Henry Cobb (1926-2020)

John Hill
4. March 2020
Henry Cobb-designed John Hancock Tower on the Boston skyline (Photo: King of Hearts/Wikimedia Commons)

American architect Henry Cobb, best known as the architect of Boston's John Hancock Tower and name partner in Pei Cobb Freed & Partners with I.M. Pei and James Ingo Freed, has died, just one month shy of his 94th birthday.

The news was shared on Pei Cobb Freed's website, with a statement signed by partners Michael D. Flynn, Ian Bader, Yvonne Szeto, Michael W. Bischoff, José Bruguera:

At this solemn time we express our appreciation for our esteemed colleague, leader, and friend, Henry Cobb. Over a career that spanned seven decades of sustained and brilliant accomplishment, his breadth of engagement and depth of insight guided generations of architects. Unwavering in his commitment to both attainment and restraint, Harry lifted our art to a definition of truth itself. His many accolades attest to the accessibility of his ideas, the depth of his humility, and the sincerity of his friendship.

Born in Boston in 1926, Henry Cobb co-founded the firm I.M. Pei & Associates in 1955 with Pei and Eason H. Leonard; the firm was renamed Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1989. Before forming the firm, Cobb worked in the architectural division of real estate development company Webb & Knapp and for architect Hugh Stubbins, the latter immediately after graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1949.

Pei, recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1983, was obviously the most famous of the New York practice's name partners and therefore received most of the media attention. Yet the buildings designed by Cobb are some of the firm's most notable, including the John Hancock Tower completed at Boston's Copley Square in 1976; the 60-story tower won the AIA's Twenty-five Year Award in 2011. Ten years later the faceted Fountain Place Tower opened in Dallas, while one of his most recent towers, 7 Bryant Park, opened 50 years after the Hancock, in 2016.

Cobb never really retired. In 2018 he published the compact yet life-spanning Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works 1948-2018: Scenes from a Life in Architecture, which was well received and saw him promote it through lectures and other appearances.

Cobb was the last surviving name partner at Pei Cobb Freed: I.M. Pei died last year at the age 102 and James Ingo Freed died in 2005 at the age of 75.

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