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A Guide to Architects’ Mundane and Monumental Graves

The architects of our great landmarks are often buried beneath the humblest of tombstones, or have no marker at all.

The marker for Bruce Goff in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, designed by one of his former students, Grant Gustafson, with a piece of glass from his Shin’en Kan house that was destroyed in a fire (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)

On my first visit to Chicago, I spent some time wandering Graceland Cemetery, which is something of an Elysian Fields for architects. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe rests beneath a simple granite marker designed by his architect grandson Dirk Lohan; Daniel Burnham is remembered with a large boulder on a lake island; and Louis Sullivan is interred at a formidable granite monument with skyscraper-esque carvings. Amid this burial ground of big names in American architecture, I was surprised to see a familiar glimmer of blue rising from the green grass. It was a shard of aquamarine cullet retrieved from the charred ruins of Bruce Goff’s Shin’enKan house in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, my hometown.

In 2000, almost two decades after Goff’s death in 1982, his ashes were relocated to this marker designed by a former student, Grant Gustafson. It was not the city where he was born or died, yet Goff’s friends and followers considered the Chicago cemetery to be a fitting place for the architect to be interred, alongside these other influencers on the American built environment. Goff is one of over 200 architects whose posthumous fates are featured in Henry H. Kuehn’s Architects’ Gravesites: A Serendipitous Guide. The compendium of tombs, recently published by the MIT Press, was initially self-published in a smaller edition as a passion project by the retired medical industry executive. Although it includes some international names, the focus is on architects who had an influence in the United States, with Kuehn’s own photographs included above brief descriptions of their lives and deaths. You can watch Kuehn discussing some graves at Graceland Cemetery in this 2014 video from the Chicago Architecture Foundation:

While Goff’s gravestone, through its shape and material, references his organic modernist work, many of the sites in Kuehn’s book are indistinct, plain, or sometimes nonexistent. Charles and Ray Eames, for example, have no individual markers at their family plot in St. Louis; Philip Johnson’s ashes were scattered at a rose garden across from his Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. By concentrating on the graves of architects, Kuehn is considering what people who dedicated their careers to design chose as their own final statements. “It seems strange that these great architects, who created landmark structures during their lives, put so little thought into how they would be memorialized for time eternal,” Kuehn writes in a preface. “Apparently most of these architectural giants, like most of us ordinary people, either did not feel like dealing with death or felt that a lasting memorial for them was not important.”

Cover of Architects’ Gravesites A Serendipitous Guide (courtesy the MIT Press)

For instance, after Paul Rudolph died in 1997, his cremated remains were dispersed at several sites, none with markers. “Knowledgeable sources suggest that a portion was deposited within the ventilating system of his Arts and Architecture Building [at Yale University],” Kuehn writes. Meanwhile, Rudolph Schindler’s ashes were placed in the crawl space of his house in Silver Lake, California. According to Kuehn, these weren’t located when the home was remodeled so “Schindler resides eternally and ethereally in the house he designed and in which he lived.” Marcel Breuer was likewise buried at his former home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, below a humble granite block, with this epitaph: “Here lies Breuer who broke his knee entirely of his own stupidity.” Still, not all these understated memorials were by choice. Louise Bethune, who is recognized as the country’s first woman architect due to her 19th-century practice, long had only her husband’s name on her headstone at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. (A later plaque recognizes her pioneering career.)

There are some grand, on-brand last gestures in the mix, like Le Corbusier’s multi-colored stone tomb overlooking the Mediterranean in Cap Martin, France, or Michael Graves’s more recent red granite memorial in Princeton Cemetery, New Jersey, its playful geometric forms based on sketches he was working on at the time of his death. In Buenos Aires, Eduardo Catalano’s ashes are in both a family mausoleum of his design in La Chacarita Cemetery, and inside the colossal “Floralis Genérica” sculpture that opens its metal flower petals every morning and closes them at night.

This quiet punctuation to the end of an architect’s life is not necessarily out of humility or a denial of death, but, more likely, that their legacy is elsewhere. As architectural critic Paul Goldberger writes in an afterword, “A successful architect, after all, need not fear that he or she leaves nothing behind: the smallest building is usually larger than the most elaborate grave, and most of these architects have left plenty of buildings, most of which are not at all small, for us to remember them by.”

The tomb effigy for Montgomery Meigs at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, showing the brigadier general and architect’s son, John Rodgers Meigs, who died in the Civil War (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)
Pages from Architects’ Gravesites (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
The grave marker for Michael Graves at Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, New Jersey, designed by one of his associates, Donald Strum, based on sketches for an exhibition that Graves’s office was preparing at the time of his death (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)
The rose garden where Philip Johnson’s ashes were scattered, located across the street from the Glass House he designed (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)
Pages from Architects’ Gravesites (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Marcel Breuer’s former residence in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where his ashes are buried beneath a block of granite, marked with an epitaph of his choosing: “Here lies Breuer who broke his knee entirely of his own stupidity” (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)
The granite slab marking the grave of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, a monument designed by his architect grandson Dirk Lohan (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)
The cast metal marker for Eero Saarinen at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy, Michigan (courtesy Henry H. Kuehn and the MIT Press)

Architects’ Gravesites: A Serendipitous Guide by Henry H. Kuehn is out now from the MIT Press.

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