Jaquelin Taylor Robertson, architect for the city and celebrity, dies

First director of NYC Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development, he was also known for designing homes for the rich and famous

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May.May 12, 2020 10:35 AM
 Jaquelin Taylor Robertson (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Jaquelin Taylor Robertson (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Architect Jaquelin Taylor Robertson, a devotee of classical architecture who spearheaded new mixed-use zoning regulations in Midtown Manhattan, created private residences for the rich and famous and was invited to design a new city in Iran there before the revolution scuttled plans, died on Saturday at his home in East Hampton. He was 87.

His wife, Anya Robertson, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease, according to the New York Times.

Born in an aristocratic Virginia family, Robertson rose to prominence in New York City as a founder of the Urban Design Group, an agency meant to help Mayor John Lindsay improve public design in the city. He later served as the first director of the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development.

“I think architects, having abrogated the role of designing cities, are to blame for the cities that we have, which are a real mess,” Robertson said at a conference at the University of Virginia in 1982. “Architects must have in front of them some notion about the order of the whole, not just the parts.”

The architect attributed his taste in design to two major sources — the “provincial, rural, Anglo-American, Georgian-Palladian” setting of his family’s Virginia estate, and the “exotic, foreign, imperial and highly cosmopolitan” of Beijing, where Robertson’s father served as a Foreign Service envoy in the 1940s, according to the Times’ obituary.

In 1975, the shah of Iran invited Robertson to Tehran to design a new city, Shahestan Pahlavi, which would integrate traditional Persian design and modern architecture. Those plans were cut short by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

After a stint as dean of the architecture school at the University of Virginia, Robertson returned to New York in 1988, founding architecture firm Cooper Robertson. The firm’s major projects included Celebration, Florida, a town developed by Disney near its theme parks, and New Albany, Ohio, a suburban community developed by L Brands founder Leslie Wexner.

At the same time, Robertson maintained a private practice designing residences for prominent individuals like financiers Henry Kravis and Leon Black, mall builder Alfred Taubman, and CBS News producer Don Hewitt. [NYT] — Kevin Sun


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