AIA Gold Medal winner Ben Thompson’s portfolio balances a dedication to modernism with a respect for historic buildings, as he sought to create urban architecture that would bring people joy and encourage social interaction.
As a founding member of The Architects' Collaborative (TAC) from 1945 to 1966, Thompson designed important modern projects, including his residence at Six Moon Hill. At the same time, he taught architecture at the Harvard GSD, serving as Chairman of the Architecture Department from 1964 to 1968. During his time at Harvard, he updated many historic Harvard campus buildings while preserving their exterior appearance, and protected some others from demolition.
Thompson left TAC in 1966 to found Benjamin Thompson and Associates (BTA), where he continued to advance his team approach to design. Even as his modern glass-and-concrete showcase for Design Research opened on Brattle Street in 1968, BTA’s own offices were in an older brick building across Story St. He was an advocate for reviving historic downtown markets with food stalls, cafes, restaurants, and pushcarts. This led to his collaborations with the developer James W. Rouse, starting with the creation of Faneuil Hall Marketplace at Boston’s old Quincy Market in 1976, and repeated in major projects including Harborplace in Baltimore and South Street Seaport in New York City.
In contrasting Thompson to his contemporary Paul Rudolph, David Fixler noted that “while Thompson’s buildings are rarely individually memorable as architecture, they are unrivaled as places in which to absorb the color and variety of modern life… Thompson’s genius was really in defining, interpreting, and designing the “lifestyle experience.” Fixler further quotes the 1990 issue of Process Architecture: “Today, more than ever before, BTA’s architectural reticence can be astonishing. It is a measure of how deeply the firm believes architecture per se should not be a distraction from the important things in life.”
Sources: “Ben & Paul,” David Fixler, Architecture Boston, February 3, 2011; Wikipedia.