The Kimmel Cultural Campus and The Philadelphia Orchestra are incredibly saddened to share the news of the unexpected passing of Rafael Viñoly, a prolific architect who designed buildings around the world including our own Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts here in Philadelphia. He was 78. A name associated with iconic structures, Viñoly was a visionary in his field pushing the boundaries of what was expected for a practical structure.
Born in Uruguay in 1944, Viñoly was a founding member of the prominent Argentina-based design studio Estudio de Arquitectura at age 20. He eventually settled in New York City in the 1970s before founding his own firm, Rafael Viñoly Architects, that holds offices internationally. His famed career is marked by very recognizable works including the Penn Medicine Complex in West Philadelphia, 432 Park Avenue in Manhattan Tokyo International Forum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the “Walkie-Talkie” (20 Fenchurch Street) in London, the Carrasco Airport in his hometown of Montevideo, Uruguay, and of course our Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Viñoly did not have a specific signature style for his buildings, but he would often enclose large spaces under glass to create interior courtyards. This is particularly evident with the Kimmel Center as its two detached theaters – Verizon Hall and Perelman Theater – are entirely encased in a glass dome150 feet above the floor of the public Commonwealth Plaza. In an undated interview, Viñoly conceived the building as a place where the public comes “together with many other people” and “there are no barriers.”
Though an architect by career, Rafael Viñoly was a musician first. Growing up in Uruguay, he was classically trained on the piano and planned for a career as a concert pianist. Viñoly never forgot his musical roots, owning nine pianos at once at one point including one with a curved keyboard that he helped to design.
His connection the Kimmel Center building goes beyond architecture. Rafael was also a dear family friend of our very own President & CEO Matías Tarnopolsky. Tarnopolsky’s uncle, Ignacio, gave Rafael his first job, and the two became inseparable best friends, until Tarnopolsky’s uncle’s passing in 1971. The two remained close and even had a livestreamed pre-concert conversation before a Digital Stage performance by The Philadelphia Orchestra in June 2020.
Tarnopolsky added, “For me, spending each day in the exquisite vaulting spaces of the Kimmel Center has been a tether to my own family. With Rafael’s passing, that thread is further frayed. I will miss him enormously.”
Each person who enters the doors of the Kimmel Center building experiences Viñoly’s work. His love of both music and architecture has impacted many lives and will continue to live on in his architectural firm, his friends & family, and in his beautiful buildings.