Architecture, like every industry, is full of professionals whose big personalities and talking points seize the limelight, regardless of merit. But the field is also full of mentors, educators, and technicians—the designers who are content to spend life backstage, nudging projects in the right direction, or imparting advice that becomes the saving grace.
In greater Philadelphia, many architects and engineers found a mentor and friend in Warren “Barney” Cunningham, FAIA. He passed away on Jan. 24 at the age of 90. A soft-spoken man who excelled in the technical aspects of buildings, Cunningham made his mark as the last of the partners named in the Philadelphia firm Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham Architects (GBQC).
The firm received the AIA’s Architecture Firm Award in 1979. Its projects include the Police Administration Building, also known as the Roundhouse, in Philadelphia, for which a grassroots movement to preserve the building is now under way; the Franklin Institute Futures Center; the University of Pennsylvania Moore Building; the Stern School of Business at New York University; and the campus of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, for which Cunningham received an honorary degree. GBQC was also the runner-up out of 233 entrants to design the Sydney Opera House. In 2006, GBQC merged with Boston-based Cubellis Associates, and became incorporated as Environetics in 2009.
“Barney was mentor to us all,” said Robert Geddes, FAIA, in an article by AIA Philadelphia. At an April 19 memorial service in Philadelphia, Cunningham was eulogized by many of the design and engineering professionals he influenced, several of whom had gone on to open their own practices.
Cunningham attended Franklin & Marshall College before joining the Navy in 1942 and fighting in World War II. He earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture at Penn on the GI Bill. In 1996, he received AIA Philadelphia’s John Frederick Harbeson Award, which recognizes architects who have made significant contributions to the professional and related industries over their lifetime. He also served as the president and director of the Construction Specifications Institute of Philadelphia. He is survived by his three daughters, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
PennDesign, the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts, is organizing a lecture series in Cunningham’s honor. Further information may be obtained through Charles Capaldi, founding partner of B Five Studio’s office in Philadelphia.