In Memoriam: Henry N. Cobb

Color portrait of the head and shoulders of Henry Cobb
Henry N. Cobb (photograph by Fernando Guerra and provided by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners)

The modernist architect Henry N. Cobb died in New York on March 2, 2020. He was 93 years old. Cobb joined the American Academy in Rome’s Board of Trustees in 1968 and later became trustee emeritus. He was also a Resident in 1992.

Born in 1926, Cobb earned degrees in architecture at Harvard College and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where he studied under I. M. Pei during the 1940s. In 1950 Pei recruited Cobb to work for the developer William Zeckendorf in New York. Five years later, Pei, Cobb, and Eason H. Leonard founded their own firm.

Cobb’s major accomplishment was the John Hancock Tower in Boston—New England’s tallest skyscraper, completed in 1976. “It was the closest I ever came to poetry,” he once said of the structure that earned a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. Cobb’s other buildings in the area include the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, 30 Dalton, and Harvard’s Center for Government and International Studies. Cobb was chair of the Department of Architecture at his alma mater from 1980 to 1985.

While Cobb primarily concentrated on office buildings, such as those in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Montreal, Barcelona, Madrid, and Milan, he occasionally worked on cultural sites including the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. (Museums were the specialty of Pei, his partner at the firm that, over the decades, became Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.) Cobb’s most recent project, the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, broke ground last October. It is expected to open next year.

Cobb was a former president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2018 Moncelli Press published the 548-page Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works 1948–2018, the first monograph dedicated to the architect’s work.

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