a significant impact on large-scale corporate architecture. His projects include such significant urban office towers as the Lever House in midtown Manhattan, as well as modern office campuses set in natural landscapes, including such examples as the American Can Company in Greenwich, Connecticut or the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Additionally, his interest in art caused him to actively integrate work by well-known modern artists into the public plazas and interiors of SOM’s projects. The professional aspects of this collection can be found in clippings, project photography, oral history records, and publications, however, the majority of the collection is personal and reflects the life of Gordon and his wife Nina Bunshaft. Through correspondence, snapshots, objects, and personal papers the collection focuses on the Bunshafts’ friends, their travels, and their impressive art collection of both modern and ancient sculptures and paintings. *This finding aid replaces the former finding aid created in 1993-1994 by Mary L. Ferranti as part of the ʺModern Masters Project,ʺ funded by an HEA Title II‐C grant. The previous finding aid described the papers from the first donation only and has been superseded by this current finding aid. For material referenced in this former finding aid, please consult this downloadable conversion chart to locate the material in its current arrangement.* . This collection contains correspondence, photographs, clippings, postcards, newsletters, publications, student and architectural drawings, oral history records, and objects mainly related to Gordon Bunshaft's projects and activities while employed as a partner in the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The dates of the material span 1909-1990, with bulk dates of 1950-1989. Most of the information regarding Bunshaft's architectural projects is in the form of photographs and clippings. A large amount of material covers Nina and Gordon Bunshaft’s personal life, including correspondence with family and friends, as well as photographs and documentation of their East Hampton home, extensive travels, and substantial art collection. The collection consists of two distinct donations, the first in the late 1980s by Gordon Bunshaft, and the second by the estate of Nina Bunshaft, following her death in 1994. The addition of the second donation has expanded the scope of the collection to include a more personal perspective, and benefits from the addition of material relating to the Bunshafts’ art collection. Series I: Correspondence Arranged alphabetically by last name of correspondent, following a “general” collection of letters from various correspondents that are grouped by date and sorted chronologically. Material is generally of a more personal nature, only cursorily professional, and consists primarily of letters, but includes occasional photographs, postcards, drawings, and clippings. Letters from Jean Dubuffet are typically in French; however, translations are included from Gordon Bunshaft’s records. Series II: Clippings Arranged alphabetically. An additional collection of magazines containing articles about Bunshaft’s projects, SOM, and other architectural topics is arranged chronologically, with the exception of oversize material, which is stored separately. A bibliography (attached) lists the relevant articles in each issue. Series III: Photographs The series is divided into five subseries. Subseries 1: Projects is arranged chronologically by project date. While most photos are of the interior and exterior of the buildings upon their completion, the subseries also includes a number of reproductions of plans and sections for most projects. A large quantity of the photographs were taken by the prominent architectural photographer Ezra Stoller, who had a long relationship with SOM. Yet, many other photographers were also used to document these structures and include Joseph W. Molitor and Hedrich-Blessing Photographers. See Subseries: Bound Collections for additional material on select projects. Subseries 2: Life & Activities consists of photographs of Gordon Bunshaft, both in private life and as an architect. Reflecting the more personal nature of this collection, the subseries is arranged with portraits of Gordon and Nina at the beginning of this section, followed by personal photos of Bunshaft’s childhood, family, and early life (through his discharge from the military in 1946). The rest of the subseries is arranged strictly alphabetically. Of particular interest is a family photo album of Nina and Gordon, beginning with both of their childhoods and continuing through the late 1980s; most photos are labelled and dated. In contrast to Life & Activities, Subseries 3: Personal Snapshots consists of photos typically taken by Gordon Bunshaft on his travels and at home. This collection of photographs has been kept in original order and titles and names supplied by Bunshaft are in quotes. Subseries 4: Rotch Travelling Scholarship consists of a small collection of photographs, arranged alphabetically, taken by Bunshaft while in Europe from 1935-1936 on his Rotch Traveling Scholarship. More material from this period can be found in Series X. Drawings, and Series IV. Personal Papers, Subseries: Travel. Subseries 5: Bound Collections contains a small number of bound photography albums that relate to specific projects. Series IV: Personal Papers Consists of the most diverse range of material, including artwork, personal documents, ephemera, correspondence, photographs, certificates and awards, stationary, drawings, travel diaries, postcards, sketches, and a world map. The series includes three subseries. Subseries 1: General consists of such traditional material such as identification documents, address books, appointment diaries, and death records, but also includes more miscellaneous personal effects such as brochures and event invitations, a limited number of professional materials relating to SOM, sketches and notes from artists, and some limited drawings of the Bunshafts’ apartment in New York City and their home in East Hampton. Subseries 2: Accolades & Recognition focuses on third party recognition of Gordon Bunshaft’s career. The subseries consists almost entirely of awards and certificates recognizing his accomplishments in the field of architecture, but also includes documents regarding his official registration as an architect. See Series IX: Objects for medals received by Bunshaft. Subseries 3: Travel covers Bunshaft’s experience abroad during the Rotch Traveling Fellowship (1935-1936) through his diary, sketches, and map, but also includes the numerous international trips taken throughout his life for SOM partners meetings, work, and leisure. The subseries consists of travel plans and itineraries for Nina and Gordon’s international trips, a large quantity of menus from their international travels and domestic travels (including invitations to and menus from the White House). A number of appointment diaries detail Gordon’s movements and expenses while he was abroad, and an extensive postcard collection is believed to date in bulk from his year on the Rotch trip, but appears to have been added to over the following years as well. Series V: Art Collection The series provides a detailed look at the creation and changing shape of the Bunshafts’ art collection. Most importantly, this series includes a ledger book and a photo album that are cross referenced and document each piece acquired, purchased, sold, or donated. Additionally, the collection contains correspondence, receipts, photographs, clippings, brochures, and a legal agreement. Series VI: Publications Consists of published volumes that reflect the work of Gordon Bunshaft or of SOM more generally. The series also contains a video cassette tape created by SOM on their fiftieth anniversary. Series VII: SOM News Contains a large number of SOM News publications that were bound into four volumes by Gordon Bunshaft and cover 1953-1970 (with some gaps). Series VIII: Oral History Consists of audio cassette tapes, transcriptions of interviews for SOM, and a phonograph record. The topic is primarily architectural, although one resource focuses on Bunshaft’s appointment to the Fine Arts Commission. Series IX: Objects Consists of a number of medals and paperweights received by Bunshaft, as well as a lighter, his pipe, his briefcase, a carved scrimshaw (whale’s tooth), and a sculpture by Nina Bunshaft. Series X: Drawings The series is limited in scope to projects undertaken by Gordon Bunshaft personally (such as his private residence), as well as his work as a student and a Rotch Scholar. Of interest is a plan drawing by Bunshaft at age 12.

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