Thierry Despont, the Legendary Architect and Designer, Has Died


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Thierry Despont, the AD100 Hall of Fame architect and designer, passed away on Sunday, August 13, in Southhampton. He was 75.

Though he was born in Limoges, France, and educated at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Despont will be remembered largely for his work in New York City, where he interfaced with some of the metropolis’s most iconic structures. In 1986, Despont was charged with the $60 million refurbishment of the Statue of Liberty for its centennial, a two-year undertaking that involved more than 400 scientists, engineers, and craftspeople. Twenty years later, he would take on the Woolworth building, converting swaths of its upper floors into lavish apartments. Later came the Cartier Mansion on Fifth Avenue, and the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel. And more recently, he devised the sumptuous interiors for one of the city’s newest landmarks: 53 W 53.

Thierry Despont

Kyle Ericksen/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images

Outside of New York, his commissions were no less prestigious. In Los Angeles, he was brought in to work his magic on the Getty Center, countering Richard Meier’s white-hot modernism with classic, historicist details. And in Pittsburgh, his office led the renovation of the historic Clayton mansion, the grand former home of the Frick family.

His singular understanding of luxury earned him collaborations with some of the world’s preeminent hospitality groups, from The Ritz in Paris to Casa Cipriani in Manhattan. Not to mention homes of the well heeled: He designed residences for Bill Gates, Calvin Klein, Jayne Wrightsman, Annette and Oscar de la Renta, Conrad Black, and Peggy and Millard “Mickey” Drexler, who worked with Despont for more than two decades on a range of properties.

In addition to being the designer of choice for titans of industry, Despont was a true polymath: a collector, flyfisher, painter, sculptor, and draftsman. He was an admirer of Jackson Pollock as much as Palladio. Though he was famously private, he could occasionally be spotted in Tribeca, the neighborhood where he founded his office in 1980. Despont believed that an architect’s role was to act as “the guardian of memories,” an ideal that shone through in his studies and built work. Drexler, his longtime client, called him “as good as it gets”: “If it is a renovation, he maintains the integrity of the building and improves upon the original. In any of his projects, he has incredible vision but gets all the details that most people never see.”

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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