Monday, October 17, 2016


I'm very conflicted right now. I have long considered Gordon Bunshaft a hero. He was head of SOM for easily five or six of the most important buildings ever to go up in New York. And I realize he was likely more a decision-maker than a creative force, but...I mean...just look at what SOM accomplished under his control!

It has come to light that there was a phenomenal female architect at SOM, Natalie de Blois, who had enormous stylistic impact over some of the firm's most important landmark buildings. It's even been said that she did most of the work, while Bunshaft took all the credit (and I've heard this said about other SOM projects, as well).

I'm very torn between my worship of a hero and the knowledge that someone else might have been responsible for his glory. It matters that she was female only really because it's such a male-dominated profession. I get that SOM is a huge force, with many minds contributing to final projects. I'd also like to say, regardless of who came up with various ideas, good and not so good, that maybe it was Bunshaft's sense of style and taste that meant the good ideas would pass through and get built, and the bad ones wouldn't.

I have a lingering fear, however, that the only reason I might be reluctant to bring Bunshaft down a peg or two, in this case, is motivated by misogyny. Why do I not want to accept that this woman might have been responsible for some of the greatest buildings in New York? Is it because I hold Bunshaft in such high regard? Or is it because subconsciously, embarrassingly, disgracefully, I don't think a woman could have done it?
Would I have a problem accepting that some minor employee at SOM conceived Manufacturer's Trust Company Bank, and not Bunshaft, if it was a man? I honestly can't say. But I want to examine my own biases. I sincerely hope I'm not allowing bigotry to affect my understanding of our history.