James Stewart Polshek, FAIA, passed away on September 9, 2022 at 92. The founder of Polshek Partnership (the precursor to Ennead Architects) and winner of the AIA Gold Medal, his work and career have left an indelible mark on the profession and on New York City.
Polshek grew up in Akron, Ohio. While he originally hoped to become a physician, an elective course at Case Western Reserve University inspired him to pursue a career in architecture. He transferred to Yale University, where he was a student of Louis Kahn’s. After graduating from Yale, he worked for I.M. Pei before founding his eponymous firm in 1963. His office was responsible for iconic New York City projects including the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, the renovation and expansion of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Standard Hotel. Following his retirement in 2005, the firm transitioned in 2010 to Ennead Architects.
Polshek also served as dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation from 1972 to 1987, during which time he led the school’s transformation, assembling an ideologically diverse faculty and developing a socially relevant curriculum and establishing the Temple Hoy
1984 Columbia class reunion. Photo: Courtesy Allen Swerdlowe.ne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.
In 2019, we were honored to host Polshek at the Center for Architecture for an animated conversation with Randy Cohen. Revisit the interview here.
– Columbia University GSAPP Class of 1984
“James Stewart Polshek was a guiding light in the world of architecture and urban design. Not so modest as dignified, he served as a beacon to those who believed in the social purpose of architecture and the important role played by the built environment. One of his less cited but in my mind emblematic projects, built in the 1980s, is the Washington Court apartments on 6th Avenue and Washington Place. Norval White and Elliot Willensky wrote about the project in their 2000 edition of AIA Guide to New York, noting: “A brilliantly conceived, designed, detailed, and executed Post Modern apartment house that captures the scale, the rhythms, and something of the accretive quality of many a Village street.” And this in a low-rise, high-density project over a subway line! I admired this building before knowing who designed it and it was my entre into the world of Polshek Partnership. Also little known is that in 2005 the City College of New York and the National Arts Club awarded Mr. Polshek the first George B. Post Award for Excellence in Architecture, noting that “in selecting Mr. Polshek for this honor, the award committee has chosen someone whose work truly embodies the public spirit of George Post’s career.” It is in this great spirit and tradition that the legacy of James Stewart Polshek will endure.”
– Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA, Distinguished Professor at the School of Architecture, CCNY