Obituary: Fred Koetter, 1938-2017
Fred Koetter, the globally-renowned American architect and urbanist, died on August 21 at the age of 79 after a lengthy illness. Born in Montana, Koetter was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon when the idea of being an architect struck him. “A small light called ‘architecture’ went on in my head—a little tantalizing light that completely seduced me,” to UO’s Architecture & Allied Arts 100 Stories Project. Appropriately, he was in UO’s architecture building Lawrence Hall, designed by architect Ellis F. Lawrence in 1923, at the time of his epiphany. Beginning that day, Koetter built a career that crossed borders and broke boundaries between urban planning and architecture.
After getting his M.Arch at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning in Ithaca, New York in 1966, he taught there until 1976. Then, in 1978, he founded his practice, Koetter, Kim and Associates, in Boston with his wife and partner, Susie Sung-Hea Kim. They quickly became established as specialists in master planning and education design. Award-winning projects include London’s Canary Wharf in 1991; the United States Courthouse in Rockford, Illinois in 2012; Miller Park Plaza in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1989; and the Dallas Victory District Plan in 1999. Koetter worked with clients all over the world designing for diverse sites in Canada, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Spain and Saudi Arabia to mention a few. His educational projects can be seen on various American campuses, among them Cornell, Yale and Brown.
Beyond his day-to-day practice, Koetter was also a theorist. He advocated and practiced an approach to architecture that connected with the pre-existing urban fabric and considered the possibility of future development. Early in his career, he famously partnered with British-born American theorist Colin Rowe to write Collage City in 1978. Within the book, he argued against the Modernist proposition that cities should be built to follow all-encompassing “total design.”
Perhaps first and foremost though, Koetter was dedicated to instructing future generations of architects. In addition to Cornell, Koetter taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and served as Dean at the Yale School of Architecture from 1993 to 1998. He remained on the faculty until his retirement in 2014.
“We remember him as a perceptive critic, a superb professor, a generous dean, and a great designer,” wrote Deborah Berke, current dean at the Yale School of Architecture, in a letter to the school.