“Only the busiest people are able to make time in their schedules,” Jean-Louis Cohen told me at a recent meeting before heading to Europe in May. And he lived by that maxim. A longtime professor in the history of architecture at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, he wrote many books on a vast array of topics and curated countless exhibitions, including two that opened just this past summer—the first on Paulo Mendes da Rocha at the Casa da Arquitectura in Portugal, the second on interwar Paris in Shanghai.
His unexpected death at the age of 74, reportedly from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting while vacationing in the Ardèche region of France, cut short an immensely prolific career and indomitable spirit. Born in Paris in 1949, he was a global citizen, speaking several languages and expert in seemingly every architectural topic from his home country to Russia. His Building a new New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture was reviewed in Record, as were his recent books on Frank Gehry. Those tomes were just the beginning of a massive research project documenting Gehry’s extensive oeuvre. On a trip to Los Angeles this spring, I ran into Jean-Louis at LAX—he would make several trips a year to the city to make use of the Gehry archives—zealously working on his laptop as he awaited his flight back to New York. In the current issue of RECORD, Jean-Louis writes about Jean-François Zevaco’s Sidi Harazem thermal bath complex near Fez—Morocco was another place he knew well, having spent much time there and writing about it in Casablanca: Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures, which he co-authored with his former wife, Monique Eleb, who died in May.
His brilliant scholarship, his voracious exploration of architecture new and old, and his gentle way will be deeply missed.