Bartholomew Voorsanger is best known for museum projects, such as the Asia Society Museum renovation in New York (2001), and a series of sprawl- ing houses from Martha’s Vineyard to Montana. To his credit, the architect expounds on disappointments as well as successes. Describing a competition he lost—for a World War II museum in Poland—he tells Alastair Gordon that he “failed to understand the national culture and the intent of the jury.” He concedes that his rejected entry for the expansion of the Brooklyn Museum didn’t provide an iconic space. But most of Voorsanger’s candor is reserved for his personal life. Born in 1937 in Detroit, he and his twin brother, Neil, spent three years in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York after their seamstress mother gave them up. They were occasionally “chosen” by foster families, and then returned to the facility weeks or months later. Voorsanger remembers the grim orphanage as a series of wards, set enfilade, and has always avoided such linearity in his work. At age 3, the boys were adopted by a prominent San Francisco couple named Voorsanger, known for their interest in the arts. But the damage had been done. Bart was a terror as a child—he once struck a teacher and had to be home-schooled; another time, he vandalized a neighbor’s marble mansion with black shoe polish. His twin, at age 11, blinded himself in one eye by firing a pistol.
But architecture, says Voorsanger, gave him an outlet. At 13, he saw Bernard Maybeck’s First Church of Christ, Scientist (1901) in Berkeley. Overwhelmed by its beauty, he decided to become an architect. After studying at Princeton and Harvard, Voorsanger worked for the urban planner Vincent Ponte in Montreal, then spent 10 years with I. M. Pei in New York before forming a partnership with Ed Mills in 1978.