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Tuesday
Aug282018

In Memoriam, W. Kent Cooper (1926-2018)

W. Kent Cooper, A.I.A. (1926-2018)
Contributed by the Rev. Jack Andersen, ECCC’s founding Executive Director, 1988-2005

Episcopal Camps & Conference Centers has lost a great cheerleader, gifted architectural artist, and friend, Kent Cooper. He has died at the age of 91. Over most of the span of my involvement and leadership of ECCC, Kent Cooper had been a part of my consultative team in the planning and/or design work of more than thirteen diocesan camps and centers of the Episcopal Church. His efforts from 1972 to 2004 stretched from coast to coast. Kent had also been a featured speaker at an Annual Conferences and was honored by ECCC at our Meeting in 2008.

I first met Kent in 1966 when he was recommended as the architect to undertake a Master Plan for St. John’s Chapel, a part of Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut where I was at the time Vicar. Kent had already designed several Episcopal churches in the Washington/Maryland area and was deeply involved in his parish church, Saint John’s, Georgetown, as well as within the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

He had earned his undergraduate degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and while completing a Master’s Degree in Architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Cooper became a protégé of the famous American architect, Eero Saarinen. Following his graduation, Saarinen hired Cooper and placed him as the overseer of Saarinen’s construction of the Washington Dulles International Airport. Kent’s reputation rocketed from there.

Kent’s firm, Cooper-Lecky Architects, would become the “architects of record” for the actual construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At the time the young architectural student at Yale, Maya Lin, did not yet have her license, and they worked together to complete that historic project. Later, Cooper-Lecky Architects won a national competition to design the Korea War Memorial. Cooper’s firm had proposed a strikingly bold and poignant bronze design of an infantry platoon in the rice patties of Korea. One can see uncertainty and fear in the glances of those figures in bronze faces as they seemed to proceed into the unknown that was Korea.  

Kent’s professional career would leave its mark on other widely diverse projects such as a DC Metro Station, the Vice President’s residence, Blair House, the Aquarium at the Baltimore Zoo, St. Paul’s Church on Capitol Hill, and private day schools and military buildings. The Washington Post in its obituary said of Cooper that “as one of a handful of architects who midwifed architectural modernism into Washington, he helped drag the District’s obsession with antiquated building design kicking and screaming into the light of the 20th century.”

Yet as Kent Cooper, the Episcopalian, his passion was always about people and their creative spaces; places like camps for kids and conference centers for adults of all ages. It was here, at “homes away from home,” as he put it, that his keen, loving sense of people would come to the fore.

I’ve tried to reconstruct a list of camp & conference center project that Kent and I did together on behalf of ECCC. I’m sure the list is incomplete but if you visit one of these sites, or now happen to be its director, look for some architectural expression of this man’s enduring love for people in relationship to one another.

One remains at Roslyn, the Virginia Diocesan Center, in Richmond, Virginia, a “sculpture” that is located in the lower level of Gibson Hall. There you will find a “conversation pit,” aptly named for a period during the 1970s when American adults were re-discovering one another on weekend retreats. It was another Kent Cooper original!

During my professional career as a consultant to Episcopal camps and conference centers, I worked with architectural firms all across the country. It was Kent Cooper’s focus on people and their interactions that made his work such an architectural gift to America.

ECCC PROJECTS involving KENT COOPER, ARCHITECT

•          Roslyn (Dio. Of VA)

•          Camp Capers (Dio. Of W. TX)

•          Thompson House (St. Louis, MO)* 

•          The Summit (Greensboro, NC)* 

•          Claggett Center (Dio. Of Maryland)

•          Crossroads (Dio. Of NJ)

•          Christ the King (Dio. of Albany)

•          Diocese of Pittsburgh*

•          Camp Galilee (Dio. Of Nevada)

•          Waycross (Dio. Of Indianapolis)

•          Grace Point (Dio. Of East Tenn.)

•          DuPont Memorial House (Dio. Of Delaware)

 *Incomplete or closed

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