The Columbia GSAPP community is saddened by the passing of James Stewart Polshek, who was Dean of GSAPP for fifteen years from 1972 until 1987, and Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. Born in 1930, James Polshek was 92 when he died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. Polshek is recognized for leading the School’s transformation by assembling an ideologically diverse faculty with whom he developed a socially relevant curriculum, created new degree-granting programs in planning and preservation, and established the interdisciplinary Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, among other initiatives. His lasting influence is fondly remembered by GSAPP’s faculty and the generations of alumni who graduated during his tenure.
James Polshek was known as a civic advocate who prioritized a design’s social value, believing in the power of architecture to shape the public realm and to improve public life. Polshek worked for I.M. Pei prior to starting his own firm, James Stewart Polshek Architect in 1963. Polshek’s office is responsible for projects of international significance, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, New York; Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe, New Mexico; the restoration and expansion of Carnegie Hall, New York; the renovation and expansion of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock, Arkansas; and the National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following his retirement in 2005, the firm transitioned in 2010 to Ennead Architects.
Columbia University honored James Stewart Polshek at the 2022 Commencement Ceremony by conferring the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Among hundreds of other recognitions, Polshek received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2018 and the Fulbright Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. His firm Polshek Partnership won the American Institute of Architects’ Firm Award in 1992.