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News

Memorial Service Planned for Barney Cunningham, FAIA

29 March 2013 | Member News

A memorial service for Barney Cunningham has been planned for Friday, April 19 at 5 PM at the Trinity Center for Urban Life at 22nd and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia. A reception will follow.

A founding partner of Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham Architects, Barney Cunningham died January 24 at his home in Wyndmoor. He was 90. A quietly confident man who shunned the spotlight, Mr. Cunningham was well-respected among architects, engineers and clients. Construction contractors particularly appreciated the depth of his technical knowledge, which was beyond that of most architects. As a principal of one of Philadelphia’s most esteemed firms, he trained scores of young architects who now apply those skills throughout the world.

“Barney was mentor to us all,” said Robert L. Geddes, FAIA, “for a whole generation of Philadelphia architects; for the many institutions and clients with whom he worked; for the builders and craftsmen in the construction industry; and especially for those of us fortunate enough to have worked in the same room with him.”

Born in Northeast Philadelphia on October 4, 1922, Warren William Cunningham attended Frankford High before winning a sports scholarship to Germantown Academy. A member of the football, soccer and crew teams, he was also an Eagle Scout who hiked the Appalachian Trail many times, and an accomplished hockey player who was invited to try out for the US Olympic Ice Hockey Team.

He attended Franklin & Marshall College before joining the Navy in 1942. During WWII he served as a Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific theater, and fought in the Battles of Leyte Gulf and Iwo Jima while on the carrier USS Petrof Bay. After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania on the GI Bill. For the next 20 years, he continued to serve in the Naval Reserves out of Willow Grove Air Base. In 1950, Mr. Cunningham married Jo Ann Jones with whom he raised three daughters.

In 1956, he joined architects Robert Geddes and Melvin Brecher; in 1958 they became Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham when George Qualls became a partner. While Geddes, Robert Venturi, Romaldo Giurgola, and Louis Kahn would be christened The Philadelphia School by Progressive Architecture Magazine in 1961, Mr. Cunningham’s intuitive knowledge of structures gave form to Mr. Geddes’ vision. Losing the commission for the design of the Sydney Opera House in 1957 was one of the young firm’s proudest disappointments. Their team came in second place out of 233 entries from 28 countries.

GBQC, as the firm was commonly known, secured the National AIA’s most prestigious honor, the Architecture Firm Award, in 1979. In 1996, Mr. Cunningham received AIA Philadelphia’s John Frederick Harbeson Award for significant contributions to the architectural profession over a lifetime. He was also quite active in the Construction Specifications Institute of Philadelphia, serving as president and director of the organization.

“Coming under the influence of Barney Cunningham was a major turning point in my professional career,” said architect Hamilton Ross, former president of GBQC. “For me, as with so many others, he was a great teacher. He understood the process whereby all the disparate parts and disciplines of a building must come together in a logical fashion and in support of the design intent. In short, he showed us the way to assemble a building.”

The firm’s projects include iconic architecture like the Police Administration Building in Philadelphia, on which Mr. Cunningham worked with the eminent engineer August Komendant; the Moore Building at the University of Pennsylvania; the American Embassy in Pakistan and the Franklin Institute Futures Center, as well as the Stern School of Business at New York University, South Wing of the J.B. Speed Art Museum, the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, the Founders’ Pavilion at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and the campus of Richard Stockton State College, for which Mr. Cunningham was given an Honorary Degree.

Always an aviator at heart, Mr. Cunningham was known for the seven or eight gray Pontiac Firebirds he purchased over several decades, piloted with skill and precision and never slowly.

PennDesign, the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts, is organizing a lecture series in Mr. Cunningham’s honor. To receive further information about the lecture series or the memorial service, please contact Charles Capaldi, ccapaldi@bfivestudio.com, 215 732 8525.


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