Telenor World Headquarters in Fornebu, Norway
Telenor World Headquarters in Fornebu, Norway

Following decades at some of the biggest architecture firms in the United States, Norwegian-born architect Peter Pran, FAIA, died on July 5 in his hometown at the age of 81. Known primarily for his work at Ellerbe Becket (acquired by AECOM in 2009) and then NBBJ, Pran developed a reputation for championing innovation in large practices. In a 1998 monograph, Kenneth Frampton, Assoc. AIA, described Pran as “an architect for a new age, where neither the individual practice nor the corporate firm will remain the same and where the hybrid alternative will begin to have a greater chance of achieving work of quality.”

Born in Oslo on Oct. 19, 1935, Pran earned a B.Arch./Diploma Architect from Oslo Arkitekthögskole University in 1961 and a master of science in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1969, according to a monograph published in 1998. Early in his career, he worked in the offices of Nils Holter and Mies van der Rohe, and later joined the offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Schmidt, Garden & Erikson; and the Grad Partnership. From 1986 until 1996, according to a LinkedIn page, Pran worked as a design principal at Ellerbe Becket, before joining NBBJ, where he worked as a design principal until 2011. Most recently, he had cofounded Peter Pran + H. Architects. In 2001, Pran was elected to the American Institute of Architects's College of Fellows.

At Ellerbe Becket, Pran worked on projects such as the Canadian National Real Estate/Royal Trust Development in Toronto, which won a citation in the Architectural Design category in the 1991 Progressive Architecture awards. Juror Rem Koolhaas, Hon. FAIA, commented: "If it is realized well it could be astonishing."

Natalie Savino

"Peter was relentless," says New York-based architect Carlos Zapata, who worked with Pran at the Grad Partnership and then Ellerbe Beckett. "He was a very complex person, but the most redeeming part of him was his desire to do good design and that’s what he always talked about. He wanted to make a difference, he wanted to produce more than architecture more than anything else in his life and he dedicated himself to that."

Together Zapata and Pran worked on projects such as Banco Popular in Ecuador, the Bin Laden Headquarters in Saudi Arabia, and two buildings at the State University of New York in Binghamton. "Peter Pran and Carlos Zapata in Ellerbe Becket's New York office and Mehrdad Yazdani in its Los Angeles office have grafted onto this solid, service-oriented firm a level of design experimentation that is almost unprecedented in such a large operation," wrote Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA, in the October 1991 issue of Progressive Architecture. At the time, Zapata noted, "Almost all of our work involves the idea of movement...and the sense of freedom that that implies."

In the mid-1990s, Pran joined NBBJ, where his work included the Telenor World Headquarters and Akerselva Atrium in Norway, the Sail @ Marina Bay and Gramercy Park in Singapore, and Nuritkum Square in South Korea.

The Sail @ Marina Bay in Singapore
Tim Griffith The Sail @ Marina Bay in Singapore

"So much throughout the '80s and '90s, his work remained on paper," John Gaunt, FAIA, who at the time was dean of the University of Kansas's architecture school, told the Lawrence Journal-World in 2003. "In the mid-'90s, the means developed to have these buildings built. He needed the times."

Former colleagues remember his "relentless" work ethic and passion for teaching and mentorship. Randy Guillot, FAIA, a design director at Gensler's Chicago office, first met Pran in the early 1990s when Guillot was hired as a recent graduate at Ellerbe Becket. "He was quirky, funny, intense and genuine—mostly singularly focused on design excellence," Guillot says in an email to ARCHITECT. "But he balanced his focus with a childlike gleam in his eye and a curiosity that made me want to follow him into the fire. He asked us to run straight towards the idea that pushed the boundaries the most. We knew he would take the bullets and he always did."

"He was very open to what people around him had to say in terms of ideas, like what about this or what about that," says NBBJ design partner Jonathan Ward, FAIA. "He wanted to know, he wanted to integrate it, and he wanted to give you credit for it. Which is still very unique in the world of design."

Nuritkum Square in South Korea
Nuritkum Square in South Korea

Pran's first wife, painter Clevon Edgerson, died on Dec. 25, 1997, and he later married his second wife, Siri Blakstad. In addition to his design work, Pran was a longtime instructor of architecture, and taught at Washington State University, Pullman, multiple campuses of the University of Illinois, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the University of Kansas, among others.

"I'm totally dedicated to teaching," Pran told the Lawrence Journal-World in 2003. "It's an ideal situation to do this full-time and also continue my work."

ARCHITECT columnist Blaine Brownell, AIA, who crossed paths with Peter when they both worked at NBBJ, says that he was "one of the primary reasons" he joined the firm. "Peter was sometimes critiqued as being a formalist," Brownell says. "It’s true that he was tirelessly obsessed with beauty. However, I believe he always searched for a beauty that was more than skin-deep, a rare marriage of materials and form that could represent humanity’s greater aspirations."