Terence Riley (1954–2021)

John Hill
19. May 2021
Terence Riley in 2007 with model of the new Miami Art Museum (now Pérez Art Museum Miami), designed by Herzog & de Meuron. (Photo: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation/Flickr)

Architect and curator Terence Riley has died. The news was delivered via the Instagram account of K/R, the New York- and Miami-based architecture firm Riley led with John Keenan.

The sad news was delivered via Instagram on Tuesday, May 18, with an article in The Architect's Newspaper following soon after. The latter focuses on Riley's role, from 1992 to 2006, as the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) — rightfully so, given that many people know Riley for the many exhibitions he curated at the museum. According to MoMA's 1994 biography of Riley (PDF link), he initiated a couple of series that focused on now-famous architects: the Preview series mounted small exhibitions on buildings designed by Rafael Viñoly, Raimund Abraham and Frank Gehry; and the Thresholds series consisted of small monographic exhibitions on Santiago Calatrava, Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas/OMA. Later and larger exhibitions of note include Light Construction (1995/96), The Un-Private House (1999), and Mies in Berlin (2001), the last with his successor at MoMA, Barry Bergdoll.

Pre-MoMA, Riley was director of Columbia Architecture Galleries at Columbia University (1990-91), where he actually restaged Philip Johnson's famous "International Style" exhibition from 1932. Riley's related book from 1992, The International Style: Exhibition 15 and The Museum of Modern Art, is an in-depth study of the 60-year-old exhibition and an indispensable document for architectural historians. Riley was an adjunct faculty member at Columbia GSAPP starting in 1988 and also taught Architektenkammer Hesse Akademie, Frankfurt, at the Internationale Sommerakademie fur Architektur im Ruhrgebiet, Heme, and the New York Institute of Technology. Before curating and teaching, Riley worked in the offices of James Stewart Polshek & Partners and Marcel Breuer Associates, following bachelor and master degrees in architecture, respectively, from University of Notre Dame (1978) and Columbia University (1982).

Split House by K/R (Photo: Michael Moran)

K/R, the architecture firm Riley founded with Keenan in 1984 as Keenan/Riley, has been a longtime member of World-Architects. Perhaps the most famous project executed by the pair was the Split House, one of the "Houses at Sagaponac" developed by Coco Brown for a 70-acre site on Long Island. Completed in 2010, the Split House does what it name says: splitting its 3,500 square feet into two rectangular volumes set an angle to each other. The firms' more recent buildings include the Garden Building in Miami's Design District and pavilions for the Untitled art fair, also in Miami.

In 2006, following his tenure at MoMA, Riley became director of the Miami Art Museum (now Pérez Art Museum Miami). Just as his time at MoMA had him involved with a major expansion by Yoshio Taniguchi (completed in 2004), at PAMM he was an integral part of the planning of a new facility designed by Herzog & de Meuron (it opened in 2013). Riley departed PAMM in 2010, thereafter focusing on the work of K/R in New York and Miami, but he was also a partner, with Keenan and Joachim Pissarro, in Parallel, a curatorial practiced that formed in 2015 to "offer integrated, strategic services for developing art collections in close relationship to the spaces that house them, and vice versa." Parallel was a logical extension of Riley's parallel lives in architectural practice and art institutions — and a fitting metaphor for his influential career.

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