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Gordon Bunshaft architectural drawings and papers, 1909-1990 (bulk 1950-1979).

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Preferred Citation

Gordon Bunshaft architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) was an American architect who, as a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, had a significant impact on large-scale corporate architecture. His projects include such significant urban office towers as the Lever House in midtown Manhattan, as well as modern office campuses set in natural landscapes, including such examples as the American Can Company in Greenwich, Connecticut or the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Additionally, his interest in art caused him to actively integrate work by well-known modern artists into the public plazas and interiors of SOM’s projects. The professional aspects of this collection can be found in clippings, project photography, oral history records, and publications, however, the majority of the collection is personal and reflects the life of Gordon and his wife Nina Bunshaft. Through correspondence, snapshots, objects, and personal papers the collection focuses on the Bunshafts’ friends, their travels, and their impressive art collection of both modern and ancient sculptures and paintings.

At a Glance

CLIO record: View CLIO record
Creator(s):Bunshaft, Gordon, 1909-1990.
Title:Gordon Bunshaft architectural drawings and papers, 1909-1990 (bulk 1950-1979).
Physical description:approx. 20 linear ft. (in 17 manuscript boxes, 7 card boxes, 5 archival boxes, 4 oversize boxes, 2 cases, 14 volumes, 1 drawer, and 4 rolls)
Language(s):In English and French
Access: This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please call (212) 854-4110 or email  More information »



The collection is made up of ten series:

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Scope and Content

*This finding aid replaces the former finding aid created in 1993-1994 by Mary L. Ferranti as part of the ʺModern Masters Project,ʺ funded by an HEA Title II‐C grant. The previous finding aid described the papers from the first donation only and has been superseded by this current finding aid. For material referenced in this former finding aid, please consult this downloadable conversion chart to locate the material in its current arrangement.* .

This collection contains correspondence, photographs, clippings, postcards, newsletters, publications, student and architectural drawings, oral history records, and objects mainly related to Gordon Bunshaft's projects and activities while employed as a partner in the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The dates of the material span 1909-1990, with bulk dates of 1950-1989. Most of the information regarding Bunshaft's architectural projects is in the form of photographs and clippings. A large amount of material covers Nina and Gordon Bunshaft’s personal life, including correspondence with family and friends, as well as photographs and documentation of their East Hampton home, extensive travels, and substantial art collection.

The collection consists of two distinct donations, the first in the late 1980s by Gordon Bunshaft, and the second by the estate of Nina Bunshaft, following her death in 1994. The addition of the second donation has expanded the scope of the collection to include a more personal perspective, and benefits from the addition of material relating to the Bunshafts’ art collection.

Series I: Correspondence

Arranged alphabetically by last name of correspondent, following a “general” collection of letters from various correspondents that are grouped by date and sorted chronologically. Material is generally of a more personal nature, only cursorily professional, and consists primarily of letters, but includes occasional photographs, postcards, drawings, and clippings. Letters from Jean Dubuffet are typically in French; however, translations are included from Gordon Bunshaft’s records.

Series II: Clippings

Arranged alphabetically. An additional collection of magazines containing articles about Bunshaft’s projects, SOM, and other architectural topics is arranged chronologically, with the exception of oversize material, which is stored separately. A bibliography (attached) lists the relevant articles in each issue.

Series III: Photographs

The series is divided into five subseries. Subseries 1: Projects is arranged chronologically by project date. While most photos are of the interior and exterior of the buildings upon their completion, the subseries also includes a number of reproductions of plans and sections for most projects. A large quantity of the photographs were taken by the prominent architectural photographer Ezra Stoller, who had a long relationship with SOM. Yet, many other photographers were also used to document these structures and include Joseph W. Molitor and Hedrich-Blessing Photographers. See Subseries: Bound Collections for additional material on select projects. Subseries 2: Life & Activities consists of photographs of Gordon Bunshaft, both in private life and as an architect. Reflecting the more personal nature of this collection, the subseries is arranged with portraits of Gordon and Nina at the beginning of this section, followed by personal photos of Bunshaft’s childhood, family, and early life (through his discharge from the military in 1946). The rest of the subseries is arranged strictly alphabetically. Of particular interest is a family photo album of Nina and Gordon, beginning with both of their childhoods and continuing through the late 1980s; most photos are labelled and dated. In contrast to Life & Activities, Subseries 3: Personal Snapshots consists of photos typically taken by Gordon Bunshaft on his travels and at home. This collection of photographs has been kept in original order and titles and names supplied by Bunshaft are in quotes. Subseries 4: Rotch Travelling Scholarship consists of a small collection of photographs, arranged alphabetically, taken by Bunshaft while in Europe from 1935-1936 on his Rotch Traveling Scholarship. More material from this period can be found in Series X. Drawings, and Series IV. Personal Papers, Subseries: Travel. Subseries 5: Bound Collections contains a small number of bound photography albums that relate to specific projects.

Series IV: Personal Papers

Consists of the most diverse range of material, including artwork, personal documents, ephemera, correspondence, photographs, certificates and awards, stationary, drawings, travel diaries, postcards, sketches, and a world map. The series includes three subseries. Subseries 1: General consists of such traditional material such as identification documents, address books, appointment diaries, and death records, but also includes more miscellaneous personal effects such as brochures and event invitations, a limited number of professional materials relating to SOM, sketches and notes from artists, and some limited drawings of the Bunshafts’ apartment in New York City and their home in East Hampton. Subseries 2: Accolades & Recognition focuses on third party recognition of Gordon Bunshaft’s career. The subseries consists almost entirely of awards and certificates recognizing his accomplishments in the field of architecture, but also includes documents regarding his official registration as an architect. See Series IX: Objects for medals received by Bunshaft. Subseries 3: Travel covers Bunshaft’s experience abroad during the Rotch Traveling Fellowship (1935-1936) through his diary, sketches, and map, but also includes the numerous international trips taken throughout his life for SOM partners meetings, work, and leisure. The subseries consists of travel plans and itineraries for Nina and Gordon’s international trips, a large quantity of menus from their international travels and domestic travels (including invitations to and menus from the White House). A number of appointment diaries detail Gordon’s movements and expenses while he was abroad, and an extensive postcard collection is believed to date in bulk from his year on the Rotch trip, but appears to have been added to over the following years as well.

Series V: Art Collection

The series provides a detailed look at the creation and changing shape of the Bunshafts’ art collection. Most importantly, this series includes a ledger book and a photo album that are cross referenced and document each piece acquired, purchased, sold, or donated. Additionally, the collection contains correspondence, receipts, photographs, clippings, brochures, and a legal agreement.

Series VI: Publications

Consists of published volumes that reflect the work of Gordon Bunshaft or of SOM more generally. The series also contains a video cassette tape created by SOM on their fiftieth anniversary.

Series VII: SOM News

Contains a large number of SOM News publications that were bound into four volumes by Gordon Bunshaft and cover 1953-1970 (with some gaps).

Series VIII: Oral History

Consists of audio cassette tapes, transcriptions of interviews for SOM, and a phonograph record. The topic is primarily architectural, although one resource focuses on Bunshaft’s appointment to the Fine Arts Commission.

Series IX: Objects

Consists of a number of medals and paperweights received by Bunshaft, as well as a lighter, his pipe, his briefcase, a carved scrimshaw (whale’s tooth), and a sculpture by Nina Bunshaft.

Series X: Drawings

The series is limited in scope to projects undertaken by Gordon Bunshaft personally (such as his private residence), as well as his work as a student and a Rotch Scholar. Of interest is a plan drawing by Bunshaft at age 12.

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Using the Collection

Access Restrictions

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please call (212) 854-4110 or email

Restrictions on Use

Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

Preferred Citation

Gordon Bunshaft architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

For Further Information

For more information about using the collections and conducting research in the Department of Drawings & Archives, please see our FAQ.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library. Department of Drawings and Archives; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

The first accession was processed by Mary L. Ferranti, Project Archivist, in 1994, under the direction of Janet Parks, Curator of Drawings & Archives. The collection was reprocessed to include the second accession by Barrett Reiter (Graduate Intern) in 2015, under the direction of Shelley Hayreh, Avery Archivist.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion July 7, 2009 Finding aid written in English.
    2009-07-07 File created.

CLIO ID: 3463719 View CLIO record

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Index Terms

The names and terms listed below are represented in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a consortial/union catalog offered by OCLC that allows users to search the holdings of multiple archives and libraries.

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Subjects (Corporate Names)

HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Albright-Knox Art Gallery.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
American Can Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
American Republic Life Insurance Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Banque Lambert (Brussels, Belgium)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Chase Manhattan Bank.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Connecticut General Life Insurance Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Emhart Corporation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
First City National Bank (Houston, Tex.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Fort Hamilton Veterans' Hospital.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Great Lakes Naval Training Center (Great Lakes, Ill.).--Hostess Center.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Great Southern Life Insurance Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
H.J. Heinz Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Henraux (Lucca, Italy)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
IBM (Armonk, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Istanbul Hilton Hotel (Istanbul, Turkey)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
John Hancock Building (New Orleans, La.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lever House (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Manhattan House (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Marine Midland Bank (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.--Karl Taylor Compton Laboratories.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
National Commercial Bank (Saudi Arabia)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Nine West 57th Street (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Noxell Corporation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
One Main Place (Dallas, Tex.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pepsi-Cola Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Philip Morris Cigarette Manufacturing Plant.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Reynolds Metals Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Rotch Travelling Scholarship, Inc.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Union Carbide Corporation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
United States.--Consular Housing (Bremen, Germany)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
United States.--Consulate (Düsseldorf, Germany)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
W. R. Grace Building (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Yale University.--Yale Computer Center.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
King Abdul Asis International Airport.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
New York World's Fair (1939-1940).--Venezuelan Pavillion.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subject (Personal Names)

HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Bartos, Armond.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beinecke, Frederick W.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beinecke, William Sperry.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bunshaft, Nina.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Calder, Alexander, 1898-1976.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Drexler, Arthur.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Dubuffet, Jean, 1901-1985.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Hirshhorn, Joseph H.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Knox, Seymour H.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Korling, Torkel.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lambert, Léon.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Molitor, Joseph W.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Moore, Henry, 1898-1986.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Newman, Arnold, 1918-2006.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Noguchi, Isamu, 1904-1988.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy, 1929-1994.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pei, I. M., 1917-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Robinson, Cervin.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Rockefeller, David, 1915-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Stoller, Ezra.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Sweeney, James.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Architectural photography.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Architecture--New York (State)--New York--History--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Architecture--United States--History--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Architecture--United States--Designs and plans.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Oral history.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Types of Material

HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Architectural drawings--American.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Audio cassettes.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
News letters.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Phonograph record.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Photograph albums.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Photographic postcards.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Picture postcards.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Slides (photographs).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note



Gordon Bunshaft received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), and was awarded the Rotch Travelling Scholarship shortly after graduation in 1935. Bunshaft used his scholarship to travel through Europe, where he sketched and photographed many sites of architectural significance.

After a brief period at the office of Edward Durrell Stone, Bunshaft joined the New York office of the young architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in 1937. With the onset of the Second World War, Bunshaft took a leave of absence between 1942 and 1946 to serve in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In 1943, Bunshaft married Nina Wayler, an actress originally from the Los Angeles area.

After World War II, SOM was to become one of the most influential architecture, planning, and design firms in the United States. Bunshaft was named a partner in SOM in 1949, directing the New York office until his retirement in 1979.

Bunshaft's impact on American architecture was largely in the arena of large-scale corporate architecture. In 1952, he completed the design of Lever House in New York City, a landmark of Post-War International Style glass curtain-wall skyscrapers. Among his other noted designs are the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City; Connecticut General Headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut; the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas; and the National Commercial Bank and Haj Terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Bunshaft also received many awards, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the American Institute of Architects’ Medal of Honor and election to the College of Fellows, and the National Institute of Arts and Letter's first prize in architecture (Arnold W. Brunner Memorial).

Bunshaft and his wife Nina were also passionate art collectors, maintaining long-standing friendships with such notable artists as Henry Moore and Jean Dubuffet, and collecting various works of modern and “ancient” art throughout their travels. Additionally, through SOM’s work with corporate modernist architecture, Bunshaft worked to incorporate modern art into the public spaces of these projects, often using artists like Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, and Isamu Noguchi. Such an interaction between art and architecture can be seen most notably between Noguchi’s cube and the Marine Midland Bank Building in Manhattan. Bunshaft also served as a member of the Fine Arts Commission in Washington, D.C. and as a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Bunshaft died in New York City in 1990.


Nina Bunshaft was born in Connecticut in 1914 to Russian parents. By the late 1920s they had relocated to California, settling in the Los Angeles area. As an adult, Nina was a dancer and briefly pursued a career as an actress. She is known to have had a small part in the 1942 film Four Jacks and a Jill. In 1943, after choosing not to continue to pursue an acting career, Nina married Gordon Bunshaft.

In regards to this collection, Nina Bunshaft played an active role in the formation of the Bunshafts’ art collection. Their numerous international travels were a source of inspiration for their collection that reflects not only an interest with modern art but also with older, “ancient” artifacts from Asia and Africa. Their home in East Hampton was intended to showcase their collection and allow for the intimate enjoyment of the objects that they curated. Yet, it was not merely a place to exhibit works by renowned artists, it was also a place where Nina could pursue her own amateur painting and sculpture work. Her small, painted stone sculptures can be seen in Gordon’s personal snapshots of the home and garden, and her brightly colored paintings are visible in snapshots of the home’s interior.

Following Nina Bunshaft’s death in 1994, their substantial art collection, which included a number of works by Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Joan Miró, and Jean Dubuffet, was given to the Museum of Modern Art. In addition, their East Hampton home was sold and the proceeds established an endowment, the Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Fund, for the acquisition of new works to the museum’s collection.

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