Design Dynasties: Father-Son Architect Duos

Eliel and Eero Saarinen (above) made the leap from Scandinavian modernist darlings to mid-century America tastemakers.

Architizer Editors Architizer Editors

There has long existed the popular image of the architect as maverick, the self-made man making his mark on the world. But sometimes, a hereditary eye for design and kismet mentorship makes for a veritable architectural dynasty. Father’s Day is this weekend, offering a prime opportunity to reflect on the paternal strain that sometimes connects generations of noteworthy architects. Travel back in time with us to see the fatherly side of architectural history.

Above: Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Image via

Eliel and Eero Saarinen (above) made the leap from Scandinavian modernist darlings to become among the most lauded architecture firms in mid-century America. Together, they left their mark on myriad institutions of higher learning — such as MIT, Vassar, Yale, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan — and a new wave of aerospace architecture, as seen in the JFK and Dulles International airports. The country’s new corporate giants also looked to E&E to design the bureaucratic headquarters for GM, John Deere, IBM, and CBS. Fun father fact: the two architects also shared a birthday of August 20.

Giovanni Piranesi. Image via uncubemagazine.com

If you want your father-son duos legendary, here’s a fun fact: the near-mythical architect and artist Piranesi had a son. Francesco Piranesi collected and preserved his father Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s plates, while also following his father’s path as an engraver, etcher and architect. Under his father’s instruction, he studied and assisted while collaborating with Benedetto Mori and architect Augusto Rosa. Upon his father’s death, Francesco acquired his father’s publishing house and continued to print later editions of Giovanni’s work. As an interesting rumor, Francesco allegedly died from syphilis, during which period he created a series of fantasy paintings as a result of disease-imposed madness.

Francesco Piranesi, Illumination of the Cross in St. Peter’s on Good Friday. Image via wikimedia.org

OM Ungers. Image via preview.michael-dannenmann.de

Recognized for his rationalist designs and use of cubic form, OM Ungers remains a staple Modern classicist and a modern interpreter of the aesthetic ideals and design ideas of Italian Renaissance architects. The rational and imposing structures he designed carried a sense of severity and power that seemingly manifested itself in the work of his son, Simon Ungers, who died a year before his father. The T-House of Simon Ungers is his most emblematic work, alongside his sculptural series, “Heavy Metal.”

Simon Ungers T-House. Image courtesy Simon Ungers.

The US Capitol, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Image via WikiCommons

Oft-cited as the “Father of American Architecture,” Benjamin Henry Latrobe is most famous for his design of the US Capitol. His son, Benjamin Henry Latrobe II, carried the architecture torch, executing rail and water infrastructure such as the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts, then the second-longest tunnel in the world, as well as the Thomas Viaduct, which upon completion in 1835 was the largest bridge in the US. Both father and son died of yellow fever in New Orleans.

Los Angeles City Hall. Image via WikiCommons

Before Los Angeles was a bastion of bling, John B. Parkinson and son Donald Parkinson brought a mélange of Art Deco to the city’s civic center. Due to strict height restrictions, the team’s Los Angeles City Hall stood as the highest building in Los Angeles for decades. Originally from the UK, the elder Parkinson and his son imbued the building with symbolic flourishes by basing the structure on the Mausoleum of Mausolus and mixing the tower’s concrete with sand from California’s 58 counties and 21 historical missions.

Opening day of the Los Angeles City Hall on May 4, 1939. Image via LA Times

The team also masterminded sections of the University of Southern California campus, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and downtown’s Union Station, which artfully combined Dutch Colonial Revival, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne to create an aesthetic that embodied the motley culture of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Newark City Hall. Image via

New Jersey-born John H. and Wilson C. Ely brought civic grandeur to Newark before the city was perceived as a string of airport terminals and intriguing ruin porn. Capitalizing on the early 20th-century Classical Revival style, the Elys left the Garden State with such magnificent municipal and corporate buildings as the Newark City Hall, National Newark Building, Home Office Building, Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Building, and East Orange City Hall.

French Arch-dad Jacques V. Gabriel. Image via ChateauVersaille.fr

Let’s take a larger leap back in time to the construction of Versailles. In that last breath of absolute monarchism, the Bourbons tracked down the fancy-pants father-son pairing of Jacques V. Gabriel and son Ange-Jacques. The two tag-teamed to design the décor of the bedchamber of Louis XV, the Pendulum salon, the king’s inner study, the Dauphin’s Grove, and multiple large rocaille pieces in the roaring 1730s. The younger Ange-Jacques also drew up the blueprints for Versailles’ Royal Opera House, which opened to celebrate the wedding of the future Louis XVI to the archduchess Marie Antoinette in 1770. Further construction of an additional chateau on the Versailles campus was cut short by the French Revolution and the architects’ patron’s beheading.

Above: L’Opéra of the Palace of Versailles by Ange-Jacques Gabriel. Image via chateauversailles-spectacles.fr

+