Glass, Steel, and Stone Bend Toward Humanity in ‘Gesture and Response’

Architect William Pedersen, FAIA, Investigates 25 Key Works of KPF Architects

Gesture and Response is a “design autobiography” by William Pedersen, FAIA, FAAR. The book documents 25 high-profile buildings in the architect’s own words. Photos courtesy of ORO Editions and KPF Associates.

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“Tall buildings have anthropomorphic characteristics that encourage me to think of them as human participants in the city,” writes William Pedersen, FAIA, in the introduction to Gesture and Response. Within this new book of 25 of Pedersen’s designs, the reader will immediately see how buildings and cities continually reach out and react to each other.

Pedersen—co-founder with A. Eugene Kohn, FAIA, and Sheldon Fox, FAIA, of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF)—selected these designs as emblematic of his architectural aspirations, contextual concerns, and material manifestations. He shows how monumental buildings made from hard glass, stone, and steel can exist at a gentle human scale.

From 333 Wacker Drive (1982) in Chicago to Hudson Yards (2019) in New York, the buildings span 45 years of the architect’s career, as KPF’s influence and global footprint grew. After taking the reader on a chronological tour of 24 towering corporate headquarters, contextual educational facilities, and community-oriented government projects, Pedersen takes us home—literally—to examine his own house on Shelter Island that was 20 years in the making.

Introducing full-bleed project photographs are buff-colored pages with plans and drawings, along with the story Pedersen weaves about each project. The architect’s text is incisive and illuminating, as elegant as his buildings, devoid of architectural jargon and theoretical rationalization. Through the easy prose, he proves that KPF’s work “was not the product of a polemical manifesto.”

As a final grace note, Pedersen ends the book with a section on the furniture he’s been creating for the past seven years. “The surprise is that my second career as a furniture designer explains my first,” he notes. “I discovered that my chairs, done primarily by myself, and my architecture, created in collaboration with many others, have a lot in common.”

“Gesture” can sometimes have a negative connotation in architecture when it is done for its own sake. Pedersen never does that—expressive details are tied to programmatic requirements and contextual imperatives. The buildings themselves gesture to their surroundings as “a fundamental strategy for bringing about connections in the modern city.”

Similarly to how Louis Sullivan, FAIA, expressed the visceral beginnings of his architecture in 1924’s The Autobiography of an Idea, Pedersen relays the thought and emotion in his reactions to client, site, program, environment, and myriad other needs and restraints involved in any built structure. Layered upon this are visual metaphors and dynamic interactions that fuel his creative expression. More than a monograph, as Pedersen himself states, Gesture and Response is indeed his “design autobiography.”

About William Pedersen, FAIA, FAAR

William Pedersen, FAIA, FAAR, is the founding design partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), which he started with A. Eugene Kohn, FAIA, RIBA, and Sheldon Fox, FAIA, in 1976. Fourteen years later, KPF became the youngest firm to receive the National AIA Firm Award for design excellence. Personal honors include Rome Prize in Architecture, Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize from the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters, University of Minnesota’s Alumni Achievement Award, Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award from Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), and Medal of Honor from AIA New York. He was on the Board of the University of Minnesota Foundation and has been a visiting professor at Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University, and Harvard University. He has held the Eero Saarinen Chair at Yale University and was honored as the Herbert S. Greenward Distinguished Professor in Architecture at University of Illinois at Chicago. He has a Bachelor of Architecture from University of Minnesota College of Design, St. Paul, and a Masters of Architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

Gesture and Response: 25 Buildings by William Pedersen of KPF Architects By William Pedersen, FAIA, FAAR Published by ORO Editions Spring 2021 600 pages; hardbound; $60

PDFs and hard copies are available for review.

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