Making its U.S. debut on November 4 at the 2017 Architecture and Design Film Festival (ADFF), Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect is the first comprehensive documentary devoted to Roche’s life and career—and it’s long overdue. The unassuming Irish-American architect’s fingerprints are all over the postwar built environment—from Eero Saarinen masterpieces like the Gateway Arch and Dulles International Airport, which Roche completed, to his Ford Foundation Building in New York, which shifted the paradigm of office design.
At 81 minutes, The Quiet Architect makes up for lost time with a brisk tour through Roche’s life and decades-long career: studying with Mies van der Rohe, working with Saarinen, establishing Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, and designing his many projects around the world. Indeed, director Mark Noonan packs so much into the film—archival presentation materials, gorgeous aerial footage of the buildings, reminiscences from Roche himself—that it can feel a bit dizzying.
Still, The Quiet Architect works as a necessary introduction to Roche, who, at 95, seemed bemused at the idea that anyone would have interest in such a film. “I think he thought we were slightly crazy to be spending all this time and effort documenting his buildings,” the director told RECORD.
Noonan’s documentary is more than a primer, though. It’s also the connective tissue linking films like Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future and Columbus (also screening at the 2017 ADFF) to form a continuum examining the history and legacy of Modernism. But, beyond that, The Quiet Architect also, finally, gives Roche a voice in the larger cinematic conversation about architects and their place in our society, represented at the 2017 ADFF with films such as Designing Life: The Modernist Architecture of Albert C. Ledner; Glenn Murcutt: Spirit of Place; REM; and Zaha Hadid: An Architectural Legacy. Better late than never.