by AIA New York
Robert F. Gatje, FAIA, an architect who served as partner in the firms of two AIA Gold Medalists and whose work can be found in half a dozen countries, died on April 1, 2018 in New York City. The cause was a stroke, according to Susan R. Witter, his companion and partner of 35 years. Gatje worked with Marcel Breuer and Richard Meier, as well as at his own partnership, Gatje Papachristou Smith, during his 50-year career. He was best known for his role in the design of two monuments of French modern architecture, IBM’s La Gaude Research Center and the ski town Flaine, as well as his award-winning Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale. A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Gatje was the 1975 president of AIA New York.
As a student, Gatje broke academic records at Brooklyn Technical High School and Cornell University, where he received his B. Arch in 1951. Gatje was a Fulbright scholar at London’s Architectural Association School, president of Telluride Association, and a trustee of the New York Hall of Science and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. A long-time member of the Panel of Neutrals, American Arbitration Association, he was also a member of the Century Association. Gatje was author of Marcel Breuer: A Memoir and Great Public Squares: An Architect’s Selection.
A memorial service to honor Robert will take place at the All Souls Unitarian Church, 1157 Lexington Avenue, on May 15, 4:00 pm.
Peter Samton, FAIA, Director Emeritus, IBI Group ▪ Gruzen Samton
I first met Bob Gatje at Marcel Breuer’s office, which in those days was located right above Schrafft’s at the corner of 57th and Third Avenue.
Along with Ed Barnes and Phillip Johnson’s offices, it was, back in 1960, the place for a young ambitious architect to work in NYC.
Bob and several other partners ran the office. Breuer, or Lajos, pronounced ‘Laiko’, was clearly in charge of design, but he was always not easily understood, and was often away. Bob was the steady hand in the office, forever patient and always in good spirits. The staff of about 30 to 40 mostly young designers then, were always entering competitions and very conscious of new architecture.
I sat between Richard Meier and Paul Korelick, who went on to win the Dublin Library competition and then open his own office in London.
Together, Bob and Breuer made a great team. It became clear for us young architects, that architecture had many critical ingredients, and Bob was an eloquent spokesman for them all. While Breuer counted on him to follow through from design to construction, Bob himself had an excellent handle on design, with a strong passion for the visual product. His graphic work, as well as the several books he wrote on design, showed this.
Since then, after moving on in my own career, we remained the best of friends, as he did with so many others. He was always a bright and enduring light in the often competitive world of architecture. His friendships reached out to many outside our world of design; getting together for an evening in the Gatje/Witter household was always a broadening experience.