NYU Abu Dhabi pays tribute to campus architect Rafael Vinoly, who died aged 78

He designed some of the world's most recognisable landmarks, including London's Walkie-Talkie and the Tokyo International Forum

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Rafael Vinoly, the Uruguayan-born New York architect who designed the NYU Abu Dhabi campus among several other worldwide landmarks, died aged 78 on Thursday.

His death, reportedly caused by an aneurysm, was announced by his son Roman on Friday. "He was a visionary who will be missed by all those whose lives he touched through his work," Roman wrote on the Rafael Vinoly Architects website.

Vinoly designed more than 600 buildings around the world, spanning hotels, airports, stadiums, offices, residential and more.

Among them was NYU Abu Dhabi's campus on Saadiyat Island, a sweeping 16-hectare project, spanning a network of 29 academic, arts, residential, communal and research buildings. The project was designed to integrate regional and western methods of planning, to create a microclimate that would promote a "flowering of intellectual liberalism in the heart of the Middle East", as described by Vinoly's firm.

Mariet Westermann, vice chancellor and professor of arts and humanities at NYU Abu Dhabi, told The National Vinoly was “an architect of effervescent imagination and global stature”.

She added: “He played an integral role in envisioning NYU Abu Dhabi from its earliest days, as he and his team at Rafael Vinoly Architects began master planning the Saadiyat Campus in 2008 and then created the full design.

“Our Abu Dhabi partners and many of us at New York University and NYUAD worked closely with him, and were inspired to witness his creativity, energy and solution-seeking disposition.”

Westermann said universities, alongside academic and campus life buildings, were among the architect’s most treasured works — from Princeton and Oxford to Buenos Aires and Palo Alto. “NYUAD is the one university campus he planned and designed in its entirety, and it is considered one of his greatest works,” she said.

“NYUAD’s vibrant and connected community owes much to Rafael’s ingenious design of the campus. Its coherent architectural language is both regional and contemporary, and he thought of it as a souq for the exchange of knowledge and ideas.

"That deceptively unified language actually governs a great variety of handsome, light-filled buildings — a stunning library, sports facilities and theatres, fine labs and classrooms, welcoming eateries and residences, and inviting walkways and plazas.”

She explained: “The Saadiyat campus was home to Rafael, and he would pop up unexpectedly about twice a year. He last visited in December, when he graciously joined a meeting with our students, and explained to them how deeply he appreciated our learning community.

“He said that its liveliness and focus on personal growth is not inherent to his campus but thanks to the humans who learn, work and live there. That passion for learning and willingness to let people inhabit his creations as they wished — that was Rafael.

“We are very fortunate to have known and worked with Rafael. Above all, beyond his worldwide fame, he was a model of grace, generosity and freely given friendship.”

She added: “I will miss Rafael, his humour, wit and wisdom. All of us at NYUAD will cherish his memory as we live and work in his great monument on Saadiyat.”

Some of Vinoly's other best-known works include London's eccentric Walkie-Talkie building, which is wider at the top than the bottom and appears to sag and is officially called the Fenchurch building. Elsewhere, he designed the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra's home venue, the Frederick P Rose Hall, in New York; the Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia — featuring several auditoriums under a large vaulted glass roof; and the Tokyo International Forum, which is a convention centre that looks like an inverted ship housed under glass.

He also designed Manchester City's City Football Academy in England. The club expressed its condolences on Twitter, stating: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our cherished friend and renowned architect, Rafael Vinoly who designed the club's training ground, City Football Academy.

"Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time."

His son Roman said: "He leaves a rich legacy of distinctive and timeless designs that manifested in some of the world's most recognisable and iconic structures, among them the Tokyo International Forum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Carrasco Airport in Montevideo and 20 Fenchurch Street in London."

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Updated: March 08, 2023, 10:04 AM