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Obituary: Pierre Koenig, 78, Architect, Modernist, Teacher

by ArchNewsNow
April 7, 2004

Pierre Koenig, FAIA, one of the youngest of the Case Study House Program architects, passed away April 4. Best known for Case Study House #22, Koenig was a staunch Modernist and promoter of steel in the design and construction of homes.


“Pierre Koenig never wavered from his beliefs,” says Robert Timme, FAIA, Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California (USC), where Koenig was both a Distinguished Alumni and Professor. “He became a global celebrity – graduate students from all over the world would come and ask if they would have the chance of meeting him.”


Koenig was born in San Francisco in 1925, and moved with his family to Southern California in 1939. After returning from army service in Europe during World War II, he attended USC School of Architecture. While still a student in 1950, he designed and built his first steel-framed house, using army discharge pay to buy the lot and finance the construction for a mere $5,000. It was this house that caught the eye of John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine – and a major champion of California Modernism, who invited Koenig to join the Case Study House program. Koenig created Case Study Houses #21 (1959) and #22 (1960).


Within Los Angeles’ legacy of Modernist design, Pierre Koenig’s work remains fresh and relevant. “Even now, after we’ve gone through historicisms and over-complexities built into projects, people are appreciating a more simple expression of architectural space and human aspiration,” says Timme.


Koenig established his private practice after graduating from USC in 1952, and built some 50 steel-and-glass buildings. While in practice, he taught at the School of Architecture at USC for 40 years, shepherding generations of architects. He was also the Co-Director of the Bachelor of Building Science Program at the University, which is co-taught with the School of Engineering. “Pierre was dedicated to both the rational as well as the aesthetic in design,” stresses USC Dean Timme.


The 1989 exhibition on the Case Study program, “Blueprints for Modern Living,” brought the work of Koenig and others to a new generation. In the exhibit, a full-scale replica of Case Study House #22 – which had been made iconic in a Julius Shulman photograph – was featured at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. In the ensuing years, Koenig was highly honored for his work. He was named both Distinguished Alumni and Distinguished Professor of USC in 1998. He received the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architecture/Los Angeles Chapter in 1999, as well as Lifetime Achievement awards from AIA California Council (1996), Pacific Design Center (1998), and Tau Sigma Delta (2000). Koenig was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Case Study House #21 was awarded Best Preservation of the Year by the Los Angeles Conservancy and Case Study House #22 was given the 25 Year Award by the AIA California Council. Koenig was a finalist for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Award in Architecture Design.


Koenig is survived by his wife, Gloria; sons, Randall and Jean Pierre; and stepsons, Barry and Thomas Kaufmann.


Donations may be made to the Pierre Koenig Endowment at USC School of Architecture, Watt Hall, Room 204, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089.


A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 17th at 3PM in the courtyard of USC’s School of Architecture. A retrospective exhibition of Koenig’s work will be on display at USC this fall.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Pierre Koenig

© 2003