Sunday, August 9, 2015

Noted Architect Fred B. Bookhardt 1934 - 2015


What do you say in response to the passing of someone who not only disliked funerals, but also memorial services or even obituaries? In fact, there have been those among us who were so charismatic, who made such lasting impressions on all they met and whose departure leaves such a void that their passing cannot go unremarked upon because, despite their own "gentle journey into the good night," it is the rest of us who are left to "rage against the dying of the light."  

What can you say about one so paradoxical, so mentally ambidextrous that he was equally talented at visual art, math and design as well as the spoken word through his sharp wit and gifts as a raconteur. An artist by instinct, Fred Barringer Bookhardt began drawing and painting as a child and by his late teens was creating convincing knock-offs of Degas and Picasso pastels. He could have made a mint as an art forger, but studied architecture, first at Tulane in his native New Orleans and then at U. of  Pennsylvania under the great 20th century maestro, Louis Kahn, whose words and maxims seemed to guide his life as much for their intrinsic philosophical merit as for their professional verities. But it was the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell who perhaps inspired him the most, as much for his rhetorical analytical ability to cut to the quick as for his robust contributions to mathematics, physics and symbolic logic. He appreciated Russell's skill at crafting logical sequences of words into something akin to Zen riddles, and while never religious in the formal sense, he had an intuitive understanding of the infinite ether that lies just beyond every syllogism taken to its logical conclusion, even as he continued to pursue his art work in the form of collages that distilled visual poetry from the banalities and mysteries of the world around us. He was utterly fearless in his final hours, as if he saw the vast, expansive cosmos as a serene homeland with which he would soon be reunited. He was one of a kind, and this bountiful blue, green and umber planet seems less vibrant with his passing.


As an architect, his clients ranged from Henry Mancini and certain members of the Kennedy clan to Anwar Sadat and the government of Egypt, and while he managed to create surprisingly stylish structures for such stolid clients as the New Haven courts, he was best known for his design of the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Minerals and Gems (above), which proved that intricately detailed, high-style design can be a crowd pleaser for visitors of all ages.  More: Finding the Essence: An Interview with Fred Bookhardt by Amy Mackie (Pelican Bomb).