Brutalist architect Ulrich Franzen dies at 91

Architect , outside the Alley Theatre, November 1968. Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.

German-born, New York-based architect Ulrich Franzen (1921-2012) was one of the most creative American architects in the second half of the twentieth century. As reported by the New York Times, Franzen died in his Sante Fe, New Mexico, home on October 6 at the age of 91.

A graduate of Williams College and the Harvard GSD (MArch’48), Franzen entered the world of architecture first as an understudy for I.M. Pei. In 1955, he established his own practice – Ulrich Franzen and Associates – in New York City and has since created distinguished contributions to to architecture, urban design and the theoretical and critical literature of design.

As a “subscriber to the form-follows-function credo”, Franzen’s work exemplified the Modernist style, reflected a dedication to social context, and favored “the use of powerful forms”. His work specialized in educational, corporate, and residential commissions.

Franzen himself stated, “Architecture is the servant of its time and significant designs are experiments of an era. The buildings that are designed become footprints of our own socio-cultural history, reflections of the ideas and concerns of an era, and not those of an individual.”

His first major solo project was the Brutalist style Alley Theater in Houston, which opened in 1968 for the city’s resident theater company. Other notable works include the high-profile world headquarters for the Philip Morris Companies (1982) in New York; the Harpers Ferry Center (1969) in West Virginia, designed for the National Park Service; the Harlem School of the Arts (1978) in New York; University Center at the University of Michigan (1981) in Flint; and the Champion International headquarters (1985) in Stamford, Connecticut.

Among Franzen’s numerous honors are the National Institute of Arts and Letters’ Arnold Brunner Prize, the New York AIA Chapter’s Louis Sullivan Award, the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Award, and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Williams College. Franzen was a frequent lecturer and served as a visiting professor at a number of universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia.

He is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren.

via The New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Preservation Nation

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Brutalist architect Ulrich Franzen dies at 91" 17 Oct 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 01 Apr 2015. <>
  • Frank Form

    Great human being. He will always be remember as a true humanitarian.

  • David Booth

    The origin of the word ‘Brutalism’ is not widely known, perhaps. It only relates to ‘brutal’ by proxy. The style, if one may (possibly wrongly) term it that, originated with two students of architecture at the Architecture School of Newcastle, UK, in the late ’50s, BRUTus and ALIson Smithson …. Hence BRUTALIsm.