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Raimund Abraham (1933-2010)

Raimund Abraham lived life to the full: pushing architecture towards certain provocative limits; building a few seminal (we might even say ‘iconic’) buildings; making drawings that were constructions as opposed to mere representations; initiating generations of students in essential qualities of architecture, even as superficial fashion threatened to usurp contemporary culture

Abraham died following a car crash in Los Angeles on 4 March. A few hours earlier he had delivered his final lecture, ‘The Profanation of Solitude’, at SCI-Arc, the Southern California Institute of Architecture.

‘Abraham was not the easiest of individuals and his architecture was never easy to cosy up to, label or glibly categorise’

Perhaps it was this streak of independence - his failure to entertain foolish fads gladly and his stubborn pursuit of precision -that limited the number of works he ultimately built. Nevertheless, Abraham was an enormously influential figure, first in his native Austria and then, for over four decades up until his tragic death, in the New York avant-garde.

One of his few realised works is a small bank building at Lienz in the Tyrol, Abraham’s birthplace. Inevitably for an Austrian of his generation, memories of war, of the militarisation of land and air, stayed with Abraham from his childhood. Equally current however, no matter how cosmopolitan the young architect became, was an abiding love for primal rural structures, an appreciation, for honest construction and an eye for ritual in everyday life.

Upon graduation from Graz University of Technology in 1958, Abraham collaborated on buildings and exhibitions with Walter Pichler, Hans Hollein, and Friedrich St Florian. In 1963 he published his first book, Elementare Architektur. Like St Florian, Abraham moved to the US in the mid-1960s. Although he taught also at Pratt Institute, Yale University and SCI-Arc, Abraham’s formidable reputation as pedagogue and critic is bound up with his tenure at New York’s Cooper Union, from 1971 to 2002.

During the excesses of postmodernism, it seemed as if Abraham might be known only for such hypothetical projects as Seven Gates to Eden (an autopsy of the suburban house, shown at the Venice Biennale in 1976) and for his bold, exquisite drawings as revealed in a Yale exhibition, Collisions, in 1981. Then, out of the blue, Abraham won a competition to design the Austrian Cultural Forum. This shockingly slender tower (AR September 2002) became the architect’s unexpected masterwork in Manhattan.

In later years, Abraham built the JingYa Ocean Entertainment Centre in Beijing as well as a cylindrical music building in Germany, nearing completion. He also realised one particularly intimate project, his own home above the Pacific in Mexico. Shielded by a giant tilting roof, this realm of simple cave-like rooms with terraces suggest that Abraham, as he himself stated at SCI-Arc, remained ‘an incurable formalist’

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