Arch + Eng, Art, Design, Education, Social Impact

A Tribute to Bernard Kirschenbaum

BFI was very saddened to learn of the passing of Bernard Kirschenbaum this winter. Below is a tribute from his daughter, Sara Kirschenbaum:

Bernard Edwin Kirschenbaum
1924 – 2016

Bernie Kirschenbaum was a college student at the Institute of Design in Chicago when he attended a lecture by Buckminster Fuller. Kirschenbaum graduated from the Institute of Design (ID) in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in product design. Two years later he and another ID grad, Bill Wainwright, founded a company called Geodesics with Fuller as the honorary president. Their biggest contract was with the Department of Defense which hired them to build a ring of thirty-one Detection Early Warning (D.E.W) domes along the northern edge of Canada. After completion of the project, he no longer wanted to work for the military and was eager to design residential domes. Wainwright and Kirschenbaum were close friends for over sixty years.

In 1957, a woman named Susan Weil hired Kirschenbaum to build her a geodesic dome studio in the woods of Stony Creek, Connecticut. Soon Weil and Kirschenbaum were engaged to be married and the dome was re-designed as their family home. The Stony Creek dome became the first residential geodesic dome ever built. It is currently being restored.

In 1966, Kirschenbaum was asked to create an art show of model geodesic domes in an innovative new gallery called Park Place Gallery. This helped him move to an even purer exploration of geometry, scale, and pattern, as a sculptor. At a 1969 show in the Paula Cooper Gallery, he exhibited pattern pieces attached to the wall and floor that demonstrated a never before seen geodesic pattern consisting of diamonds and pentagons. A few years later, the pattern was also discovered by a mathematician named Roger Penrose, for whom it is named, although it had been created ten years earlier by Kirschenbaum as a potential floor pattern in the family dome.

Kirschenbaum enjoyed success as a sculptor and teacher of sculpture for the next four and a half decades, receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1976 and 1981. He had dozens of exhibitions of his work in the United States, Sweden, Belgium and Finland. In 1985 he became the head of the Sculpture Department in the Swedish Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm and brought many innovations to the school. He remained a beloved teacher and mentor for many years, even after his retirement from teaching in 1991.

Kirschenbaum died on February 16, 2016, after a valiant struggle with heart disease.

A New York Times obituary can be found here.

Click hereto visit Bernie’s website: