The Wise Words of Eugene Kohn

John Hill
14. March 2023
A. Eugene (Gene) Kohn, FAIA RIBA JIA, 1930 – 2023. (Photo courtesy of KPF)

As described last week by Paul Goldberger, who knew Kohn well and covered KPF many times over his years as architecture critic at the New York Times, “the extroverted Mr. Kohn [was] impresario and the public face of the firm,” while his founding colleagues, William Pedersen and Sheldon Fox, served as lead designer and business manager, respectively. (Fox died in 2006 and Pedersen continues as a design partner under firm president James von Klemperer.) 

Exhibiting some national pride as well as bravado, the three founded KPF in New York City on July 4, 1976, coinciding with the American bicentennial but also the city's financial crisis. Still, the firm quickly prospered and, no doubt due to Kohn's drive, grew and grew — today KPF has nine offices on three continents with more than 600 employees.

In this short, 90-second film from KPF, Gene Kohn gives some advice to young architects:

An obituary on the KPF website describes how Kohn “organized KPF as a collaborative collection of mutually supportive colleagues, all dedicated to excellence in design.” The KPF short touches on the importance of collaboration and sharing credit, something that might not be evident given that the founders' names are on the proverbial door. Echoing this, it should be noted that Wikipedia has an entry for KPF but none for the founders, though they are certainly important enough to merit their own pages.

Collaboration is just one subject Kohn spoke about with Enoch Sears of Business of Architecture in 2020, following the publication of The World by Design: The Story of a Global Architecture Firm, written by Kohn with Clifford Pearson. The book is effectively Kohn's memoir but also, as the subtitle indicates, a narrative of KPF. The interview delves into some of the more interesting anecdotes in that book — fascinating stories from Kohn's long life and illustrious career.

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